History: The word “diversity” dates back to the mid-14th century, where it initially meant “the quality of being different.” In the late 15th century, it took on a negative connotation, becoming associated with things that were “contrary to what is agreeable or right.” By the 17th century, however, this definition was obsolete, and in the 1790s, with the emergence of modern democracies, “diversity” was used to identify the virtue in those nations that attempted to keep a single faction from holding all of the state power. At that time, the term had nothing to do with ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity (these were not concerns of that age), but this would all change in the 20th century, particularly in the 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement. What started as an honest effort to end the oppression of racial minorities soon devolved into an attempt to control thinking—to force people to acknowledge and respect all types of difference, whether sexual, ethnic, or cultural, but to do so without acceding to the concept of difference. Thus, today, we are expected to both value individuals who are different from ourselves and deny that there is any sort of norm from which they differ. Doing otherwise is the one type of “diversity” that cannot be tolerated.
Etymology: “Diversity” is derived from the Old French diversité, which means “a unique feature” or “oddness.” It also has roots in the Latin diversitatem, the definition of which is “contrariety, contradiction, or disagreement.” Consequently, one simply cannot divorce the word from the idea that differences do exist and that one such difference can be found in the differing opinions that we have about the value of attributes, behaviors, or beliefs that differ from our own. In the present era, of course, this is not the situation at all. Rather, “diversity” now demands that we not only accept all dissimilarities without judgment, but also refuse even to identify them as such. “Diversity training,” which is all the rage in both corporate and university contexts, has systematized these requirements. Participants are taught to respect the differences of their peers while at the same time turning a blind eye to them. They likewise learn to suppress any objections they have to “diversity” itself, these being opinions that are absolutely not protected within the social environment that “diversity training” seeks to create.
Effect: The ironic outcome of the present definition of “diversity” is that it has created a situation in which people no longer try to relate to those who are different from themselves, out of fear that they will accidentally call attention to the differences themselves. Those differences, therefore, become more marked and pronounced than ever before, preventing any true understanding or respect among differing groups of people, which is the very thing that the contemporary concept of “diversity” had hoped to foster. Worse still, “promoting diversity” has become shorthand for “policing thought.” No matter how obvious or factual a difference might be, you must not admit to noticing it, and heaven help you if you should harbor an opinion about that difference, especially if your opinion is a negative one or in any way constitutes a moral condemnation of another’s behavior or beliefs. All this is to say that “diversity” is really not about respect or understanding at all anymore; rather, it has quickly become one of the surest methods of imposing relativism upon the culture, scaring us into an ethic of silent and passive acceptance. •
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