Friday, December 9, 2011

What are the actual benefits of ethnic diversity?

A commenter asked an interesting question on a recent post. I started to write a reply in comment form, but as it started to get lengthy I figured it would be better as a post of its own.

Eurasian sez:
It’s frequently been said that despite the way many Australians laud the benefits of multiculturalism, this embrace of other cultures often doesn’t go any further than our eating habits.

Bay Area Guy sez:
I'd say the same thing applies in the United States. This has been pointed out both by white nationalists and liberals such as Christian Lander (author of the hilarious, and in my opinion very insightful "Stuff White People Like")
When white yuppie/SWPL types say they like "diversity", it usually boils down to one thing: Good "ethnic" food. That, and other things such as music.
In all of my life, I have NEVER heard anyone successfully argue in favor of the notion that racial diversity is a strength (maybe you'll be the first =D).
When they do, it usually revolves around specific items such as food and music. They'll enjoy the food and music, but would prefer to avoid large numbers of the people of that race.
(I don't like using the term "culture" too much, because at least in my experience, PC types use it as a code word for race)

Note: Bay Area Guy is apparently some kind of White Nationalist (I'm familiar with his comments on another blog), but he comes across as open-minded enough for reasonable and respectful discussions, so I guess he's welcome here.

I'll say a few things.

I don't think diversity is all smiles and sunshine. It has both bad and good aspects to it. The problem is, how does one quantify the benefits or drawbacks? To say that a society is improved by diversity is entirely subjective, and I don't think there is any definitive formula that can prove that cultural diversity is awesome. The justifications for diversity can sound perfectly reasonable to many, while to some it may sound just like feel-good hippy nonsense that doesn't have any actual tangible benefits.

I'll also add that I'm not a blind adherent of multiculturalism. I love living in an ethnically diverse society, but for such a society to function it has to be developed and managed correctly. There needs to be the right balance between the expression of diversity on one hand, and integration into the established cultural norms on the other, and I don't think we always get that right. I don't even know if it is possible to get that balance right. So there will always be examples of what is wrong with diversity, if you wish to find them. But I would question whether such an example is due to diversity itself, or the way diversity is managed.


Food and music are mentioned as the usual reasons thrown out for diversity being positive. Let me dwell on music for a moment, with the United States as an example. How that country came to acquire its particular kind of racial diversity -through slavery and oppression - is hardly something to be proud of. Yet the intermingling of European and African cultures has changed global culture immeasurably. Virtually none of the popular music we listen to today would be possible without a mixed-race America, and that includes most genres of music that we tend to think of as "white", such as metal. White folks wouldn't have done it on their own, and neither would Africans.

Is music a triviality? Perhaps, perhaps not. More broadly, it is an aspect of culture, and culture is what tends to change once the ethnic makeup of a country starts to shift. And it's important to note that when we speak of the benefits of diversity, we are speaking primarily in cultural terms rather than economic ones. This is why answering a question like "what are the actual benefits of racial diversity?" is not necessarily easy.

Ethnic diversity also adds new dimensions to other cultural expressions such as sport. While there is a lot of consternation these days about basketball and its increasingly "ghetto" image, it's worth reflecting that the sport could never have become the world-conquering juggernaut that it did in the 80s and 90s without African-Americans. That's a huge worldwide sporting and merchandising industry based around the athletic and aesthetic qualities that guys like Jordan, Magic and Shaq brought to the game. You couldn't build such an industry on the more subtle qualities of a Larry Bird.
Living in a monoculture isn't so bad, but it is nonetheless limiting in the sorts of experiences and ideas that can be generated. And in that sense, ethnic diversity encourages broadmindedness. Sure, there will always be ignorant and close-minded people around, but my hunch is that negotiating a multicultural society actually forces one's mind to think outside the square. There's a reason why country people and small-town people, bless 'em, are stereotyped as being more fixed in their way of thinking and stuck in the past; they are more likely to live in a bubble which mostly includes only people who are like them.

