Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Diversity - Does It Include Thought?

One of the interesting things about the internet, particularly as funneled through the blogosphere and powered by rss feeds, is how you can so easily stumble serendipitously from one story to another. For example in one of the H.R. blogs I now collect thru Onfolio (free plug for a good program), HR For the Leader In You, I pick up a link to an editorial by Dr. Miguel de la Torre "presently of Hope College" on the issue of diversity. What really caught my eye though was the comment about the editorial contained in the blog, "You can agree or disagree with him in his premise vis a vis your employer or your experience, but I have been around long enough to have seen what he is talking about...and it still happens, I am afraid."

Intrigued, I read the article and also googled Dr. de la Torre, who currently is in the news for his change in positions from Hope College to Iliff School of Theology, a Methodist seminary in Denver. According to news stories the change is occurring either because of pressures brought on Dr. de la Torre following some recent editorials (described as theologically conservative, socially liberal) which caused him to spar with Dr. James Dobson and his conservative Christian group, or because he hasn't been compensated for the scholarly work he has been doing. Or what seems more likely, a combination of the two.

But in any event, back to the originally linked editorial, Diversity that's only skin-deep written by Dr. de la Torre. After appreciating much of what was said in the editorial, I ended up focusing on the following paragraph which was near the end, a fourth way to make it appear that you were interested in diversity, without really doing anything about it:

4) find people of color who speak with white voices and advocate policies detrimental to their own racial and/or ethnic community. You can always find "white" Latino/as, African-Americans, Asians-Americans and Amerindians who are willing out of conviction, profit, self-loathing or survival to parrot the dominant culture's ideologies. Such individuals step on the heads of their own people to catch the eye of those in power, hoping to be rewarded for publically preferring whiteness over their own group. We Latino/as call them "coconuts" because they are brown on the outside but white on the inside. African-Americans call them "Oreos." They are known as "bananas" by Asian-Americans and "apples" by Amerindians. They allow the institution to become multi-colored without having to become multi-cultural, which is, after all, what many institutions secretly prefer. Isn't it?

As a white male I often hesitate to enter into these debates. But I find it ironic that some of the most fierce advocates of diversity, deny diversity of thought to others. For e.g. although I would be loathe to ascribe Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell's views to "profit, self-loathing or survival," my guess is that Dr. de la Torre might think one or both "advocate policies detrimental to their own racial and/or ethnic community." And although Professor de la Torre also had "conviction" in that grouping, nothing about the tenor of the paragraph makes me think that he cuts people of color any slack who fail to adhere to his views.

Which does nothing to take away from the validity of the points he makes in other parts of this article and perhaps in many of his other writings. But it does make me reflect that it is all too easy for us to condemn as "wrong", others who think differently than we do. And isn't it that kind of thinking which makes the discussion of diversity necessary in the first place?

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