The American media became obsessed with race and identity a decade ago. As the gap between the globe-trotting haves and the monocultural have-nots widened, cultural elites became more emboldened to flex their elitist bona-fides by dunking on the less fortunate — those uninterested in turning their communities into United Nations oases.
But since diversity remains such an explosive and controversial obsession in our American culture, it behooves us to talk about it.
What is diversity?
Let’s look at two aspects of diversity: cultural and ethnic.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.”
It defines ethnic as “of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.”
The meanings of cultural and ethnic diversity, however, often elude people.
As an Uber driver in Washington, DC, I once drove a couple whose son attended one of the more elite private schools. They were discussing the new diversity officer the school had hired.
It was bizarre, to say the least. They talked about her as upper-middle-class early 20th-century parishioners might discuss the new local minister.
Even more hilarious, though, was that they didn’t seem to understand what our current society means by diversity. They were trying to think of examples of diversity in their son’s class. All they could come up with is that some kids had green eyes, and others had blue. Some had brown hair, and others had blonde.
In many ways, diversity obsession represents the new religion of America’s East Coast upper middle class — mirroring their former Protestantism.
Class climbing and maintenance trumps spirituality. Parents groom their kids from a young age to maintain their class status through a careful selection of private schools.
Failing to move from said private schools to one’s college of choice can prompt all manner of depressed weeping on the part of the students.
However, man doth not live by bread alone — in other words, there’s only so much worship upper middle-class former WASPs can render to material possessions. At some point, there must be a religious, moral, or value system to which followers of this new material/class-obsessed culture adhere.
Enter the diversity cult.
The diversity cult creates artificial underclasses — people who allegedly don’t belong to certain elite private schools, social clubs, or professions because of their cultural or ethnic background.
If people who “look like” traditional members of these paths condescend to these nontraditional members, they secure their position and show others how pious they are. This, in turn, eliminates competition because not everyone will abide by the new religion and will be eliminated for their heresy.
Traditional do-goodism used to serve as a substitute for the Protestant Christianity of their grandparents. But giving to the church or giving to charities to mask their godlessness would mean losing money, and they’re already stretched thin trying to keep up their affluent appearances.
The diversity cult serves two purposes.
It allows them to fill the God-shaped hole that everyone is born with — that which demands people fill their lives with some form of higher calling. It also allows them to virtue signal a kind of faux altruism in a culture that has purged itself of virtues that don’t lead to career success or self-gratification.
Examples of diversity
So, what is cultural and ethnic diversity?
Six Americans walk into a bar. The cumulative ancestry of the six includes Norwegian, English, Scottish, Irish, Dominican, Italian, Cuban, German, Russian, Lebanese, and Chinese. All six were born and raised in the US, and all 12 of their parents graduated high school in the US.
Our party orders a mix of German, Japanese, and American beers with sauerkraut balls and salmon sliders. They passively watch a Premier League game, as a live mariachi band plays on the bar’s side stage.
This bar is culturally diverse but ethnically homogenous.
Across the street, a German, a Canadian, an Australian, a Brazilian, an Indian, and a Nigerian walk into another bar. The bar is now ethnically diverse.
This party orders American beer because that’s all the bar sells. They order hamburger sliders and nachos and cheese and watch the Tennessee Titans whip the Buffalo Bills, while a Rock band plays on the side stage. The bar is culturally homogenous — even though our six patrons represent unique cultures of the six inhabited continents.
Ethnicity and culture; is there a difference?
Despite popular misconceptions among Ancestry.com-obsessed Americans, one’s ancestry has no bearing on one’s ethnicity.
Mexicans are not Spanish. Australians are not English. French are not Gauls. Italians are not Romans.
All of those cultures contributed to who these peoples are today. But as generations pass in different environments, ethnic identies evolve. There is no such thing as a “full-blooded” anything.
Let’s return to the definition of the word ethnic: “of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.”
The key word here is “or.”
Common racial background can be the uniting factor that determines ethnic identity, or it can be one of several factors — or it can play no role at all.
The same is true of former national or tribal boundaries. Sometimes, a common religion can mold former disparate peoples into a common ethnicity.
I would argue, however, that a common language and culture are the most potent determining factors of commonality that determine ethnic bonds. In this way, culture and ethnicity are not synonyms. They do, however, overlap.
An American born and raised in Boston can trace all of his ancestors to The Emerald Isle. He is not and will never be ethnically Irish. When Irish tourists meet him, they recognize him as an American. When he visits the land of his forebears, his distant cousins recognize him as American.
Also, no amount of cultural appropriation or downed Guinness on St. Patty’s will cause his fellow Americans to see him as Irish. Their ancestors viewed his great-great-grandpa as Irish because his great-great-grandpa was Irish. After four generations, that Irishness is long gone.
Now, if our American of Irish ancestry chooses to send his children to school in Ireland, they could conceivably straddle the ethnic fence as many people do who grow up in foreign cultures.
Everyone knows the English are historically mixed. To an anthropologist, recognizable physical features and cultural traits betray this. But it would be silly to argue that the English are not a real ethnicity and try to divide them up as Normans, Angles, or Saxons based on how they look or behave.
As time passes, language, customs, and identities evolve.
There isn’t an ethnicity anywhere if you trace its lineage far enough that doesn’t have an ethnic mixture. What matters is how people see themselves and, most importantly, how others see them.
Tracing one’s ancestry can be an interesting historical exercise. But bloodline alone does not make an ethnicity. It can be a contributing factor. Most ethnicities, because of centuries of intermarriage, look alike. But they don’t have to. People — especially those in younger countries — can get too caught up in ancestry’s meaning. I don’t know where all my ancestors lived or what they were 500 years ago. Whatever they were and whatever they spoke, I’m not that, and I don’t speak it.
Originally published on Medium