May 20, 2005

And another good word bites the dust

I was reading the NY Times this morning on the train on the way into the City, not an unusual activity for me, and I was happily browsing through one of the weekend sections and skimmed an article on Montgomery, NY. The article was about how Montgomery is a good place for a weekend home. I am not, emphatically not, in the market for a weekend home but, having never heard of Montgomery, read the article anyway. The following sentence, appearing in the "cons" section of the article, practically jumped off the page at me:

The community lacks diversity; according to the 2000 United States Census, the village of Montgomery was more than 90 percent white.

According to Wikpedia, "Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion". I thought that was pretty well put actually.

Although, from the NY Times perspective, diversity as a word has bit the dust and no longer means anything close to that. In the new lexicon, diversity means non-white. Diversity, the word, has been reduced to a rather simple concept meaning any person or culture not white.

Pardon me while I retch or mourn, I'm not sure which. Either way, I think the Times was insulting.

Why? Well, it seems to me that the assumption implicit in the Times' use of the word diversity in this fashion is that the 90% white residents of Montgomery present a united and homogeneous front, allowing for no divergence of thought, experience, education, viewpoint, national origin, religion, social class or you name it, all the things that contribute to a rich and vibrant community tapestry. I bet if you picked five random Montgomery residents, they wouldn't necessarily agree on anything. Indeed, that's what makes a horse race.

Under the Times' use of the word, you can only have a horse race if the horses are all different colors. I cry foul.

Mind you, I don't really blame the Times for this (for once). I think that the Times is merely reflecting a broader cultural elite sense here. And so, another good word bites the dust.

Except for here, because I am not bending on this one. Diversity means more than race. At least, it ought to, anyway.

Posted by Random Penseur at May 20, 2005 09:27 AM

Amen, brother.

Posted by: Margi at May 20, 2005 10:38 AM

I'm with you, RP. We can't afford to lose that good word. Though, if you think about it, diversity is generally modified anyway (diversity of ideas, diversity of experience) depending on the context. What the NYT (and, I agree with you, the broader 'cultural elite') has done, is effectively take a series of potential connotations and turned them into only one possible denotation. It's a little bit of a shame, but because they were just taking connotations, one can still basically continue to use "diversity" in a phrase. So they haven't coopted it completely. sorry for my rambling comment here...

Posted by: GrammarQueen at May 20, 2005 12:15 PM

Are white people supposed to be all boring and the same? Yet another internal memo White People HQ neglected to pass on to me. Or perhaps my whiteness has been revoked.

Posted by: Andrew Cusack at May 20, 2005 07:33 PM

Grammerqueen made the point. The way the times worded it is a reflection of the PC shorthand. Rather than saying that Montgomery "lacks racial diversity", they just say that it "lacks diversity".

The reason for this shorthand, I think, is that the word "diversity" usually has a positive connotation. A diversity of music selection; a diversity of snack foods, etc. But if they said that "we need racial diversity they fear that the word "racial" might cause some to not automatically respond to "diversity" as a positive.

It's akin to being "pro-choice" rather than "supporting abortion". Notice that pro-choice politicians always say "I believe in woman's right to choose", and just stopping short of adding " have an abortion." They don't want to risk offense and, thus, harm their chances of winning someone over.

In rhetorical debate, where the emotions of those to be persuaded are very much in play, what's not said is often as important as what's said.

Of course, the more obvious it is the more insulting it is!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 20, 2005 07:51 PM
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