Friday, April 15, 2005

Our Strength is Diversity?

OUR STRENGTH IS DIVERSITY! You must have heard that saying before. It’s our mantra. Our religion. It is the way we define ourselves and our city. After all, Toronto is, or so I hear, the most culturally diverse city on the planet. People from virtually all cultures in the world live here in reasonable peace and harmony.

We should be proud. Virtually everyone who has come here has been able to put aside their cultural differences and hatreds. Or, at least they keep it well hidden. So far, so good.

But is cultural diversity really a strength? Or is it simply a social reality that we’ve learned to live with? In any event, we’re living with it quite gracefully. But I guess that’s to be expected. After all, we are Canadians. We tolerate everything. We are against nothing (except, of course, Texans and Israel). And we never pass judgment on anyone or anything (except Christians and, of course, Americans).

Anyway, I’m confused. If our cultural diversity is strength, does that make our similarities a weakness? Of course not. Any rational person knows that similarities are what draws people together, not differences. Look at sports. In order to form a cohesive, well functioning team, players have to pursue the same objectives and support each other. Imagine forming a hockey team of people from many different cultures where the players only passed the puck to members of their own cultural group and avoided contact with other team members. I bet that team wouldn’t win a single game. Well, maybe against the Leafs.

And yet, despite the fact that oftimes diversity is not a strength, we are told that we must believe that it is. And we are not permitted to question it. Those who do are often demeaned as intolerant or even racist. They usually shut up real quick. As a result, we have created a fragmented society, comprised of diverse isolated parts - a society where people are encouraged to promote and focus on their cultural differences, rather than celebrate and emphasize their similarities as Canadians and as human beings.

Some would argue that this blind adherence to the quasi-religion of 'diversity' has actually created a divide between our communities. In fact, it’s quite ironic that we have adopted the word "community" to describe these exclusive, mono-cultural groups. After all, the word ‘community’ conjures up as many images of exclusion as it does inclusion. Think about it. Communities have always been formed as much to keep people out as keep people in. (Think 'gated communities') The same is true in many ways of Toronto’s cultural communities. If you’re not one of them - if you’re not like them - you can’t be a member of their “community”.

In northeastern Toronto there is a huge Chinese community. If you walk though their malls you’ll see no signs in English and hear no one speak our language. This is not diversity. This is self imposed, government approved segregation. This is a cultural enclave where diversity is neither encouraged nor welcome. And yet, oddly, communities like this are held up as a glowing example of the success of diversity. Weird huh?

And it happens a lot. Our city is often described as a culturally diverse, urban centre. In reality, it’s really a loosely structured series of physical and virtual mono-cultural communities where many people socialize and do business only with people of their own cultural background. (Now let me be clear, this is not about skin color, religion or ethnicity. I know people of many backgrounds and religions who I respect more and who make better Canadians than a lot of white Christian people. Better than me, in fact. This is really about a state sanctioned concept called 'cultural diversity' that encourages people to avoid integrating into the broader Canadian culture.)

And don’t get me wrong. I am not anti diversity in all things. In fact, I do believe that diversity can be a strength. But only when it’s a carefully planned initiative where diversity in knowledge, skills or experience can be put to specific use to further some goal or other. Like in business for example. A company may need specialists in many diverse areas like communication, marketing, shipping and research.

It’s far less apparent, however, how diversity in culture, language and values in the general makeup of our society is a strength. In fact, other than hearing the usual mindless slogans about diversity being strength, no one has ever explained to me in detail why, exactly, it is a strength for us all. Granted, diversity has certainly benefited those whose presence has made Canada diverse. After all, they get to avoid the pesky inconvenience of integrating. It is less clear, however, what benefit has been given to the Canadians who were here before diversity became our mantra. Are their lives really better? Is their city and their nation really stronger? Explain to me how? Educate me.

At election time, politicians visit all the insular cultural tribes and communities in Toronto, promising to address the issues that are important to them. And every community clambers to get a piece of the tax-funded pie to pay for their own cultural priorities. Diversity has made them competitors - one cultural group pitted against another for a chance to take home the grand prize: more of my tax dollars.

Can someone tell me why government spends so much time dividing us and so little time bringing us together. And why do these various cultural communities think that they have the right to get special treatment from the government? Seems to me that we all basically have the same needs - safe streets, a good health system, an effective education system and clean water. Shouldn’t we be joining together to demand these and other essential, universally needed, services - not splitting up into factions begging government to address our own selfish cultural interests? Shouldn't our priorities be to protect and nurture Canadian culture? The culture of acceptance, tolerance and inclusivity? (OK, 'inclusivity' isn't a word. humour me, OK? I've had a long day)

People leave their birth culture to come to Canada. Often, the culture they leave has given them nothing but pestilence, poverty, war or oppression. They want a better life. So they come here to enjoy the fabulous freedoms and prosperity that Canadian culture provides. But when they get here, they ignore Canadian culture and wallow in the very culture they were running away from. It's like someone who escapes from their burning home and then sets fire to their room in the shelter, just to see if it will burn the same way their house did.

I'll tell you what - lets play a game. You make a list of societies or nations where people of vastly different cultures and values have lived together in harmony for extended periods of time. And I’ll make up a list of societies where such a situation has led to hatred, segregation, murder and even genocide. My list will be endless. Yours will be almost blank.

We are constantly told cultural diversity is a strength. It's like they know we might question it unless they keep repeating it. What they don't tell us is that it is also a gamble.

Only recently have people of diverse cultures started living together as equals in any great number. (And even now, it's mostly occuring in western democracies. Bully for us.) Before that, for the entire history of mankind, we have lived almost exclusively in mono-cultural communities. People who immigrated into a culture were obliged to integrate into it. Many people never traveled further than a few miles from their community, except to go to war (where they killed people who were not of their culture.) Ever since we crawled from the primordial bog, or were molded from the dust (whichever you believe) this has been a reality. The social inclination to cleave to our own and distrust those who not like us seems to be embedded in us. How deeply embedded, is debatable. Hopefully, not too deep. Otherwise, we may someday find out that cultural diversity isn't the strength its perveyors made it out to be.


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