I hate the feeling of realizing that I’ve been unclear, but it happens. Here’s what I was trying to say about diversity, Jews, and education in this post and the comments.
Q: Why should educational spaces worry about being diverse?
A: I think because Black students currently are not served (even abused) by the school system. I think things would be better for these students if there were more Black educators in the system.
A: Because, one way or another, a lot of the problem is a systematic lack of empathy for Black students from non-Black people in education.
Q: Wait, but this is just about Black educators. I asked about diversity…
A: I know.
Q: So what about everyone else. If we care about diversity, we should care about other groups being present too.
A: Which other groups?
Q: All other groups.
A: Well I don’t think that we need that kind of diversity. I don’t think we need to work hard to include every group.
Q: But surely we do!
A: I don’t think so. For example, I’m (more or less) an Orthodox Jew, and I definitely don’t think that we need to work hard to increase the presence of Orthodox Jews in educational spaces.
Q: But isn’t that entirely different? It’s not like Orthodox Jews are systematically excluded from conferences or keynotes or panels?
A: Actually, I think that we are. It’s very hard to travel to conferences because of the religious restrictions. These conferences are not designed with Orthodox Jews in mind, and as a result it’s just hard to be at them. That’s one thing that explains why Orthodox Jews aren’t at these things.
Likewise, a lot of Orthodox Jewish teachers prefer to avoid getting involved with public schools, because of the difficulty of managing the holiday calendar and kosher food.
So I think that there is a sense of exclusion, but that this doesn’t matter.
Q: You’re saying that a group can be excluded, but that it shouldn’t bother us?
A: That’s right. Just because you’re excluding a group doesn’t, by itself, matter very much. Nobody should be worried about whether they are excluding Orthodox Jews, redheads, people who don’t like hot weather, etc. Just because a group is excluded doesn’t mean that it’s a problem.
It’s only a problem when it hurts people. As in the case of the exclusion of Black educators, and the way that ends up harming Black children. That’s why it’s important to be inclusive concerning Black educators.
Q: So you don’t want conferences to give you kosher food or whatever?
A: I mean I would gladly accept it, but I don’t think that anyone should worry about this. There is no moral issue with not being maximally inclusive to Orthodox Jews. I mean if you can do it, terrific, why not. But it just doesn’t rise to the level of an issue that anyone should worry about.
Q: Why do you keep talking about Orthodox Jews? Who cares?
A: I want to make talk of “diversity” somewhat problematic. Exclusion of a group is not necessarily something that should trouble us — that’s what I’m arguing. But I don’t want to pick on someone else’s group, so I focused on my own identity.
Diversity claims that all groups should be included, and that it’s a problem when any group is excluded. But, thinking aloud about my own case, I think that’s not true.
So instead I’m saying that it’s a problem only when there are bad results from the exclusion and lack of “diversity.” I believe this is the case for the exclusion of Black educators.
Q: Only Black educators?
A: No, but that’s all I’m going to talk about here.
Q: Why do you care about all this?
A: Because I think “diversity” is a problematic concept. I’ve never heard a fully satisfying answer as to why it’s important for a group to be diverse, in the sense of being varied in general. (This is something that Marian has done a tremendous job pushing at.)
Diversity tries to talk about difference in general, but I think diversity doesn’t get off the ground unless it’s specific. There is a specific case for why we should aim to increase the number of Black educators in education. For some other groups — such as Orthodox Jews –there is no such case, even though they are excluded from various educational spaces.
I think “diversity” as a concept lets us off the hook of talking about these specifics. But I think it’s important to talk about the specifics.
Q: I feel like you could have said that without the confusing stuff about Orthodox Jews.
A: I think you’re right. It’s just how my mind was working and I couldn’t snap out of it.
Q: But isn’t this still different? Orthodox Jews aren’t really targeted by society in the way others groups are.
A: That’s why I brought up the story about some guy on the subway yelling at me yesterday. I get this kind of abuse just from walking around NYC with my yarmulke on. It happens once or twice a year, but it’s enough to keep me on edge a lot of the time. It’s the sort of thing you don’t usually have to worry about if you’re just a person sitting reading your book on the subway.
I’m not saying it’s the same sort of abuse — anti-Semitism is just totally different in its nature than racism — but I think it’s fair to say that we are targeted, just for who we are and how we appear.
And that was the contrast I was trying to set up. You have two groups. Both experience prejudice, both are de facto excluded from many educational spaces, but in one case it matters and in the other case (my own) I strongly believe that it doesn’t. This flies in the face of the rhetoric surrounding diversity — that we need to be inclusive to all groups at all times. I want to make the case that we need to talk about specific groups and the specific costs of excluding them if we want diversity to make any sense at all.
And I suggest this is why there are so few good explanations of why diversity matters.