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Inclusivity is a Route to Diversity

Representation is more complicated

If this is a matter of how best to convey the ideal of multiculturalism and universal rights for people across a variety of genders, sexes, sexualities, and races then there are problems with the use of both the terms ‘diverse’ and ‘representative’ as they have come to be used.

To define the proposition this language is supposed to advance: people have a right to embody their private qualities as public characteristics. Variations on any theme of personality, character, or individual nature should be treated in the same way as religious non-conformity.

That is, that one may argue for rights in the aid of one’s beliefs, as a religious individual might argue that their beliefs entitle them to one right or another. Such as; the ability to express themselves, for breaks to pray in, not to be publicly discriminated against, nor to be deprived of one’s ability to practice privately, as well as many others. For positive discrimination, or against negative discrimination.

I prefer your use of ‘inclusion’ to the way in which ‘diverse’ and ‘representative’ are used. I have seen both used in ways I don’t recognise.

For example, an individual cannot be ‘diverse’. They can embody a range of mutually exclusive characteristics, such as being trans, male, female, androgynous, gender-fluid at the same time as being black, white, asian, mixed-heritage, native American, latino. A person can be any number of combinations but any system of classification shuts down the possibility of being two exclusive things at once: one cannot be both cisgendered and trans, both gay and straight. One is placed into a new, discrete category: gender fluid, androgynous or agender, bisexual or asexual, mixed-heritage. This can then be combined into, for example, a gay Muslim white male, or a gender-fluid Jewish black person.

A diverse body of people, such as a company, club, society, or organisation can be described as such because it is populated by a range of people who embody different characteristics. Such an organisation can emerge via actively inclusive policies of admission (such as affirmative action) or passively inclusive policies (the absence of discriminatory admission policies).

The antithesis of the ideal would be an exclusive, discriminatory body: for example, a business operating a policy of racial segregation, or more innocently, a place of worship made up only of individuals from within a particular religious sect.

There must also, therefore, be actively discriminatory institutions and passively discriminatory institutions: the racist business is actively excluding employees or customers of one social stripe. The house of worship populated exclusively by individuals of a religious sect is passively exclusive, as the people who want to be there are self-selecting: it may be made up of any number of races, sexualities, or genders but they will all be of one faith.

The other difference between these two organisations is: while a business may be privately owned it is providing a public service; a house of worship is privately owned for the private ends of a faith. Whether an organisation has public or private duties therefore impacts on the question of whether it is a justly inclusive or exclusive institution.

‘Diverse’ has its place: but it is not for describing the means toward achieving multiculturalism. Neither is it for describing individuals. It can only measure the effects, of which the inclusivity of an admissions policy may be only one factor of several (for example, the initial diversity of a population, or the cumulative inclinations of a type).

Representative’ has a different problem: it denotes delegation. There is a second-degree relationship to an object. One may elect an individual to look after your interests: a member of government, or someone to exercise your right of attorney. Such people become representative of you.

If someone is gay, straight, or bisexual they are not personally representative of gay, straight or bisexual people: the relationship is first-degree. It is inappropriate to talk of a person being ‘representative’ unless they have been elected by another individual or group to represent them. It would be unfair to claim that a person is representative of the proclivities or opinions of a collective type simply because they are of them: it may even be the result of a prejudicial mode of thinking.

I can imagine a person representing the concept of something like conformity, difference, or an unwanted compulsion to an onlooker. It is impossible to directly control the imaginations of individuals, which can only be moulded by the onlooker’s own contemplation. Even if peoples’ minds could be changed for them, it would destroy the freedom of conscience which allows us to embody our individual characters in the first place.

There is another way to use the word ‘representation’: where a symbol comes to represent a bigger idea. In this context, discrimination allows a physical facet of one’s character (such as one’s skin colour, sexual characteristics or choice of partner) to become representative of a people, culture, and/or history and thereby an unspoken alibi for discriminatory treatment.

For example, the colour of one’s skin becomes a symbol: racial discrimination goes beyond the policies of institutions and into the cultural imagination which places the rights of one type over another. This allows a whole type of person lesser to another on a practical level (sometimes, even to themselves, with all that implies). The rights to which we are all entitled become unevenly applied or acknowledged.

At this level it is no longer a question of individual conscious but of the cultural order, where language, manners, rights, and social facts emerge. The arena of debate. Advocacy on behalf of a type is an opportunity to persuade people to examine their prejudices and re-order their imaginations into a more equitable mode of thinking: clear and logical arguments are necessary for persuasion to be effectual.

Of course, if the institutions which facilitate debate (the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, mass media, universities) are not sufficiently inclusive (and therefore diverse) there are fewer opportunities to challenge the prevailing myth. Here there really is less of the first kind of representation, of people arguing on your behalf. I have a preferred solution to this problem, and it boils down to including more points of view in these arenas.

The argument for inclusivity is much clearer than that for diversity or representation: both of these terms are measures of the results of inclusive policies. It is a confusion between ends and means to argue for diversity or representation when the root of the matter is whether or not people are being discriminated against.

In particular ‘representation’ is not necessarily an ally in this fight: some forms of discrimination rest on turning a person’s qualities into a cultural symbol for ‘lesser’.

Of course, all of this rests on an individualistic understanding of the language of rights. There are different implications if you believe that society is made up of families or communities. To me, these sound like subsets of society, which are still constituted by individuals.

I hope these semantics contribute something to the cause.