Diversity's Haunted House


As we move into a year that starts with 2 we bring beliefs and knowledge, the things we have learned in our cells and bones, we bring burdens and wounds. We are not starting from scratch. Collectively we know more than we know alone. Our challenge is to pool and share and redistribute and exchange and pass on what we know. What we know is part of who we are, part of our identity and legacy. If we leave that out, we are diminishing and disabling ourselves.

Since the beginning before the beginning, there has been diversity. Biodiversity, sociobiodiversity, political, economic, linguistic, ethnic, religious diversity. We keep repeating the basic truth, the fact that diversity is the foundation of life and human society, the building block, the genetic code, the horizon and landscape. There's no getting away from it, in darkness or light.
The planet, after all, is spinning. Do we think that doesn't affect us? It is so basic we rarely mention it. What goes around comes around.
America has unfinished business with Indians, with Native Americans, the first Americans who were Americans before the USA was America. Both our language and our history go in circles, making us dizzy.
America, the country, has never made peace with the inhabitants of the land before there was a country. So the ground keeps slipping out from under us, we lose our bearings. This makes a good surrealistic nightmare but a very uncomfortable life.
Native-born is redundant. Native means born to this place. Native means having a birth claim, a primary relationship here. Native son, native daughter, native land. Your native language is what you heard in the womb. People speak their native tongue. What is native to you is what comes naturally, what is pre-conscious, pre-literate, pre-historic, before the overlays of others, before things are imposed, drilled into you, before you are cultivated, socialized, indoctrinated, colonized.
Natives are taking back America. Will America take back its natives? The story of the 21st century is how America comes to terms with its peculiar destiny to be home to so many peoples. Will America also come to terms with its legacy of grief? The ramifications are enormous for our politics, psychology, education, economics, ecology. I can only begin to suggest the dimensions of some of the issues here.

There are 5000-6000 peoples in the world. The US government has boiled them down to five. Each of us is supposed to check one as a marker of who we are. This reduction over-simplifies everything. And at the same time it complicates things. It would be easier to say you belong to this place, or you were here first, before history so to speak, before the present clock was wound up. But that confuses people.
We don't know how to count each other, or ourselves, as citizens, as members of a community, as co-tenants.
It used to be that a nation was populated by a single nationality, a people were a nation. But now there are nation-states, countries, of many, multiple, and mixed peoples. They are called ethnic groups, tribes, immigrants, refugees, cultures. Maybe we should see ourselves as an extended family with many branches on the family tree. At some point, some generations ago, we came from similar stock; and at some point, sooner or later, we seem to be coming together, mixing, blending, into a new combination of humanity.
The USA is a nation of nationalities. It is also a nation of nations. Many Native Americans have dual citizenship, as citizens of their tribal nation and of the USA. The USA is dotted with other nations within its borders. The native nations assert claims of sovereignty in various matters. This is unknown or ignored by most Americans, and even by most diversity programs.
Maybe we should say we count our selves. We're not quite comfortable with multiple identities. Officially, we want to be one nation, One America. But that's a slogan that hasn't been earned.
We are formally opposed to persecution because we respect each person. That's why we have laws specifically against hate crimes, harassment, discrimination. Devoting attention to diversity is an anti-persecution program. It is a reminder of our core American, democratic, values, our moral compass. In this sense the civic moral compass of America is our Medicine Wheel. It provides our guideposts, it is the feedback mechanism of who we are, it is the gauge of who we want to be. And diversity is its name.
Diversity is the norm. The absence of diversity, monoculture, or antagonism toward others, is a vulnerable, impoverished, depleted, unhealthy, unsustainable state.

