Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The Diversity Conundrum
Where I get all deep and stuff.
Human beings as wanderers were tribal. They recognized their own clan as SELF and other clans as OTHER, while to ALL of us now (short an anthropology degree that specialized on that area), we would not see there was any distinguishable difference. But human beings have something at their core that craves an in-group/out-group definition. Maybe it is the need to be a part of something, and in BEING part, there, by definition, have to be outsiders.
I have a few separate thoughts that I hope will logically tie together in the end, so bear with me.
Heritage: A West Coast Perspective
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Among my friends, if we'd talk about our heritage, we had people that were maybe a QUARTER this or that (I have two 'pure-blood quarters—added together I am full HALF Scandenavian)--but I didn't know anybody who was even HALF of anything at a country-level. I know, though, in that area on the Iowa/Minnesota border where my grandma grew up, there is STILL a dense Norwegian population. People today can still be found who are ALL Norwegian, in spite of being more than 150 years past the major immigration. There are cities in Michigan that are nearly all German or Dutch, or Pole. This was a strange finding, moving east as I did. That there are STILL people who stay 'in-group' at A COUNTRY level. People who moved west tended to do so in small family units, where people who stayed east (other than the cities) stayed closer to home and 'their own kind'.
In this melting pot (the west)... a REAL melting pot... nobody thought about the varying shades of light tan—I mean SURE, if somebody was black we noticed—that was pretty rare (TWO in my high school class... a whopping 1%)—but I had friends who were part Native or part Latino and it never crossed my mind other than just being interesting (I have a good friend who is Chinese and that was a noticed but INCLUDED minority—those kids never had trouble getting a date, for instance)
I want to pick on these two fabulous ethnicities a bit for a very specific reason. These groups arrived 'latish' to do 'undesirable work' and were heavily discriminated against for several decades. They were the foreigners nobody trusted who never got respectable employment in a bank or a high-end shop. They were the service workers and the laborers...
Until they weren't. Until there were other groups to fill in that low end of 'who can associate with us but only at the lowest level'... Until racism had a NEW target... with browner skin and a stronger accent. Now there are a LOT of people with mixed heritage that includes one or both of these, where at one time, it would have been scandalous.
The Case of XXXX Middle School: Detroit
When I first moved to Michigan I was part of a research team testing an intervention with 8th graders in Detroit designed to keep kids engaged in school. There were three middle schools involved. One of them was a middle class school with 100% black students. And it ran like a well-oiled machine. The kids were engaged, worked hard, academically striving. There was no smart-mouthing. It was a whole lot more orderly than any other middle school I've been in EVER. One school had a falling population so was actively recruiting expelled kids from other schools, so I will leave that one out of the mix, because DUH, and BOY HOWDY, of COURSE it had problems. But the 3rd school—one in Southwest Detroit had about 60% black, 30% Latino and 10% white kids. This is Detroit, so the black students STILL owned the achievement domain—those were the kids 'allowed' to work hard without getting crap for being suck-ups. The Latino kids had a large enough minority that they got to be the 'hip bad-ass' kids—sassy, but some were popular. The white kids? Full-on delinquent material. They were so disengaged, even in 8th grade, that I wanted to cry for them. Their long term goals for themselves were so measly—they didn't have real dreams for what they could be. The black kids wanted to be the lawyers and engineers. The Latino kids wanted to do construction or drive trucks. And the white kids wanted to be strippers—I'm dead serious—what do you DO with that goal when a pair of girls says that in full seriousness-- “The money is good.”
Do you see how the expectations are turned on their head from our normal stereotypes? Do you see how being a member of the MAJORITY plays roles most of us outside of the environment would never consider? Because we are busy applying NATIONAL minority stereotypes... and those DO have an impact... I mean Detroit is STILL an example of a city that is angry and full of attitude--because at a NATIONAL level it is a minority... but at the LOCAL LEVEL, individuals experience it differently.
But do you ALSO see how that one school with no diversity whatsoever had the biggest advantage of all? No distractions from the task at hand. ALL they had to worry about was educating.
The Case of Scandinavia and the Best Standard of Living in the World
Do you see how this might be? Just from my example. Now there is a little diversity in the Scandenavian countries, but... not a lot. It's like Portland. It is really easy to be magnanimous about racial diversity when you don't have a large enough set of any one group to cause any problems. Sure. We love everybody! (and they do—it's sincere—I lived there(Portland, not Scandinavia)—If I wanted to marry a person of another race, you can bet your bottom dollar that's where I'd go—because of course at a coupling level there is a layer of discrimination that lingers even after coworker and friend discrimination goes away)
What I'm saying is a little hard to say, as I admire so many of the policies of the Scandenavian Countries—I wish we'd adopt a lot more of them. So I don't want to take away from the achievement they've managed. But it really IS easier with less diversity.
The Other Very REAL Side of the Coin
We are ALL better off for knowing a lot of kinds of people. When we get insular, we get STUPID. People I know who've never really traveled and don't know people from very many ethnicities tend to just think their way is right and everyone else is wrong. THEY happen to be the wrong ones (and no, I won't qualify this--I know they may not know better, but they are ignorant and wrong to not respect other people having different backgrounds and allowing them to follow those and acknowledge for THEM it is right). There are a lot of right ways to live and a lot of positive approaches (and belief systems and habits). But only through a lot of intermingling can we learn UNDER it all are very basic similarities—behaviors and attitudes about what is decent: kindness, caring, helping; and what is rotten: hurting others, stealing, lying.
And it is through this SHARING that this transformation is made where we move up to the next level in 'in-group/out-group'--what now seems to be racial... or religious... let me give a religious example...
My home town had... pretty much ALL practicing Christians... Seriously. WEIRD, religiously speaking... the groups that were 'out group' on that term... were the Catholics and Mormons—both significant groups... but both the only 'non-protostant Christian mainstream' groups.
I'd, of course, HEARD of Jews, but honestly, I didn't think about them religiously much... I thought of the WWII genocide as racial. I'd heard of a few others... but it never occurred to me other faiths were practiced in the US. By the time I lived in Portland, I had several Jewish friends, several Buddhist friends... knew a few Wiccans (I still didn't know any Muslims that I knew of—though in those days, the Arabic distinction was... you know... Arabic... and religion wasn't brought into it, many Arabs being Christian and all, I never thought to ask).
NOW, the great evil seems to be Islam, strictly because now we've heard of it and it seems strange and different. Anyone who wants to claim it is more radical than Christianity can look at the Christian tenets the Ku Klux Klan supposedly draws on—every religious group has their radical nuts and every religious book, abused hard enough, can justify it.
When we are in space, living with peoples from OTHER planets, we are going to see the humans as the desirable in-group. Their race or religion won't matter at that point even a little bit, because the scope of evaluation will have gotten enough wider and there will be a new out-group grouping to focus our need for OTHER on.
But I wish we could all see our commonalities and just celebrate our differences sooner than that.