For those who are familiar with some of my ideas on planning and community development, you know that my ultimate social goal is unity in diversity. This requires us to prepare and consciously seeks to create diverse and varied communities, a goal that runs counter not only to previous decades and centuries of urban planning, but also to the natural tendency of humanity to either segregate others or auto-segregate. While it is fair to argue that we live in a more integrated society than ever before, I see the gap of understanding growing more intense in many ways than before, as increasingly cries of "reverse discrimination" and "racism" come from the right-wing talk show circuit filled with hooligans like Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, or Lou Dobbs. I have already discussed our social tendency to try and create a world where we are capable of personalizing and customizing our surroundings and those with whom we have contact, which is expressed in a trend for not only people of differing ethnicities to live separately, but people of differing political viewpoints or sexual orientation. Simultaneously as the trend toward self-segregation grows stronger, helped along by new technologies and the traditional urban and community planning methods, we see a breakdown in many of our often abortive attempts to encourage diversity and create a more integrated society.
Affirmative action, busing, and other programs have come under scrutiny lately, and some have been eliminated by idealogical conservative judges like Chief Justice John Roberts, who views any criteria meant to recognize or expand the diversity of a body to be illicit (as opposed to someone like me who views diversity as inherently valuable and important to maintain social cohesion and provide life experiences to young people who need to operate in an increasingly globalized world).
In my view, the entire debate on diversity has been hijacked by individuals refusing to recognize that different perspectives arise from different experiences and that these perspectives lead people to make decisions differently. This group has become more mainstream over time to the point where it is often believed that racism and discrimination no longer exist and that a person starting off, regardless of circumstances but endowed with talent, can have an equal shot at success no matter that person's ethnicity or race. New flash here: discrimination is not only prevalent, it is dominant in markets for services such as loans (unfair lending practices targeting African-Americans and Latinos are being investigated by the FDIC) and evident through the way we test and give promotions. Lately there has been a debate relating to not only the appointment of a new Justice to the Supreme Court, but also related to decisions she made regarding a test that was deemed discriminatory because of the pass-fail rates among different groups. When Roberts and Co. overturn the decision in a couple of weeks (anyone interested in the Supreme Court Stakes?), they will be saying once more that people experience the same things, think the same, act the same, have the same opportunities, and are completely unaffected by the fact that they have a different appearance and history. The world does not work this way, and it will get worse if we fail to implement policies and planning practices meant to encourage diversity and interconnectedness because the more different the life experiences and opportunities between groups, the harder it will be to compare them fairly. Basically, I view de facto segregation of today as just as impossible to achieve separate but equal as the de jure segregation of the past.
My main goal of unity in diversity is centered around another principle, that of equality of opportunity. There is evidence that many of the policies of the past that enforced integration by itself without encouraging it through the development of mixed-use neighborhoods that attracted a more diverse population have caused a number of serious problems, not least among them a sense of being thought "only good enough because of the government" on one side and "disadvantaged unfairly by the promotion of others using a false credential" on the other. The reality runs counter to claims of "equality" however, and therefore we still require a significant effort to right the wrongs of the past and work toward true equality. In this past election, and now for the Supreme Court, a chief concern among voters hesitant about Obama (I gleaned this from hearing countless interviews from varied sources) was that Obama would bring the spoils of politics to the black population since he was black. There are arguments now about picking someone based on ethnicity for the Supreme Court, even though this woman has an excellent record and, in my view, sees the court as it ACTUALLY is, a body whose views on the constitution change with those on it, and that those people are products of their environments and experiences. Why so much panic seems to arise whenever we discuss creating diverse environments, I fail to truly understand since many of the arguments against affirmative action, etc, are absurd. The reality of today is that the playing field is far from level STARTING OFF and that whites stand a better chance of success simply because of their race: tests favor us, mortgage loan terms favor us, society's views on ethnicity favor us. These are huge benefits from which we daily reap rewards and we must recognize them if we are to work toward the final goal of Unity In Diversity and Equality of Opportunity combined.