By Aminat Balogun
Diversity. We all know it and we all (with the exception of our shockingly active white supremacist neighbors) love it. It’s a supposed pillar of modern American society. This nation is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world, and it’s fair to say that we all benefit from this multiplicity. Our cultural diversity brings us diverse religions, diverse fashions, and diverse cuisines. It brings us a sense of inclusive community that many of our ancestors never had the chance to experience. As a college student, I think about this fact every day. After all, college campuses are some of the most diverse places in the world. As centers of intellectual exchange, they attract students and professors from every corner of this earth. It’s a wonderful thing really, living with and learning from so many people, from so many different backgrounds. It’s almost magical.
But there is still something so unnerving about the diversity we experience in our day to day lives. And this feeling is magnified ten times over on a college campus. When I walk out of my dorm every morning, I see people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities living in harmony; sharing, talking, and learning together. But as beautiful as this sight is, I am always haunted by the same thought; the thought that we were all chosen to be here. Each and every student on this campus was selected by a board of admissions officers, and though I would like to think that everyone was selected based only on their academic and professional merit, many of us were likely chosen (at least in some part) because of our culture and heritage. Are we here because we are Asian, we are Latinx, we are Black, but most importantly because we are the perfect agents of diversity?Without us, the university can’t meet its cultural quota and the oh-so-beloved image of diversity is lost.
I don’t mean to sound so bitter and pessimistic here. I am truly grateful for the educational opportunities that my university has given me. I also know that I and my colleagues are academically qualified and equipped to be here. But the concept of manufactured diversity is just too terrifying to ignore. On campuses and in offices all over the world, people of color must grapple with the idea that the diversity they see all around them, did not occur naturally. They must wrestle with the possibility that their race, rather than their intelligence or creativity, is the primary reason for their success. They must ignore the little voice that in their head that says “You’re only here because you’re Asian/Black/Latinx…” and they must work tirelessly to prove themselves to their colleagues. It’s a truly disturbing reality.
It’s scary to think that the diversity we all value so much is not our default setting as a society, but we must remember that, more often than not, diversity is something that is created. And it is not something created by our own hands, but by the hands of those who hold the power. It’s a tool used to enhance the moral status and appeal of a body of power and it is not always the wonderful, magical thing we perceive it to be.
But who’s to say we can’t claim diversity as our own and make it the wonderful, magical thing we want it to be? Who’s to say that we can’t disregard all the negative implications of a manufactured diversity and embrace our diversity and our strength? The answer is no one. And in the immortal words of Aibilleen Clark, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” And you is definitely not going to let a corrupted system of race relations get in your way of being the best that you can be.