The Trap of “Diversity”

Coded language

Yesterday, I published the following on Instagram:

“There continues to be a push for diversity and inclusion, and we are at risk when working for diversity and inclusion. Difference is what we have undermined by working for diversity and inclusion. Institutions require assimilation and for subjects to acquiesce. When “diversity” is introduced, whatever the diversity is gets subsumed into the internal subjectivity of the institution becoming part of the homogenous identity and therefore bolstering another fold of supremacy culture within the institution. In this way, difference can never be introduced.”

-Dr. Robyn

Nashville, TN

Several folks asked what I meant and I thought I’d take a moment and respond here. 

Institutions have a normative identity. It’s what creates hegemonic power and power structures. It’s also what creates institutional culture. When institutions “make room” for “diverse” voices or hire people of color, these folks are expected to assimilate into the existing culture and conform to what normatively exists. 

As intersectionality has become a buzz word among campuses and other institutions, let’s remember that diversity is just a code word for “tolerance,” and diversity is also a failed project. 

Diversity is part of a neo-liberal imagination that suggests that when institutions include voices that are counter to the norm, they’re able to shift culture as an individual. This is not the case. Intersectionality has been coopted by well-intentioned, well-meaning higher education officials. Institutions don’t value the counter-hegemonic power that comes from “diverse” voices, whether they are black, Latinx, queer, or otherwise. Institutions don’t value the labor that counters the norm; nor do institutions value the knowledge production that might create conditions for liberation. Institutions aren’t built for change; they are built to be homogenizing power structures that are also self-perpetuating elitist structures. 

My point on Instagram yesterday was that there is actually no room for difference that disrupts and dismantles the hegemony, and it’s because we all rely on the logic of the norm and acquiesce to the logics of dominance without even knowing what we are doing. 

What needs to happen is we need to connect the dots, so that we know what’s happening in our world and in our culture. We cannot collective become without difference. Diversity won’t save us. And, to be clear — Intersectionality should be heralded as one of the most brilliant products of knowledge from Black Feminists and not coopted by dominant culture who are embedded in the logic of the norm. 

If we are going to get free, we need to know how hegemony and power works. This is but one example of power as it relates to institutions.