Diversity is Relevant

On the October 31, 2011 issue of the Lanthorn, there was letter to the editor entitled “Race is Irrelevant”. There are a few questions that I felt that I had to give an argument for in defense. “Why does diversity matter?” is a question which has found greater importance in our age of diversity. What, then, is the defense against the questions “Why does it matter?”, “Isn’t race irrelevant?”, “Aren’t we all people?”, and “Isn’t skin color an irrelevant feature?” These questions share a common thread. It is a certain tendency to question the question of race in the dawn of this “new era” which some people champion as a post-racial era. There is a half-white half-black president in office, there is no more slavery, that things are (relatively) equal, so why shouldn’t we let this focus on skin colour die? Why does it matter if “minority enrollment is on the rise” and why does it matter if “minority role models are scarce”? Perhaps it might be important to note that such questions fall into their own trap. They imagine that skin colour is all that diversity brings. That skin colour and minorities only bring an unimportant visage of tolerance and that this is, in itself, a sort of racism. I, myself, had fallen into that trap before. So, what is diversity for?

I feel sad to say that “It shouldn’t matter what color our skin is” is not one that is reflected in real life. Yes, racism has largely been eliminated and, yes, it can be ignored when there are pockets of overt racism, but that is not the issue. We are people of appearances. That is not to say that we do not fight this or cannot try to overcome this. What I mean is that, because most of us have eyesight, we judge with our eyes, even unconsciously. The colour of someone’s skin can bring with it a multitude of different experiences from how people perceive them or you. The same could be said of sex. When one looks at a muscular male, how many can imagine that the person might enjoy shopping for accessories? When someone looks at a petite female, how many can imagine that they might enjoy wrestling and hunting? And how many of you actually defaulted to imagining a white person for both of those examples? This is also compounded with the fact that while “skin color doesn’t determine… culture”, skin colour and culture have a tendency to go hand in hand with one another and, even when they don’t, it can offer a unique perspective. What is it like to be a black person who grew up in a white neighborhood? That is not to say that white people are not culturally diverse as well. In fact, to clump “white people” together also fails to recognize this. However, what “whiteness” or lack thereof brings is an interesting aspect of our lived reality. Some black people might wake up, look in the mirror, and see a black person. Some might see a “person”. Some might include their sex in this self-image. However, once “skin color does not matter” is uttered, this reality is obscured. Even I have mornings where I wake up, look in the mirror, and see an Asian person rather than a “person”. Sometimes I feel aware of my “Asian-ness” when outside. “Race is irrelevant” does not explain this phenomenon. It hides it, packages it, and stuffs it away. My Korean identity is not particularly strong, but moments like this point to something more. A large part of our identity is constituted for us by others and our appearances. We can fight this, but not by staying silent about the issue.

So what is so important about having a larger set of minorities on campus? Is it merely more minorities? No. Rather, it is the perspectives they bring. How can we truly know if race is irrelevant if it is not discussed between ethnic and cultural groups? There is no “bird’s eye view” that we can somehow assume without doing so. Allowing people to be exposed to different races opens up a forum, a dialogue, for us to do such a thing. We end up seeing that “Perhaps our view of the world is too egocentric”. This is not through any real fault of our own. It is a part of the human condition. We take for granted our own positions that only when confronted with something unlike us, that we can realize our differences and our similarities with other people. It is because of the fact that minorities bring more to this university than the colour of their skin that we should focus on diversity. This is especially important in certain areas of education. There are different psychological outlooks, different cultural mores, and much, much more that we can learn from having a larger diversity on the campus.

Yoo jin Lee

GVSU Senior

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