Fighting Poverty with Passion
I recently had a remarkably heated conversation with three brilliant people of color in a debate that defined “diversity” and its role in social justice.
One woman commented about the notable diversity within our candidate pool and within the school’s faculty. Another woman agreed, noting that the school’s intentions to recruit diverse people was impressive and a step in the right direction.
While we agreed with their sentiments, the fourth person and I asked whether diversity really was the answer to social ills that plague, at the very least, the healthcare system. The two women were confused; why wouldn’t we want more representation both on the ground, and in the system itself? When we have seats at the table, does that not create the most effective change?
University of Denver sociologist and criminologist Ellen Berrey wrote an op-ed where she calls diversity a “snooze button” for well-intentioned white people who don’t actually understand the implications of such initiatives (clear examples and a compelling argument here).
“Rather than a righteous fight for justice or effective anti-discrimination laws, we get a celebration of cultural difference as a competitive advantage. Diversity, we are told, is an end goal with instrumental pay-offs: good for learning, good for the bottom line, even good for white people. Administrators at the University of Michigan tout their institution as ‘excellent and diverse’ — a place where people’s differing points of view improve the college experience for everyone. This powerful buzzword reflects leaders’ belief that, to manage race successfully, white constituents need to see inclusion as in their own self-interest.”
Back on interview day with my peers, I tried to explain my hesitations about “diversity,” but fumbled with words and continued to fumble with words until I came across Berrey’s work. I advocate for the construction of a completely new system, one where we do not need to fight for diverse representation, but rather one inclusive and reparative from its origins. In order to make radical change, we cannot continue to play the existing game. We have to build our own board and rules.