Why do I personally like living in a diverse society? For me, it like travelling without actually having to spend the money to travel. Due to the constraints of time and money, I don't think I'll ever go to Afghanistan, Zimbabwe or El Salvador; yet I've had the fortune to meet many people from those countries. When I do go overseas, I'm not one to lie around on beaches all day; I'm in markets, eating at roadside stalls and trying to get a feel for what the people are all about. I'm someone with a curious mind, and I like to understand the vastness of the human experience, and what the similarities and differences can teach me about myself and those around me.
So I don't know if that answers Bay Area Guy's question at all. But I actually think that a diverse society has made me into a better and more well-rounded human being, if that's worth anything.

Our perceptions of cultural diversity are often based on our own ideals and prejudices. Some of us see a rose-tinted view of a diverse society, in which everyone lives happily ever after and no one has any medieval attitudes which cause angst and disharmony. At the other extreme, some people only see the negative. Neither are right, I think. Yet even the people who condemn diversity are probably unconsciously living a life that would not be possible without it.

8 comments:

  1. @ ES

    First of all, thanks for responding to my question!

    Second, thanks for being open minded and reasonable, as usual, and for not just dismissing me as an eeeevil white nationalist nazi. Despite some of my white nationalist views, I've always found you to be one of the most reasonable and intelligent anti-racists out there, which is why your blog is one of the few anti-racist blogs I read/comment on.

    I just come to your blog to ask questions. I go to Robert Lindsay's blog to argue and vent.

    Anyway, I have to get ready to catch a flight soon, so I'll address your entire post later.

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  2. All right ES, since you took the time to respond to my question, I in turn will now address your post in its entirety. Brace yourself, it will be a long comment.

    Is music a triviality? Perhaps, perhaps not. More broadly, it is an aspect of culture, and culture is what tends to change once the ethnic makeup of a country starts to shift.

    I think how you view diversity really depends on how much weight you assign certain things such as food and music.

    Despite the fact that I eat food and listen to music that wouldn't be possible without diversity, I've never really placed much stock in food and music.

    At least for me, food and music do not compensate for the conflict, tension, and constant agonizing/hand wringing that accompanies diverse societies.

    I know that you, based on your earlier posts, deeply value music, particularly black American music, so I guess we just have a different perspective in that regard.

    Living in a monoculture isn't so bad, but it is nonetheless limiting in the sorts of experiences and ideas that can be generated.

    I'm glad you brought this up, ES, because it's another argument that I often hear in favor of diversity. In fact, some white guy from Europe that I briefly encountered, when asked (by me) why he thought Europe's multiculturalism was a strength, told me that it provided them "new perspectives."

    While I can see where you are coming from, I must respectfully disagree.

    Two countries in particular, Japan and South Korea, demonstrate that a country can be enriched by different perspectives and ideas without actually having large numbers of radically different peoples living there.

    Japan has incorporated the best elements of Western civilization without actually having large numbers of white people live there. Ditto for South Korea.

    Just to be clear, I'm not advocating a monoculture or a completely homogenous/closed society. There are certain kinds of diversity that I DO believe in. Ideological diversity, skills based diversity, even cultural diversity to a certain degree.

    However, I believe that all of those forms of diversity can be accomplished without racial diversity.

    While you didn't mention it in your post, another argument I hear in favor of diversity basically goes something like this, and is related to what you said about experiences and ideas: "We live in an increasingly global world, and in order to be competitive in the global economy, we need a diverse workforce that looks like the world."

    Well, again, homogenous East Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China (and while it does have Tibetan and Uighur minorities, it's still about 90% Han Chinese) prove that such an argument is wrong.

    The point I'm trying to make is that a country can be creative, innovative, be enriched by different perspectives, and successfully compete in the global economy without having racial diversity.

    Anyway, this comment it starting to get too long, so I'll write more in another post.

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  3. Okay, now to address the rest of your post.

    Our perceptions of cultural diversity are often based on our own ideals and prejudices.

    Absolutely. What bothers me about diversity isn't so much the actual diversity itself (though I am critical of that as well), but rather the ideology of diversity.

