Soundings

William J. Stern
Defining Diversity Down
Autumn 1996

Both of the summer’s party conventions paid their respects to “diversity,” our newest and most confused national principle. The Republicans made sure that every prominent woman or black in the GOP got a turn at the rostrum, often during prime time. The Democrats, unsurprisingly, went a good deal further. Not only were the party’s speakers painstakingly “diverse,” but so were the conventioneers themselves: each state delegation had to fill strict quotas according to gender, race, and ethnicity.

But did the Democrats achieve real diversity? The networks seemed to think so. Commentators gabbed endlessly about the number of women, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities in attendance, and the cameras never stopped looking for an illustrative face. The television coverage did occasionally stray beyond this orthodoxy. We learned, for example, that 35 percent of Democratic delegates were government employees and 14 percent were members of a teachers’ union. But the press might have asked far more about the representativeness of this “diverse” group: how many were regular church- or synagogue-goers, scientists, small-business persons, veterans, members of the Jaycees or the Rotary Club?

It would be easy to compose a similar list of questions for the Republicans, of course, showing who was missing from their ranks. But that’s the point: no simple taxonomy can capture America in all its variety. Too many different things go into the human personality and into shaping our political views. Gender, race, and ethnicity are certainly part of the mix, but by themselves, they hardly justify the grand claim of “diversity.”
 

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