LeCounte: A different value in diversity

At times, I’ve been known to laugh at a well-delivered racist joke. The sheer amount of joy one can derive from the multifaceted hilarity that invokes both the bizarreness of racial stereotypes and the absurdity of believing in them is difficult to quantify. Through my high school years, my friends and I reveled in this type of humor (although we obviously found other sources of amusement). This was the extent to which we talked about issues of diversity.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me clarify a few things. I went to a public high school in Fairfax County, Va. with a predominately middle-class student body. No single racial or ethnic group claimed more than about a third of the population of about two thousand. In our library some 60 or so flags testified to the national origins of the student body (many of whom were recent immigrants or exchange students from Europe, Africa and Asia). The neighborhoods we came from were likewise pluralistic.

Without trying, my high school was far more diverse than Yale has ever been — both ethnically and socioeconomically. Accordingly, and without any effort on my part, I regularly hung out with people who hailed from all but one inhabited continent. I happened to be one of the black kids in my social group of multifarious color, but it was not something I regularly thought about. I have not since been in such a diverse environment, although I would hazard a guess that Yale aspires, at least rhetorically, to achieve a similar vision.

Having grown up in a world in which diversity was simply a fact of life, I was deeply troubled by Benjamin Miller’s article “Making Diversity Real” (Oct. 22). Aside from the unfounded (and I dare say false) claim that “minorities receive few provisions for their comfort” at Yale, there is the even odder contention that Russians at Yale should be “proudly Russian, not culturally American.” As it happens, one of my best friends at Yale is a Russian national who has spent much of his life in the U.S. He speaks unaccented English and some French and easily passes for American in any context (including when he came home with me freshman year and met my high school friends over Spring Break).

Still, my assimilated friend is fluent in his native tongue and voted in the most recent Russian elections. Does this make him a proud Russian? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. What matters to me, is that this Russian American (he is both) is my friend, has been so for a couple years, and I value our friendship.

In short, I care about him as an individual with his own thoughts, mannerism, idiosyncrasies and issues. In this same capacity, I care about all my friends from Bangladesh, Britain, Germany, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Brazil, the American North and wherever else in the world. I don’t expect these people to be “proudly” or “authentically” anything except individuals worth knowing and becoming friends with.

In my experience, diversity is, in part, about assimilation, and that this is a good thing or, at worst, something neutral. What my childhood taught me is that the essence of diversity is the removal of people from the category of “other”. It is operating on the presumption of common ground, or the possibility of it, with individuals, regardless of their background or identity traits.

I see diversity flourishing when my friends and I share musical tastes, movie nights and rock climbing adventures. I see it in intense philosophical discussions and even vigorous arguments. I see the value when we bicker, when we reconcile, when we share different experiences and ultimately realize that we’re not so different and that there are more interesting things to talk about than social constructs we’re apparently supposed to buy into. We all contribute to this assimilated culture, and we all may take pride in it. There is no us versus them at stake here, and that’s exactly the point.

The value of diversity is being able to laugh at our similarities, our differences, how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

Anthony LeCounte is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.

Comments

  • Alum

    Despite your personal experiences, there is such a thing as being “proudly *nationality X*”, just like there are people who are, not just not proud, but almost openly hostile towards their culture, ethnicity, and/or nationality. I don’t see what’s so odd about arguing that the former is a more positive and constructive attitude than the latter.

  • Pierson junior

    Agree with the statement made by alum. Diversity is not just assimilation. And there are definitely students at Yale who are openly hostile towards their culture/ethnicity/nationality. And many more students try to distance themselves from the hallmarks of their identity which sets themselves apart from the dominant group, i.e. the tendency to ‘de-ethnicize’ themselves, to distance themselves from cultural organizations and houses. The author’s viewpoint is a popular variant of the argument to see a ‘color-blind’ society and to see people as ‘individuals’ – paradoxically, a repressively normalizing construct.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this column. The airheads here on campus seem to think that if they refuse to look at people as a cookie-cutter piece of a collective, they will be better served than if they are looked at as the individuals they are. It’s time to stop making ourselves the arbiter of people’s identities. Each person is unique and lamenting that they don’t fulfill our vision of how they should act and behave based upon their race, religion, etc. is incredibly arrogant and racist.

    Saying to a group that they are poorly treated because they are unable to maintain certain characteristics (which community at large expects from them based on stereotypes) and must be helped is unfettered, condescending paternalism and racks of imperialist arrogance.

