Commentaries
1:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Rawlins Gilliland: Should Diversity Be Earned?

We've seen enormous advances for those denied equal access to the American dream.  But Rawlins Gilliland asks if some missions to be inclusive have begun to backfire. 

Annoying buzzwords come and go and my vote for current chief offender is "diversity."  As an overused expression quickly becoming meaningless, "diversity" is like a glazed ham so overexposed to hot air that it’s getting gamey. "Diversity" originally suggested an embracing inclusion for those marginalized by race or gender, ethnicity or religion. But I question opportunists marketing real or perceived minority status simply to capitalize in fake outrage as victim advocates.  Several examples caught my attention.

It’s not easy hearing a dean of women’s studies, from my mother’s then entirely female alma mater, say that many academic peers dismiss the concept of a male feminist.  I am a man who accompanied his mother to rallies seeking the legalization of birth control pills half a century ago.  So dare I not flinch hearing males sidelined to enemy status two generations later?  It’s not only ignorant, it’s myopic.  

At a symposium, one young woman credibly pronounced that 'men prevented women from voting until 1920’. But she lost me when she added that the Constitution’s nineteenth amendment extending universal suffrage became the law of the land 'no thanks to men'. She can’t have it both ways; being justifiably outraged that women held NO elected offices in that era.  And then remark that this landmark garnered the Congressional votes and thirty-six states needed to ratify 'no thanks to men'.   

Like superficial beauty, murky ethnic profiling remains skin-deep. When my Gilliland family moved to Texas in the 1700s, it was Spanish Territory and later Mexico.  So the first two Texan generations from which I directly descend were born Spanish citizens and Mexican nationals. To gild this Latino lily, the Gilliland clan was "black Irish," tracing their blended Gallic ancestry to survivors of the Spanish armada, sunk off the Irish coast. Yet, at a monthly media forum, despite these global criteria, we agreed to reschedule my reading until after Hispanic Heritage Month which I saw as a lost opportunity for us both.

A rose by any other name could spell deceit. When ethnic names were a liability, Margarita Carmen Cansino became Rita Hayworth and Carlos Estévez is Charlie Sheen.  Now it’s the reverse perverse. At a women’s business conference, where I was invited a second year to speak, a fellow presenter regarded as Latina told me that her Hispanic surname only came about through a brief marriage to a man whose step-dad was Filipino. As a test, I submitted my credentials under the hyphenated name Keisha Wong-Ortiz and the phone rang.

Wasn’t Martin Luther King’s American dream that we be judged on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin - or our names or gender?  Why then does the anointed cloak of "diversity" remain a mantle one merely inherits, like the mineral rights on a piece of land sold long ago? In this century, shouldn’t "diversity" become a demographic descriptor no longer bestowed by circumstance but, rather, a status one earns as a unique individual?

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.