This morning USM School of Social Work students sponsored a “Diversity Dash” 5K run. I was invited to make a few brief opening remarks on the significance of celebrating diversity. Those remarks follow.
So – We are here to “celebrate diversity.” But why should we celebrate human diversity, anyway? Let’s consider a few reasons:
Because, first of all, diversity is good in itself, just as the qualities of healthiness, of rich variety, of depth and beauty, or the experiences of joy, or belonging, or accomplishment, are good in themselves. As these good things are ends in themselves, so is human diversity an end in itself.
But diversity is also “useful”; it serves other important human and social purposes. We know, for example, that:
In communities, diversity builds social capital – it forges connections and shared commitments, its many strands increasing the strength of the whole community.
In organizations, diversity makes for better decisions and better outcomes – decisions and outcomes reflecting alternative points of view and experience, and pointing to alternative and otherwise foreclosed possibilities.
In interpersonal relations, diversity encourages tolerance and empathy, undergirding the expansion and broadening of our caring capacity.
In politics, diversity expands democracy and the promise of equality, pushing us toward the fulfillment of the democratic project – which we all well know is “one nation…, with liberty and justice for all.”
But let’s us not delude ourselves into thinking that any of these good things are simply given. Without a firm and sustained commitment to justice, the phrase, “celebration of diversity,” can too easily ring hollow, can too easily degenerate into banal bromide or superficial slogan. We must never forget that the ancestors of today’s native Americans were victims of a genocidal march of conquest across the continent; or that most of the ancestors of today’s African-Americans were brought to this country in chains and condemned to slave labor; or that among the extensive diversity of our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens alive today, far too many have been and continue to be victims of exclusion, exploitation, marginalization, or oppression of one kind or another.
Diversity and justice should, therefore, indeed must therefore go hand in hand. In the words of Rev. King, the marriage of justice and diversity turns “lip service” into “life service”; this marriage is our best, our truest, basis for celebration. As Dr. King also said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
On this wonderful Saturday morning, then, let us dedicate ourselves simultaneously to the celebration of diversity and the struggle for social justice.