Asao's Blog Entry
In the conversations on diversity so far, most of the writers for part one of our blogging series have expressed a resistance to the term “diversity,” the first being Victor Villanueva, our first contributor and the writer whom I’ll use to draw out one pedagogical lesson that I believe fits our committee’s charge and may allow for productive, rhetorical classroom discussions with students. Villanueva says:
I don’t really work with “diversity,” that all-inclusive and non-inclusive institutional term . . .
Diversity just tries to be all-inclusive—the entire range of differences. That’s what the word means, after all—a range of differences. So—if you’re not part of the “same,” you’re among the range of differences. The French distinguished the Same from the Other. Diversity is the American version of l’autre. But who are the Same?
Villanueva’s question, who are “the Same,” asks us to consider more than a simple answer, such as: the “Same” is a White, middle-class, masculine, heteronormative, Protestant subjectivity. The shadowy referent of “the Same” that Villanueva points out in the uses of the term “diversity” simultaneously has and does not have a material correspondence in our world; nonetheless, our institutional and private rhetorics often function as if we do not need to care about actual correspondences. If we just say we “respect and honor diversity,” not considering what “diversity” really means or how it functions in any instance, then not only is the statement not racist, but life for all is better, forgiving, welcoming – as if differing values, ideas, histories, perspectives, priorities, experiences can always coexist or never clash. Villaneuva also points out, importantly, that: "Acknowledging difference is not the same as acting on those differences--substantively."
So then, how might we act on real differences as teachers? We can ask students, directly, to locate tacit referents to the rhetoric of diversity and envision alternatives on a real landscape on which people exist and work, which is similar to the fascinating activity that Krista Ratcliffe’s blog entry from part one offers. I, for example, might take Will. i. am’s “Yes We Can” video that uses Barack Obama’s January 8 speech (in New Hampshire) to create a rhetoric of diversity, and I would explore this rhetoric together with students in my classes. The goal for the class would be to find correspondences of "the Same" and "the Other" that we can observe, reconstruct, and then recreate in order to understand the strength of the rhetoric’s appeal to particular audiences. We might ask the following questions:
- Who literally is “the Same” (the center) that speaks in the video “Yes We Can”? What features of sameness and difference are most noticeable? How well does this representation of the Same match our classroom’s?
- Who is constructed as the Same in the excerpted language of the Obama speech in the video? What features of sameness and difference are most noticeable?
- Where do each of these sets of referents (the people, issues, places) exist on the landscape that the rhetoric of “diversity” in the video creates? How well does it match our own experiences?
- If our purpose was to “accurately” provide a representation of our classroom’s “diversity” in a speech or a video, without smoothing out our differences and conflicts, what would it look/sound like?
Certainly there are more questions to ask about rhetorical purpose and context and more ways to frame these questions in our classes. But I hope this brief statement offers a generative start for all of our work around the complicated set of issues that we call “diversity.”