Who are the proto-citizens, the Ur-inhabitants, the original people, the ancestors, the Old Ones, the offspring of the land, the watershed, the ecosystem, the bioregion, the biosphere, the Earth? There is a notion that natives or indigenous people are more pure, more genuine, more real, than non-natives. Non-natives are late-comers, arrivistes, pretenders. The etiquette used to be that they should wait their turn, bide their time, listen and learn. But that etiquette doesn't hold any more.
"Diversity" is a synonym for "minorities." This is presumptuous when it suggests that Euro-Americans are the baseline, mainstream, dominant gene pool, and everyone else is secondary, marginal, nontraditional. It means there are people who belong to groups that have been excluded and suppressed, who have been designated a "protected class," and diversity is the intention to treat them fairly.
When people talk of "minorities" and diversity in the United States, they are usually referring to Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans-less often, to Native Americans. Sometimes, Native Americans are omitted entirely. (They are not mentioned in The Minority Career Guide, 1993, for instance.) In Diversityspeak, this means that white people, Euro-Americans, are the control group in contrast to "diverse" people-that is, people in a different category from them. In this sense, "diversity" can be seen as a movement to counter-balance the prevalence, dominance, and untoward privileges of white people.
But Native Americans, or first Americans, like first peoples everywhere, are not just the statistical or cultural "minority" of the month or the latest Census. Amerindians, like indigenous peoples everywhere, are the people of the local place, the first human title holders, trustees or stewards of a spirit of the planet. They are the occupants of the country before it became the present strangely shaped, strangely named political subdivision. For the first 100 years the name "America" was used, it referred to what we call Latin America.
I think it is misleading, miseducational, to call any people "minorities" without making it clear what the political history has been that turned them into "minorities." Invariably with native peoples, that is a history of usurping territory, of displacement, exile and elimination. It is by definition a history of devastation everywhere in the world where it has occurred. There is a trail of trauma. The Earth, that chapter of history, echoes that trauma. We can't just speak of "minorities" without evoking those facts and truths and realities. But diversity efforts have been guilty of glossing over the difficult, the unpleasant, the "negative." They haven't dealt much with the dark side.
Most diversity initiatives don't delve into Native American life very much. If diversity is remedial education, it has tended toward superficial "edutainment." This work must be extended and deepened. There is much about the history and experience of this country that would be lessons for diversity if we are willing to work on healing trauma, grief, pain, and on reconciliation.

We pass from diversity into diversity.
There is the famous line from W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk, 1903: "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,--the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea."
I think the geometry has changed. Instead of a color-line, we have a kaleidoscope. And I would speak of cultures rather than races. But we still have a problem, going into the next century.
One view is that history advances-we say we are moving forward by following a particular course. Another is that history, like the moon, has phases. Another is the simultaneity of history, past/present/future together. Another is that history is a great circle.
This is important because people have a vested interest in their preferred physics or metaphysics of progress. They identify with one model, their existence is defined by it. So putting people into categories is a complicated matter-it involves classification, differentiation, sorting, and labeling; it is numerical, it is political, and it is moral. Numerical dominance may or may not mean political dominance, and that is one of the major plotlines of history. And either or both forms of dominance may or may not seem moral to us or to people of a different time.
That is why there is such interest in demographic charts and tables. Some people's outlook is demographically determined. They believe their fortunes rise and fall on demographic tides.
I say this because otherwise it would be difficult to understand the meaning of the fact that white people in the next fifty years will no longer be a numerical majority in the population of the USA. In the very brief history of the country, the story of the country has been precisely about the role and function of white people as the majority group, ever since the Spanish arrival in Florida, the English in Virginia, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and so on.
The saga of the country has been about the issue of the numerical and political dominance of white people. The story of the country's progress has been framed in those terms. The caste system of the country has been cast in those terms.
So to point out that white people no longer outnumber some other groups of people in the USA causes a shift in the patriotic center of gravity. And as the numbering and labeling goes further, the political and moral questions gain more prominence.
I think this is where we are going with diversity, into the haunted house of America's psyche and history. We are exhuming stories that have the power to rattle our conscience and comfort. Memory and history are so recent that there is a population of people who reverberate with the removal to reservations of native people. The memory and history of the country are so recent that there is a population of people now alive who are the children of African slaves.
This has not passed from the scene. We are not even two generations removed from these forces, which some people want to quickly relegate to ancient history. No matter how much material life has changed, it has not eliminated or resolved or healed the memory and history which constitute our experience as a country. There is unfinished business, work to be done. Diversity is one of its names.

