In the last few years, especially more recently, the need for diversity in different spheres of life has become a highly discussed topic. It feels as though everywhere I turn there is a diversity training or requirement, a discussion on how diversity needs to be prioritized or a flyer from a college displaying a group of students from various ethnic backgrounds. Even here at NC State, it often seems as though the diversity this university so heavily emphasizes exists predominantly to fill a quota.
The issue with discussing this is the criticism that naturally follows. If I, as a person of color, criticize how diversity is brought into conversations in society and in our community here at NC State, it is misconstrued in a way that comes across as ungrateful and selfish. Should I not be happy and content with the representation that I have witnessed? Do I have the audacity to analyze how this diversity is displayed and contextualized when I’m lucky that it exists in the first place?
To answer the latter: Yes, I do have the audacity. I find that, as a person of color, this is a necessary thing. The reality is that the societal mentality on the importance of diversity is similar to that of a business. It’s collectively recognized that diversity is what people are looking for, especially within younger generations that are becoming more politically and socially aware.
Because of this, corporations, administrations and anything in between see diversity as an opportunity. If they don’t address diversity and the need for it, then their businesses will potentially suffer in some capacity; however, if they do, then they are seen as aware of societal happenings, driving up their popularity and engagement.
This works for major corporations in a business sense, as well as for political figures and candidates. We also see it in media and storytelling through tokenization, and even at universities like NC State in the manner in which it potentially drives up application numbers as well as plactates members of the student body.
The issue with this is that it’s transparent. There is a difference between a diversity check and authentic representation. The first aims to satisfy the need to fit in with the modern day requirement that says diversity is “in,” whereas the latter recognizes that diversity has always been needed, not because it suddenly became important, but because it has always been.
People of color are not props to put on flyers for a college campus to prove to the world that white people are not the only students attending. They are real people who are living meaningful lives and have stories of their own, and deserve a true space to share them because they inherently matter and not because they are your vessel for keeping your audience engaged.
When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry did the interview with Oprah Winfrey that shocked the world, it was revealed that Meghan had dealt with racist comments from members of the royal family. After receiving slander and criticism, the royal family hired a diversity czar, aiming to bring diversity to the institution. To me, to the internet and to the world in general, this was a clear attempt to cover up the racist ideologies that were already running deep within the institution. The royal family had their chance to address their diversity issue in an authentic manner when Meghan Markle joined their family. Instead, they made a grave error and went about it in a different manner that clearly showed they were attempting a cover-up rather than the real thing.
Though the royal family’s blunder was apparent to many, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones making this mistake. Universities and corporations may not be as public about their faults, but it’s important to question whether their attempts to be diverse and inclusive are a way for them to appear “with the times” in order to avoid criticism or if it’s truly because they believe that all people deserve a seat at the table.
I’m grateful we are continuing to address the lack of diversity in many different fields; however, I find that it is also important to ask questions and hone in on why this diversity is necessary. No, I don’t want you to bring in a diversity chair because you think that you’re supposed to care about inclusivity. I want you to actually care about your business being more diverse because you know that it will not only make it better, but reflect the very diverse world we live in.
Everyone deserves their place at the table or on the campus flyer, not through the facade of being up to par, but rooted in equality and the authentic pursuit of a more just society.