Most of the time, when people of color talk about diversity, we refer to race and gender. We want to see faculties and boardrooms that "look like America," with representation that approximates population representation. In other words, we want to see some African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians and women sitting around the table. If about half the folks are women, and one is either African-American or Latino, we think folks are doing pretty well.
My recent experience in helping to develop the program at the Millions More Movement (Oct. 15, 2005) reminds me that such diversity simply scratches the surface.
It is often easy to ignore the diversity that exists within race and gender groups, but this is a diversity that we ignore to our detriment. What do I mean? As we slated speakers for the Millions More Movement, we were confronted with all kinds of diversity dilemmas. African-Americans are Christian and Muslim, but also atheist and agnostic. We are civil rights activists and nationalists, seniors and youth. Some of our young people attend college. More are neither attending college nor planning to, and their concerns are equally important. Most of us are heterosexual, but many are homosexual, bisexual or transgendered. Some of us are professionals, but far more are workers. Part of our effort in the Millions More Movement was to present a tapestry of unity among African-American people, and in large part we succeeded. Despite grousing and some criticism from individuals who were disgruntled that they were not included, no sector of our community (except perhaps Black conservatives, who had no interest in participating) was missing from the program.
Much of my work has focused on broad issues of diversity. I teach a class at Bennett College on diversity in the 21st century. I am all too familiar with the laws that mandate inclusion of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, the differently-abled population, those with religious differences and gay and lesbian people. It is perhaps more challenging, though, to deal with issues of internal diversity in any community and to understand some of the tensions that may impede unity within communities.
In the Latino community, for example, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Latin Americans have different histories, issues and concerns. In the African-American community, everyone with melanin in their skin isn't on the same page about public policy. Even when there is agreement about issues of oppression (and there often isn't), there are differences about the path one takes to close the racial economic gap. Some folks say, "Get over it and work hard," others say the government should do more, and still others agitate for reparations. …