The fear is sameness: everyone becomes possessed, a pod person, a zombie, a conformist. This is the conundrum: we as humans fear everyone being the same but also want everyone to be the same.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Diversity is a word we use to describe certain circumstances; however, as an idea, it is somewhat abstract. Similar to a math symbol, we know it exists, and we are aware it denotes something, but how does it relate to the course of our day-to-day lives?
If I were to say "black person," you could point someone out. If I were to say "apple," you could pick it out of a fruit stand. If I say "love," you may connect it to a recognizable feeling. If I were to say "diversity," associating it with a familiar context may not be immediately apparent. There is the diversity we see in nature, as a way of describing nature, but in broader society, it is less description and more intent.
Reading a dissertation may hold little tangible substance to the nonacademic, but perhaps a casual conversation with a diversity expert can bring clarity. For this, I probed the mind of Amy Granados, a doctoral student at USC. Amy's research focuses on diversity, specifically gender imbalances in film and television.
[*A note from Amy – "All of my data about diversity in film comes from research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith and colleagues at the USC Annenberg Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative."]
I asked Amy, what is diversity? She said:
This raises some questions, like, how representative is what we see in media in comparison to the actual population? Are Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld's homogeneous Manhattans representative of real Manhattan? And, is identical representation to real life, the standard for diversity?
Diversity is subjective. Who gets to decide on the meaning? How do social scientists determine what is “normal”? Is there similar precedence? There are no hard answers, which is why these questions are worthwhile.
In the dojo, the cliché was that the mats were the paragon of diversity. We put our pasts behind us, put on our white uniforms, and we are all the same, only denoted by experience. "Diversity" was casually thrown around, yet looking around the room, diversity meant different occupations, one or two races, a few guys over thirty, and that was it. Women were a bonus, but not a requirement for diversity.
Though there are many categories, by focusing on gender (the oldest category), perhaps we can see the inner workings of diversity — and also examine how these same principles can apply to all groups.
What Isn't Diversity?
How Do We Improve Diversity
Can We Be Gender-Blind?
We are not good at voluntarily making ourselves blind to gender; it is only possible when there is no opportunity to know a person’s sex. In experiments with racial bias, minorities who hid their ethnic names increased their chances for hire than those who did not.
People who considered themselves blind to race or gender only proved to be blind to those qualities when they were forced into it. Meaning, they were never blind to gender or race, to begin with. Even people who espouse egalitarian values experience automatic and implicit judgments of other groups.
Diversity isn't purely about fairness either, as the most diverse cities and states in the United States are often the most successful (richest). Bias often works against our own best interests (productivity, finance, and utility). Diversity asks the question: Do we do more of the same as demands change or do we change with demands?
However, Blindness Is Not Necessarily Equality
Parity has not been reached, and considerations must be made. Equal treatment does not mean equal equity.
If men give special treatment to other men, and women, in trying not to appear to have bias, do not give special consideration to other women, then all considerations belong to the men. This can be applied in many ways, where all considerations go to the majority, and the minority errs on the side of the majority to "fit in."
Ignoring Differences Is in Itself a Form of Bias
Fighting Our Own Universal Narrative
One of the reasons the United States is so diverse is because of the American attitude against conformity, thought-control, and everyone being exactly the same. This is why in American dystopian and horror genres, the fear is sameness: everyone becomes possessed, a pod person, a zombie, a conformist. This is the conundrum: we as humans fear everyone being the same but also want everyone to be the same.
This paradox creates dramatic terror and tension in films, and in real life, it creates political strife and cognitive dissonance. The "horror" is in knowing: even though we hate blind conformity, we are not immune to it, we can still succumb to it, because we have seen it already happen.
And who are our natural heroes? The nonconformists, the plucky band of rebels who fight for freedom against the Empire.
We Have Come Far, but We Will Always Have Further to Go
As I try to wrap my mind around diversity, I am reminded of the words of French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville writes:
The ideals of diversity are always evolving. Unlike the nature of air or water, diversity is not static, which makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint. Diversity is a human-made process rather than an absolute. When there is diversity or when diversity is lacking, we, its creators, are accountable. Complete parity may never be reached unless a utopia has also been reached. We don't know where it should end up; we just know where it shouldn't. Then the goal of the process isn't perfection; the goal is to make things better than they were before. That is progress.
Some might argue, look how far we've come. Some might argue, look how far we need to go. Both are equally true, it is not mutually exclusive. One must look at the past, think forward to the future, without forgetting to enjoy the charms of today.
Useful Companions (Improve Your Education and This Site by Buying a Book):
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Malcolm Gladwell
- The Sublime Object of Ideology - Slavoj Zizek
- Democracy in America - Alexis de Tocqueville
- Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research - Jennings Bryant, Mary Beth Oliver
- How Blind Auditions Help Orchestras to Eliminate Gender Bias
- A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination
- Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations
- Deviations from sex roles costly to women
- Definition of obscenity
- "I know it when I see it"
- US Census Bureau Population data for Latino/Hispanic
- Interventions that Affect Gender Bias in Hiring: A Systematic Review
- Bechdel test
- USC Media Diversity and Social Change Initiative Gender Bias Without Borders
- USC Annenberg MDSCI Inequality in 700 Popular Films
- The Pink Gi in the Room
- Verbal Self-Defense: A Former Slave to His Old Master
- How Jiu-Jitsu Healed My Body Image
- Race, Shame, and Self-Defense
- On Street-Smarts: Stop Patronizing My Intelligence
- Mr. Rogers on Prejudice and Fear
- Sister Simone on Loaves and Fish
- The Parable of the Donkey in the Endless Well