On Being “Diverse”

No, that’s not really a thing

Hello friends,

I can’t be the only Black or brown person whose mental hair stands on end when the term “diverse” is misused. Such is the ever-evolving nature of language that many people have done what’s almost a linguistic backformation and created “diverse” from diversity.

Now, “diverse” has a perfectly good meaning of its own, though again, language being what it is and dictionaries being descriptive rather than prescriptive, this malformation will probably find its way into the global lexicon if it hasn’t already. Eye-roll.

Side note: the problem with “diversity”, “inclusion” and “tolerance”

Before I get to my issues with that usage, let’s talk for a minute about “diversity” and “inclusion” as goals. Sure, they provide a starting point for working towards equity, but there’s one problem. Both of those assume that the norm is whiteness, and that anything else is being shoehorned in. If you’re now being included, you must have been excluded. And it suggests that someone, probably a white person, has to magnanimously decide to let you in. There’s something about that that’s too patriarchal and colonialist for my liking.

And I have the same problem with being “tolerated”. It’s interesting that Teaching Tolerance is now called Learning for Justice. I wonder if they had the same thought.

Of far more use is the term “belonging” which, dare I say, it is far more inclusive. That suggests that our presence is normal and expected, and honestly, after 400+ years, it should be. But I digress.

By “diverse”, do you mean Black?

Back to being “diverse”. As a wordsmith, I believe it’s important to use language intentionally. So, if “diverse" is a lazy shorthand to avoid being specific about who you want to encompass in your circle of belonging, then stop shilly-shallying, and BE specific about who you’re calling in.

If by “diverse" you mean Black people, say so - as I’ve said many times, just call me Black. From what I’ve seen others say, I’m willing to bet that many of my fellow minoritized people feel much the same way about their particular identities.

(In these two cases it’s worth asking yourself why it’s so hard to say the word Black, Indigenous, Latino or Asian, or whatever term you’re avoiding. There’s a lot of unpacking to do right there about why some people think of Black as a bad word, but that’s for another time.)

Say what you mean

I’m a big believer in saying what you mean. Now, if you want to hire candidates from a variety of backgrounds, those backgrounds can be diverse but the candidates themselves can’t be. They are what they are - which is people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures. If hired, they’ll no doubt bring some welcome diversity to the lunchroom, but they still won’t be “diverse”. Remember, we are not a monolith.

So the next time you find yourself using “diverse”, think about why you’re doing it, and what you really mean, then say that instead.

P.S. For more on this, read Shereen Daniels’ LinkedIn post on using “diversity efforts” vs “fighting racism”.

Thanks for reading,


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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.