Remember that word game we used to play when we were children? The one where we picked a word and repeated it over and over as fast as we could? The purpose was to see how fast we could speak and still correctly pronounce the word.
We would laugh ourselves silly at some of the sounds that came out of our mouths. All harmless play, but we also noticed an additional result. The more a word or phrase was repeated, the more the meaning seemed to become blurry.
And we have to wonder, is it really true that words spoken often enough can lose their sense of purpose and meaning?
Take the word "diversity," for instance. Now there’s a word that has certainly been overused and possibly become blurry in meaning or context. It seems that everywhere we turn we hear things like “We need more diversity,” “We have lots of diversity,” “We are diversified,” “We can’t hold onto diversity.”
Geez, which is it? Are we diversified or not? Is diversity something we can lose? Or is it something we can or cannot retain? Is this something valuable, since everyone is trying to get it or keep it?
We have a tendency to think that using the word has become an acceptable way to avoid saying that our culture is still racist, homophobic and discriminatory in other areas, such as ethnicity and religion, and that we are trying to fix it by bringing everyone together in some group dynamic that says, “Hey, we accept everyone.”
But do we really? And who are those individuals in the positions of power (sort of indicates a hierarchy already in place, doesn’t it?) who are trying to bring us together?
Is there actually a group dynamic going on that prevents assimilation while professing acceptance?
Truth be told, we are all diversified by individual heritage and family genetics, not to mention the many available choices of religions and philosophies.
And it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find an American who is not of mixed heritage, with families even consisting of lesbian or gay or transgender individuals or couples, as well as various religious representations.
Given this, what’s the problem? Maybe it’s the fact that our purported democracy based upon equal opportunity and representation is not what it seems. Everyone has bought into the well-worn statement that America is the land of opportunity, based upon equal opportunity and justice for all.
How many times have we heard those words? And what was it that we were saying about oft-repeated words becoming blurry? Maybe we are still struggling to achieve what we purport to be true.
But why is there a struggle? This is a country where women had to fight for the right to vote and own property; citizens had to fight for child protection and anti- child labor laws; blacks had to fight for their very freedom and to abolish institutionalized indentured servitude (okay, slavery, we have to call it what it was); blacks also had to fight for the right to vote, marry and in general participate in society on an equal level with other citizens.
Native Americans have continued to fight for the very right to live and breathe; lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are still fighting for equal opportunity and protection against discrimination in the workplace, housing and the right to marry and/or make civil contracts.
What is all this fighting about, and who is the resistance? Perhaps better asked is why the resistance?
As we celebrate this hallowed month of tricks and/or treats, we can’t help but notice the evidence of extremes in interpretation of what has mostly become a fun activity for kids.
On the one hand there are Halloween costume parties, hayrides and the collection of massive doses of sugar by children. All fun and healthy (well maybe not the sugar part) forms of entertainment.
But on the other side are those religious zealots who “celebrate” – or as we call it, “ruin everyone else’s fun” – by creating scenes of torture, pain, suffering and depravity, all in the guise of saving souls from the damnation of homosexuality (and we detect tones of white, evangelical superiority in there too).
The oft-repeated words and phrases by these folks have become blurry to us too. However, what we can’t ignore is that oft-repeated words and phrases convince folks that some things are a reality when in truth they may not be. Blurry truth or blurry fiction can each be believable.
We cannot ignore the effect of these negative but strong messages upon our youth, who internalize self-hatred and loathing because they are seen as a disgrace by their own families and friends.
All such messages of intolerance engender feelings that often lead to violence against oneself or others.
We don’t have the space here to psychoanalyze, but we do wonder how such institutions of hatred can survive in an area rich with educational advantage.
Let us consider the value of an education for a moment. It is fairly accepted that the better educated young people are, the less chance there is that they will be rabidly discriminatory and/or filled with hatred. (Yes, we know there are exceptions to everything.)
However, what is the cost of attending a church or religious group? Attendance is basically free, with the exception of voluntary donations or tithing, and their organizations do a lot of recruiting.
Now let’s review the cost of higher education. Wow! What a difference! The cost of a four-year degree is way past $40,000, and if one is at the bottom end of the economic scale, food and shelter are the most urgent needs, and personal goals become about survival instead of intellectual enrichment.
And it does seem sometimes that academic institutions are fortresses penetrable only by the wealthy or those in the "in crowd,” and others are not included.
Perhaps the detachment of the academic institution from the larger surrounding community provides little overall incentive for those less advantaged to consider attendance as an option. It’s quite possible that they don’t feel welcome.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the very institutions that talk about increasing diversity as part of the academic mission aren’t always effective in considering or in reaching those who may need education the most?
So we wonder if the new corporate structure of higher education isn’t also becoming blurry. Maybe the real need is to expand the concept of diversity to include everyone and not just those “target” groups that are defined as outside the circle of inclusion.
We are all, in truth, diversified, so let’s drop the hierarchies of inclusiveness and messianic zeal and hone our terminology to fulfill American ideals by replacing diversity with true equity. We are all on the same team!
Helen Harrell and Carole Fischer can be reached at and email@example.com.