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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

From Multiculturalism to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

This is part one of a six in our Signature Series Diversity, Critical Race Theory, Anti-Racism—and You on ThinkBetter Media.

Remember multiculturalism?

If you’re a Canadian or an Australian, you have multiculturalism as a formal responsibility of a federal government department (or “ministry,” as we British types prefer to say). If you’re an avid reader of the political press, you know that several European heads of state pronounced multiculturalism dead a decade ago. And if you’re a millennial or younger, you likely don’t know what I’m talking about.

Say the word “diversity,” however, and little explosions detonate in everyone’s mind.

Some people hear it and complain about how much things have changed since they were kids. Others hear it and bristle at how much things haven’t changed and should. Still others hear the word and rejoice in the varieties of cultures their children experience at school, in the wider array of restaurants nearby, and in the brave colleagues at work who escaped from difficult situations to come here and take on new challenges as they contribute enthusiastically to our common life.

Bigger explosions go off, however, when I say, “Critical Race Theory.” Or “Anti-Racism.” “Diversity, equality, and inclusivity”—sometimes called “diversity, equity, and inclusion”— is the new slogan of contemporary schools and workplaces. “CRT” is in the shouts of those both for and against drastic changes in society. And “Anti-Racism” the new crusade for justice in many quarters.

Let’s think better about all three of these linked, but different, ideologies.

Today we’ll consider “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) to sort out what is actually common-sensical about it all, what must be critically regarded as a campaign, and what ought to be embraced as true courtesy to our fellows.

The rest of the series will take CRT and Anti-Racism in turn. (The scandalized among us might bad-temperedly rearrange the order to spell out “D-I-E.” In some places, such as the University of Edinburgh, the acronym is EDI. And my alma mater, The University of Chicago, settles for just “diversity and inclusion.”)

We won’t spend time critiquing the likes of popular authors Robin DiAngelo, Ibram Kendi, or Voddie Baucham, none of whom as individual thinkers need occupy us here. But we will look at the basic ideas in these conversations to get past oversimplifications—which are rife in this discourse—to what really matters.

We will conclude by considering together two terms that are not often talked about in the same breath: “intersectionality” and “total depravity.” I promise to show how the linkage of these two loaded terms delivers a powerful charge to confession, repentance, amendment of life, activism, and even evangelism.

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusivity

Let’s turn, then, to “diversity, equality, and inclusivity.” I will refer to “inclusivity” rather than the also-popular “inclusion” and “equality” instead of “equity” to maintain a helpful parallel usage. (I will acknowledge for word-lovers that “equity” and “equality” can sometimes mean importantly different things. I don’t think they consistently do in this language-game.)

These terms go back in the scholarly literature more than forty years. The impetus goes back much further: abolitionism, suffragism, and other nineteenth-century campaigns for the rights and dignity of all people. The DEI surge, therefore, is simply the latest wave of the surge for justice and, even more, full acceptance of the previously marginalized or oppressed, the surge that has transformed western societies particularly since the Sixties.

Over these decades, these terms have settled in their definitions. One can in see these three conjoined elements three parallel affirmations. I will reverse the order to show how they build.

Inclusivity: All lives matter.
Equality: All lives matter equally.
Diversity: Each life matters.

Let’s include everyone, leaving no one out. We used to leave people out. Lots of people. Depending on the “we” and where “in” and “out” were, we left out women, and poor folk, and foreigners, and non-ethnic-majority people, and children. Inclusivity is the motive of embrace. Let’s exclude no one. All are welcome.

Let’s value everyone equally, regarding no one as more important, or more human, or more sacred than anyone else. We used to observe strict hierarchies, and those higher up could command, exploit, and just plain lord it over those lower down. Equality is the motive of levelling. Let’s respect everyone with equal dignity.

And let’s endorse individual difference. If multiculturalism tends to emphasize variety of communities, diversity tends to emphasize variety of particular persons. We used to prefer conformity, and we often insisted on uniformity. Diversity is the motive of acceptance at the least, and celebration at the best. You be you and that’ll be okay with the rest of us, and we might even really like your differences.

Whence these values so quickly espoused nowadays by corporations, schools, and media alike? In our next post, we’ll look at the roots of those values in the Enlightenment, yes, but also in the Christian Bible.

[This is part one of a six in our Signature Series Diversity, Critical Race Theory, Anti-Racism—and You on ThinkBetter Media.

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