It is not "politically correct" to say that Columbus did not discover America, it is merely correct. We need a post-Columbus Day, post-Pilgrim Thanksgiving approach to our history. We need correctives and antidotes to the lessons we learned and mislearned. (See Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen.)
People who were slaves shipped from Africa were reckoned as a fraction of a person. (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2: "…adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.")
Were they only fractionally human? The arithmetic of democracy got us off to a difficult start. I think diversity is still dealing with those whole numbers and fractions. Diversity is a new math.
African-Americans are no longer the primary minority in the US. For 150 years or so, they were. First, of course, as everywhere, there were native peoples. For a time, white settlers were outnumbered by native peoples. Then, there was a shift in the ratio of whites to native peoples to African slaves. Now, people who are called Latino or Hispanic are about to take over as the major numerical minority, second only to non-Hispanic heritage Euro-Americans, who continue to be considered the majority. There are other ways of reporting on the numbers, of course. But the Census Bureau has decided to break out the numbers of the Spanish surname population for special treatment.
It is of great interest to me, by the way, that there are many crypto-Jews in the Hispanic population, people descended from the conversos who left Spain in 1492 and who considered themselves Catholics in Mexico and the Southwestern USA, until they discover that their Jewish heritage has been kept from them. Inside any group there are subdivisions and distinctions unknown to people outside the group-and sometimes there are secrets and lies hidden even in the group itself.
But we can't expect the Office of Management and Budget, whose Statistical Directive #15 guides the Census and EEO categories, to be too sensitive on these matters. They are clumsy in trying to get the big picture and the details into their calculations at the same time. That leaves the real work for the rest of us to do.

Less than two-thirds of newborn babies in the USA have two Anglo parents-by 2020, it will be less than 50%. In the course of the next fifty years, the US population as a whole will become ever-less predominantly Anglo, until the 2050 Census will show about half or less than half of the total population to be non-Hispanic white. But before then, by 2025, 50% of public school students in the U.S. will be "minority"-(63% of households will have no children in 2000). Even now, most of the largest school districts have a majority minority enrollment.
This calls into question the term "minority." Do we mean people who are less than half of a group, or do we mean people who are not white, no matter how many they are? When there were so few people who were not white, the answer was simple. But when there are more nonwhites than whites, we should review our terminology.
Do such classifications even make any sense? That's a question we have to decide and revise our language accordingly.
Native-heritage people of the Western Hemisphere are a growing proportion of the nonwhite population of the US. If you consider heritage from Inca, Aztec, Maya, Athabascan, Taino, Arawak, and Inuit to be native Americans, along with Indio-African, and Indio-European combinations, the USA population is increasingly at least partly native. That may be surprising to some people.
The historical sequence of people in both North and South American continents is open to some dispute and interpretation. If people from Siberia came across the Bering land bridge, then perhaps we can say the first Americans were Russians. (That's a little post-Cold War joke.) What if African wanderers came to this continent before Leif Erickson? Do you want to start with Columbus, who left Spain on the very last day all Jews were to leave if they wouldn't convert to Christianity?
Dr. Jack D. Forbes, of the Native American Studies department at the University of California at Davis, has written that today (as of 1998), most children in California schools are descended in whole or in part from indigenous peoples, "from the original Americans whose history goes back at least 13,000 years, whether they are called Chicano, Mexican, Mestizo, Cholo, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, white, or African-American."
He has pointed out how the numbers are manipulated. In past Census forms, while some 2 million people say their race is Native American, 7 or 8 million people claim at least partial Native American ancestry. Then it is reported that there are 2 million Indians in the U.S. He calls this "ethnocide by exclusion." It is our statistical ethnic cleansing. We have "cooked the books," juggled the numbers. In a system where the numbers matter, where headcount organized by EEO code has an impact, it is no small distortion.
According to Forbes, by 2010, brown Americans will be an absolute majority in California and people of Mexican descent alone will be a majority in California by 2020. Although many people don't think of it, all the peoples of the Americas are Americans. Forbes says that in the year 2000 census, natives of Central and South America in the U.S., and their children, will be expected to identify themselves as native Americans. The numbers in that category will show quite a jump. Will we wonder where all those Indians came from all of a sudden?
In the meantime, California became a post-Anglo state in 1997. Whites are now a statistical minority in New Mexico, Hawaii, New York City, and more than 2000 other cities and towns.
In the 20th century, we have gone from 50 countries to 200, from 1.6 billion people in the world to 6 billion. Life expectancy in the USA has gone from 47 years to 75. The 20th century saw the death by war or genocide of perhaps 170 million people, the displacement of tens of millions of refugees.
We have the concurrent existence of traditional peoples and postmodern societies. We have had recurring stories of "lost tribes," people "discovered" living in a timewarp. We are uncomfortable being modern and synthetic. We want to be natural, raw instead of cooked. We love the romance of the rural, rustic, wild, primitive, the homegrown, homemade, handmade, the craftsman, the shaman, in touch with life's mysteries, with life itself-which includes death. There's a new focus on death and dying as a spiritual discipline.
Closer to such elusive states means closer to dreamtime, closer to the dividing line between consciousness and unconsciousness, living in the woods or wilderness, hands-on, closer to life-which means hardship, exertion, mastery, and the corresponding hint of greater wisdom. There is a resurgence in the literature of simple living. Again. Each time we lose direct contact with the land there is a movement to return, and each time is accompanied by sentiment about indigenous peoples.
Different groups of people have different knowledge and beliefs. This is the mystery of the Other. Westerners have been drawn to India, for instance. It is not far from India to Indians. In this psychic, metaphysical geography, they are neighbors, relatives. This is the pulse of diversity as a mythopoetic attraction.
Many people in postmodern society are ambivalent about nature. It is a cliché that kids don't know where milk comes from; they think it comes from the cooler in a store. The Census Bureau has announced that it will no longer count farmers because there are so few of them. Not just Hutterites, Mennonites, Dunkards, and Amish. Not just Black farmers. All farmers. They are less than 2% of the population. Jews are barely 2% of the population also. Will we stop counting Jews? Is there a 2% threshold of people who count, who are to be counted?
Now we are in the thick of it. The numbers, the demographic pie charts, the masking, mirroring, marketing of America, the segmenting and psychographics. We tally and tabulate and pit the numbers against each other.