  • Egalitarian

    To #1: Yes, it’s certainly better to be proud of one’s racial or ethnic identity than ashamed of it. However, you should be proud to be what you are, not proud that you aren’t what someone else is. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who seem to think that their identity makes them better than other people who don’t share that identity. (And if you don’t believe me, just take a look at some of the speeches made by the bigot who was just appointed to the Supreme Court.)

  • Pierson sophomore

    To #1 and #4 – I feel like you’re both missing the point. The author is not talking about whether it is better or worse to be proud of one’s nationality. The author is saying that it’s silly to think you have to be proud of your nationality in order to foster diversity. Making judgments about how proud you should be about your nationality is exactly what the author is saying you shouldn’t do.

  • At Anonymous

    Wait, what are you talking about? Her statements were clearly taken out of context and were not intended to have such overtly racist overtones. The 21st century US would never let someone with such obvious predilection for considering race as a determinant of personal worth be placed on a body dedicated (ideally) to opposing such ignorant notions.

  • At Anonymous

    Sorry, I meant to direct that to comment 4, not 3 (so At Egalitarian, rather than the previous title.)

  • Egalitarian

    To #6/7: Have you actually read the speech in its entirety, or have you just assumed that it must have been taken out of context since she was confirmed? She wasn’t slanderously paraphrased out of context the way that Larry Summers was. The entire speech sounds even worse than the “wise Latina woman” one-liner. She even claims that “inherent physiological or cultural differences” would lead her to make a better decision than someone not of her race or gender. If that’s not highly racist and sexist, than your definitions of the words “racist” and “sexist” are biased.

  • Madas

    To #4 + #8:

    Ah, a kindred spirit! I too read the whole thing and was shocked. Sotomayor is not a racist in the KKK sense, but she clearly thinks that one of the most important things in determining personal identity is race. Ironically she uses the speech to expound on what it was about her childhood that made her special and I saw little difference from my own (white) family life. She and others like her who have drunk of the cup of identity politics clearly like to concentrate on differences rather than similarities, a troubling trait for one a member of the cult of nine.

  • Alum

    I’m not missing the point, I’m arguing the point.

    I fail to see how you can contribute to diversity if you don’t somehow assert aspects of your culture or nationality. Sure, having students from ten different countries, religions, ethnicities, etc. is *technically* diverse, but if they’re all more assimilated than not, they’re not contributing anything that the other people can interact with, appreciate, learn from, etc. And isn’t that the point of diversity?

    As for Sotomayor, all her speech proves is that she hadn’t yet been neutered by a political climate that demands political correctness and forbids people from saying things that are obviously true. It’s a convenient line of attack for people who are upset at having a woman on the Supreme Court whose name they can’t pronounce, but her remarks are really incredibly uncontroversial.

    If not, where was the uproar and the outrage when, recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg opined on her colleague’s handling of the middle school strip search case that “they haven’t been 13-year-old girls”?

    Contrary to the dumb cliché that nominees are forced to repeat ad nauseum, being a judge isn’t just about “applying the law”, it’s often about making personal judgments about things like pain and suffering. To think that race and gender have no bearing on those judgments is naive–or, at least it would be if the people who made that argument actually believed it, instead of cynically spewing it to attack what many right-wingers dubbed the “mexican lady”.

  • Anon

    Bravo Anthony, this is a great article, and I am happy that someone has the courage to speak out against the “silliness” of the student body’s attitude towards race and other social differences.

  • Egalitarian

    Really? So, my disdain for Sotomayor’s ideology must be code for a desire to keep women and/or minorities out of positions of power? Then please explain to me why I voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary and Obama in the general election. Might it have occurred to you that some people might actually mean what they say? There are positions on the political spectrum other than racist and reverse racist, and some of us actually hold them. I would have just as vigorously opposed a white male who held her beliefs.

    As far as Ginsberg’s comments go, they didn’t make the news because she’s already on the Court and because most people are unaware of them. I found it similarly offensive. If I had been on the Court, I would have decided Safford v. Redding in favor of the student just as she did. And I wouldn’t have asked any of the questions that she found offensive. Maybe the experience of taking off my changing in a locker room and having students mock everything from the scar on my back to the way I took my clothes off might inform my decision. Yet, Ginsburg seems to think that I would have not been able to understand what Savana Redding went through because I’m male, and that is offensive and insulting. Might it occur to her that there are other factors besides race and gender that can have just as great an impact on a person’s experience?