Maybe I’m missing something here, but is there a rule that says when a person of a specific race or gender or sexual orientation speaks on a particular issue, it means they are speaking to benefit their narrow demographic only?
When a black person demands accountability in education, is he or she demanding accountability which will benefit black children only?
When priests and pastors take the position that society is best helped when we reverse the trend of single-parent households, are they speaking only for people who go to church?
And when women say that single parent families are best helped if taxes on food are lowered, are they speaking only on behalf of households headed by females?
The reasonable answer to all of these questions is, of course, no. But it seems that when most of us filter these types of postulations through our respective prisms, we do so in such a subjective fashion that the take away is blacks are speaking from a “black” position, gays are speaking from the “gay agenda,” and women are addressing the issues on behalf of “women only.” I call it “Diversity in Reverse.”
Diversity in Reverse is the most recent by-product of identity politics, whereby we immediately assume that when we hear politicians, social activists, and, nowadays even news commentators, weigh in on a matter, their purpose is to speak on behalf of the constituent group which they most identify, and not to make a contribution to the populous at large. But we invariably surmise that when conservatives talk about not leaving our grandchildren in debt, they are only concerned about their own grandchildren. Or when the Black Panthers talk about higher teacher standards, they can only be talking about higher standards in black schools.
To illustrate how I personally saw this mindset operate, allow me to refer to a recent column I wrote for this publication: The column was about incarceration, education and rehabilitation. I took the position these three issues are so interrelated, it will be difficult to effectively address one of them exclusive of the other two. And while the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive and supportive of my position, the overwhelming number of those who gave feedback mistakenly assumed that I was talking about “black” incarceration, educating “black” children and the need for more drug rehabilitation programs in the “black” community. And the only explanation I can give for those misguided responses is that I was perceived as “black” writer. But I’m not a black writer, any more so than Sid Salter or George Will are “white writers” or Maureen Dowd or Kathleen Parker are “women writers.”
Too often we pigeonhole people who communicate, legislate and formulate ideas, policies and information for a living inside nice, convenient boundaries to make it easier to agree or disagree with them, or many times, to dismiss what they say altogether.
But diversity means hearing all points of view, listening to all sides of an issue and then deciding what makes good sense or good policy. Diversity in Reverse says even though I will respect your point of view being in the marketplace of discussion, I will only respect it so far as it speaks for you and your kind.
The resulting nature of Diversity in Reverse is that many people cannot receive the understanding and benefits a particular idea or proposal brings because it comes from outside their own constituent group or political party, race or socio-economic demographic. They believe the information is solely for that group alone, when nothing can be further from the truth.
The key to a wholesome, growing, healthy diverse society is that we not only respect the views which come from those different from us, but we become open-minded enough to understand that views which come out of one small segment of society can actually benefit society as a whole.
The Rev. James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.