    While I can't speak for all or most whites, to the extent that white people resent diversity and multiculturalism, here's what I think is the reason why.

    At least for me, diversity comes across as a one-way street.

    For starters, white people are not considered "diverse." For example, I read an article in my uni newspaper (my university being majority Asian). The writer, a white leftist, complained that despite the university having a large Asian population, it wasn't diverse at all.

    So in other words, even though Asians are overrepresented and whites are underrepresented, there are still too many white people, and not enough brown and black people.

    Maybe it's just me, but "diversity" just sounds like code for "we need fewer white people and more non-white people." You never hear anyone complaining about a lack of diversity when a place is predominantly non-white (except to complain that there are still too many whites) Even some black anti-racists I've encountered online have admitted as much.

    Multiculturalism, likewise, is about celebrating non-white cultures. Non-whites are allowed (even encouraged) to embrace and celebrate their racial identities, have their own separate racial clubs, etc, whereas if whites even think of doing the same, they're nazis.

    Yes, I know, I know. "Racism = prejudice plus power," "whites are the dominant group in society, so they don't need white pride," "non-whites are just reacting to white oppression," "white identity can only be based on hatred and exclusion," etc. Yeah, I've read my anti-racism/Critical Race Theory 101.

    However, regardless of the reasons, many whites do rightly perceive "diversity" as being a one-way street in many regards. Even when they're a minority (like me), the same multiculturalist rules still apply.

    Anyway, thanks for stimulating this thoughtful discussion!

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  4. @ BAG:

    Regarding the second of your comments, I actually agree with most of it to an extent.

    In terms of communities/institutions trying to force diversity by design (as in the example of your college)... I agree with this in some circumstances. I would ask, "What is the reason for pushing for diversity?" If it is to redress an inequality, then I'm for it. If it is just pursuing diversity simply as an end in itself, that seems kinda pointless.

    I read something recently about a firefighting service wanting to have more diverse personnel. Why does that matter? If it is about changing discriminatory hiring policies, then yes that's fantastic. But instead it just seemed like diversity was being pursued for its own sake, regardless of whether non-white people actually wanted to be firefighters or not.

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  5. Despite the fact that I eat food and listen to music that wouldn't be possible without diversity, I've never really placed much stock in food and music.

    Really? What else is there in life?
    Seriously though, you are entitled not to value such things, but perhaps that brings us to the essence of the issue. You surely can still appreciate that many other people are fascinated by music and/or food. Likewise with living in a culturally diverse society - it does not impress you, clearly, but for a lot of people its value is obvious. If you don't like it, maybe you are just never going to like it, no matter how hard someone like me tries to convince you otherwise.

    My point in the post about basketball could also be applied to music, btw. Both have become ginormous profit-making global industries because of what happened when two cultures (black and white Americans) interacted with each other.

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  6. Really? What else is there in life?

    ES, perhaps I should clarify, because I could have articulated my argument in my first comment better.

    (you know how some things get lost in the process of writing a very long post)

    I'm not denying the value of food and music. Without them, the world would indeed be a very dull and depressing place.

    I guess what I was trying to say was that I don't think the special kinds of food or music that come with diversity compensate for the various ills related to diversity.

    (ie. Racial tension, constant agonizing/hand wringing over racism, sensitivity/diversity training, identity politics, etc)

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  7. Hello BAG and ES,

    Well this is the first time I am commenting on a blog so please bear with me if violate some unsaid rule!!!

    I would just like to add something to what ES said about the advantages of ethnic diversity. I am from a business background so according to me if you have wish to open a new business in some other country or even if you wish to promote some product among a particular community, it's always helpful if you get a guy from that community to promote the product among them.

    Thus gaining the trust and loyalty of that community in your product inspite of not belonging to that ethnic group or community.

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  8. Hi BAG and ES,
    FYI, China is NOT a country of monoculturalism. There are about 50 tribes and languages that can not communicate one oanother. The South vs North, East vs West. Although the majoroty is Han ethnic, they do not speak the same language across the regions.
    China is like a continent rather than a mono nationalistic country, just like my country, Indonesia.

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