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Friday, September 16, 2005

Poverty and Diversity

Hurricane Katrina has helped us all to take another look at poverty in America, I think. While certainly many are merely using this catastrophe as an event to promote their already established views (either for or against welfare for example) hopefully at least some of us are honestly trying to look at things in new ways. One point that was made, amoung other places, is in this Newsweek article which I have seen in several places is that segregation, largely voluntary, is increasing in America. While there are few legal obstacles to integration, many whites, and many blacks seem to prefer to 'keep to their own kind.' One of the downsides of the quest for equal opportunity inherent in this though is that very often, it is as more who you know than what you know as a measure of success. Since whites have a larger proportion of the wealth in this nation than blacks do, naturally contacts among white people are more economically valuable, in aggregate, than contacts among black people. It is probably much more likely that a poor white person will have wealthy, or at least middle class friends than a poor black person will. It also seems that this trend is increasing, or at best remaining stable. The panacea for combating racism, diversity training, although widely employed doesn't seem very good at combating this factor at all. This leads me to wonder if the very concept of diversity training is flawed. While I certainly agree that is it good to learn about and respect other cultures and lifestyles, diversity training by it's nature seems focused on two things, the differences between groups, and how to avoid offending members of those groups. If we are trained in how different another group is, and how we need to be careful to avoid giving offense to that group, it seems to me likely that when we want to relax, to not worry excessively about protocol and to let it hang out while doing the things our group enjoys, then it seems natural to choose to spend one's social time with one's own group. Perhaps a better concept to focus on is Similarity Training. What if we taught, as an effort to combat racism, all the ways that Blacks and Whites are similar? By any objective measure the similaritites far outweigh any differences. We all laugh and cry. We all love. In general, most of us want to make the world a better place and few of us, of any race or gender, are out to belittle or offend someone else. Martin Luther King famously said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." I have to wonder whether diversity training, obviously well intentioned, helps or hinders that grand goal.


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