As the world’s most highly immigrant-populated country, the US is a nation with high levels of diversity in regards to culture, race, and ethnicity. Perhaps because of this varied demographic, as well as the physical size of the country, it’s unlikely that all US citizens could share any uniform culture. While this principle of individualism may prompt political polarization and disconnect, it also has the potential to make the US the most culturally versatile country in the world.
At Berkeley High School (BHS), diversity is held in high esteem. BHS champions multicultural events and clubs, and students push for coursework to include and propel underrepresented voices. However, this well-intended search for representation often produces an unfortunate generalization: the simplification of diversity into the categories of “person of color (POC)” and “white.” These terms ignore the variation between thousands of different cultural heritages and create a divisive understanding of what diversity really is, rather than treat it as an opportunity for more critical discourse and globally centered problem-solving.
When we talk about increasing diversity, we often struggle with drawing a line between racial and cultural diversity. In the US, possibly because of a lack of uniform culture, the two become inevitably intertwined. Due to historical racial divisions and discrimination, people tend to unify with those of the same race, especially in times when they face hate or racially motivated opposition. This is completely valid, if not necessary, and serves to provide a community for people who may have otherwise been marginalized because of their race.
However, we cannot pretend that this kind of diversity is the only important one. Especially in a community such as BHS, which so intensely strives to cultivate different perspectives, it’s crucial to understand the significance of other kinds of diversity, namely, cultural diversity.
If we want to see social progress, it’s vital that historically oppressed groups stand together. This idea is one of the biggest motivators behind the usage of the terms POC and white. However, using these terms constantly, especially in an academic context, inherently implies a somewhat permanent division, and if we continue to use these in our campaigns for diversity, we will find that they will cement themselves in the one place they shouldn’t.
POC is a term often used interchangeably with endless groups of people: relatively every person with native roots from Asian, African, and often South and Central American countries gets cramped under the umbrella term, while any person with mostly European roots is grouped as white. These terms — although necessary in many cases — and what they represent need to be deprioritized in the context of diversity at BHS.
By grouping people together and simply labeling them Black or brown, we disregard the value of the different subsets of POC and simplify and demean the extensive historical value of these groups.
This kind of generalization also serves to minimize the suffering of those who don’t fall under the POC category. Polish people have faced one of history’s most detrimental massacres but are still thrown into the same category as people with whom they have no cultural and historical ties, with nearly identical value attributed to their perspective.
Similarly, the US is home to a vast number of refugees: after the massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire, Armenians fled to other countries, including the US. While their experiences and cultural changes are unlike any other, they are technically considered to be white. Consequently, they are lumped together with groups such as the British or the Portuguese, who have a long history of colonialism. As such, their trauma is made to seem less significant, and their perspective is attributed much less importance.
This same battle with oversimplification can be applied to practically every cultural background. When we strive for representation, we cannot synonymize people with completely different backgrounds, simply because they fall under the category of POC or white. Rather, we should take these differences as an opportunity to learn to interpret conflicts in a variety of ways, and appreciate the multitude of views that people from different cultures can provide. As a community that seeks diversity, it’s important that we both recognize and celebrate taking the global approach, especially considering the remarkable diversity of backgrounds BHS students have. Rather than quantifying the trauma experienced by different groups, we can work to use representation to shine a positive light on different experiences, and in doing so, we will learn to truly value diverse perspectives, and can work to reconcile our outlook on cultural diversity.