We should see diversity as a field of study, a body of knowledge, a wisdom tradition. We should treat diversity as a discipline, a multifaceted, multidimensional discipline. How far could we go? Could we have an institute concentrating on diversity theory and applications, of diversity research and development, of training and dissemination? Sure, of course.
I would like to see us begin forming such programs or institutions. As the foundation of this next generation of diversity work I propose assembling an archive of what we've learned already. We need a diversity archive in the area of social relations, applied behavioral science. This would include what we now know and believe, the state of the art, in a number of areas,
The diversity archive would be a physical collection, an interactive library of materials, and also an informational collection, a sophisticated website. One of its main benefits is that it would have hyperlinks, cross references. This archive would collect, cross-reference, and make available the tools, resources, methods, and mechanisms which work when people have done this work. We need the blueprints, recipes, toolkits, maps. We need more facilitators. This doesn't sound dramatic, but it is.
This diversity archive is a collection of knowledge and also a mentality, a worldview, a perspective, an attitude. If you look at the world through the prism of diversity, it's a different world. That's our situation, people are living in concurrent worlds, all on this Earth, in the same historical era, multiple alternate realities.

Leadership is defining ourselves as insiders instead of outsiders, as essential to America instead of marginal to America, as a model for the future instead of a casualty of the past. This means turning things around, starting with yourself and engaging everyone else.
Some of the work never changes. It is cyclical and repetitive. We teach children who they are, we teach them to differentiate between themselves and others. This is basic and universal. How many peoples call themselves The People? Including "We the People."
There are levels or stages in this. Some people seem to never question themselves. Some people seem to be always questioning. As Elie Wiesel has said, inside every question there is a quest. For some people, the quest is a lifelong project.
The politics eventually unfold. We enter the fray through various channels. Diversity is the Prime Directive in "Star Trek." Diversity is the existence of difference. It is the ramifications of the presence and interaction of differences.
People use the expressions valuing differences, celebrating diversity. But we can't value differences until we can experience them, we can't experience them unless another person will reveal them, and they won't do that unless it's safe for them to do so. We need to make it safe, and possible, for differences to emerge in our presence. People won't disclose themselves unless we let them.

(January, 1999)