What does diversity really mean? Being included or living within an egalitarian society?

I frequently find myself questioning what those buzzwords, diversity/inclusion/incorporation, do in our daily lives, what are their meanings, significances, and practices in any institutions such as universities, or any country having particularly the “multicultural” integrationist policies such as the UK, Germany, the US, or Canada. I believe we need to take a closer look first what those words really mean, perhaps before arguing whether “diversity makes us smarter” or attempting to find any correlation between diversity and being smarter/creative/hardworking. 

For one of my classes, I interrogated what inclusion means in relation to “diversity”. I came to notice how it is bitterly a contested concept in terms of the ways in which we use it in everyday life as if it brings about equity, equality, justice, and neutrality with regard to race, gender, and class. What do I mean by this?

In most English language dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Merriam-Wester Dictionary, the word inclusion is defined as “the act of including and the state of being included” and/or “the action, practice, or policy of including any person in an activity, system, organization, or process, irrespective of race, gender, religion, age, ability, etc.”[1] Also, according to Racial Equity Tools’ Glossary, the word inclusion refers to “authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.”[2] Yet, one of the contestations over its meaning is that despite inclusion as a concept suggests that nobody is excluded, it is also paradoxically characterized by othering as it pinpoints the Other and the excluded. I suppose that’s why Katherine W. Phillips in her article points out nicely why diversity creates anxiety within the society and imagines the other way around at the end of the day.  In this regard, she says

Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. So, what is the upside?

And, then by providing some researches, she gives us a hope for the positive influence of diversity in a sense that it fuels innovation as diversity brings different information, opinions, and perspectives, and it provides new thinking, so that makes us smarter.

Source: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_diversity_makes_us_smarter

Definitely, there might exist a correlation between diversity and being smart, innovative, and creative as she mentions in her article; however, what I want to draw your attention is the other side of the story, I believe. Given the dictionary definitions of inclusion, the discourses of inclusion such as diversity or multiculturalism give us an impression of providing equality and justice for those excluded people. Yet, despite the appreciation of the excluded identities with the focus on the difference in terms of race, gender, and class, none of those definitions, however, alludes to equality or social justice for the already excluded groups of people. Do you think, do they?

Furthermore, as inclusion by its definition aims at homogenizing identity categories by including the Other, I think it still insinuates the logic of “difference within” or “inclusive exclusion.” That’s why the conceptualization of inclusion as well as diversity is ambiguous. Even, one can throw all sorts of arbitrary differences which may eventually result in neglecting inequalities and differences. Therefore, I believe, before talking about the positive impact of being diverse on innovation, it would be better to think about how we can alleviate the logic of “difference within” or “inclusive exclusion” in which inequalities are disguised under those buzzwords other than promoting “diversity” for the purpose of innovation. I wonder what do you think?


[1]Accessed at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusion and http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/93579?redirectedFrom=inclusion#eid.

[2]Accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/images/uploads/RET_Glossary913L.pdf.