I have never hated the word “diversity” more in in my life since I started college. I’m sure if you are one from any ethnic background you will occasionally see your favorite dish presented as a vegan friendly plate at the campus-dining hall. And as you sadly stab your fork into it an Americanized (more bland) version of your favorite childhood meal, you check and realize that Buzzfeed has been exploding with “Diverse Ethnic Recipes to Try!” (How exciting, although you know that the dish you’ve been buying for years just got a little more expensive now) Every event is a diverse speech given by diverse students. Universities and colleges flood students with invitations for clubs that offer diversity or classes that give a diverse perspective.
“Diversity”, it seems, has become an obnoxious if not exhausting word that’s found under every logo for almost every institution nowadays. So. what does “diversity” really mean? Ironically since I have arrived in college I hear the word “diversity” more than I hear my own name, and yet I am more unsure about of the word. That is the main problem I have with broad terms. Broad terms label a massive realm of complex and interconnected identities that cannot be explained in a single overarching category. The term “diversity” and all of the other associated jargon get swept under a rug and slapped with this vague definition that looks great on any resume. Its lazy, half -baked, and awkward, but worst of all it’s completely directionless. I can’t count how many seminars discussing “diversity” leads to superficial conversations that aims to just play safe echoed by the nodding of heads. We did it. We abolished the laws and we have all the ethnic and queer kids in the same classroom, and now we pat ourselves on the back in the dreaded silence at continues in the classroom. It simplifies the subject and worst of all gives off an illusion of achievement. We underestimate the destructive power of misinterpretation.
Somehow the institution thinks that putting students together and giving them an ethnic dish is the epitome of cultural and ethnic solidarity. On campus, I am reduced to a prop. Whenever I go out with my international friends, I am always half expecting a facility member to pop out of nowhere with a camera and shriek “DIVERSITY!” before snapping a photo and publishing it on our campus brochure. My struggles, confusion and experiences are now a checklist for people so they can rate my diversity on a scale. My mixed heritage is now a “fresh new take” on the school’s race quota. The market and investors now realizes that the rising advocation and acknowledgement for minorities is inevitable, might as well profit off of it. The audience may be greater and different now, but the catering is still to the same group.
“Diversity” isn’t gathering of different cultures and identities, it’s a marketable tagline. If it doesn’t come across as lazy to minorities, then it's coming across as offensive. Colleges and business can now finally achieve that Kodak moment of inclusion that you see in afterschool specials. If anything the word diversity has become synonymous with the word “exotic”. Being mixed from a Jewish father and Korean mother, I have receive countless of “So where are you really from?’ and “You look so exotic!” Exotic has become a big “no, no” in most settings (of course, controversially) Although taking out the historical context of the racial connotations of the word from how the “default” race would say to “unfamiliar” and “bizarre” cultures in their own ethnocentric way to show their approval, it would be flattering.
All in all, I still benefit gratuitously from my white passing privilege and most comments only seem to float on the spectrum of microaggressions and problematic. It’s pretty tolerable compared to what my immigrant Korean mother had to go through when she moved to the U.S. at age 8. Yet there the problem is still there, and it is aggravating because it is passive. The abuse of the term diversity is not inherently evil nor is it blatantly violent. It is just barely endurable and allows for cultural insensitivity and ignorance. Surprisingly, when I turn to my allies for comfort, I am dismissed.
“They just don’t know better” or “Sasha, come on! They are trying to compliment you/show interest in culture!”
I turn to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words to help express my sentiments:
“These are little things but sometimes it's the little things that sting the most.”
The microaggressions that plague the many superficial dialogues and actions of people are just the tips of the giant iceberg that can sink a ship. We are the first generation where we live in a “de jure” free world. Yet a lot of minorities still do not free. We were all dumped at the party but nobody is talking to each other. We millennials have no manual to achieve solidarity. There isn't a previous generation to ask advice on how to talk about race or mental illness. We’re on our own. Some of the most homophobic insults I receive are from others within the oppressed group. My mother, a native Korean immigrant who grew up in an alienating culture, has some racial opinions I would deem unacceptable in my generation. People of color and LGBTQ groups aren’t this single minded, harmonious group where we constantly epitomize the standard of excellence. We can be hypocritical. We make mistakes. We have different perspectives. Surprisingly, we are just human. So to adopt this slacktivist agenda about solidarity would be not only more burdening on minorities, but just plain insulting.
Diversity no longer holds any meaning in universities and colleges. A word’s meaning is reflective of the social context it is used in. Ultimately, diversity has become nothing more than a shallow reflection of pseudo-acceptance. We were not acknowledged. We were simply trademarked.