Unified Diversity: An Impossible Cultural Dichotomy


‘We’re all in this together’ is a phrase that has been bandied about liberally since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Prior to spring 2020, the phrase was commonly used to promote unity following natural disasters, large-scale community crises, etc. It promotes an ideal that seems impossible to achieve. That ideal can be encapsulated in a phrase that doesn’t make any more sense than the concept itself: unified diversity.

The thought of all of us being in the same situation together is a warm and fuzzy one. We all like to believe that others are experiencing the same difficult things we experience; that there are others who know what it is like and can commiserate with us. Yet at the same time, we seem to be a culture obsessed with magnifying our differences – particularly where culture is concerned.

Common sense dictates that we cannot have it both ways. We can’t claim to truly want unity when we spend so much time dividing ourselves along any number of lines. We cannot separate and unify at the same time. It’s like a cake. As soon as you cut it into separate pieces and distribute it on plates, you no longer have a whole, unified desert.

  • Cultural Diversity Is Good

Those who promote cultural diversity know it is a good thing. Cultural diversity reminds people of their heritage and history. It gives them a connection to their roots and something to pass on to future generations. Culture gives people something to take pride in. Those are all positive things. Moreover, the business opportunities resulting from cultural diversity are good for local economies.

Take Plurawl, for example. The New York company was started by a Dominican entrepreneur looking to promote the LatinX community and its message through apparel and accessories. On the company’s website, customers can find T-shirts, hoodies, artwork, and coffee mugs displaying graphics and messages designed to appeal to the Latin community.

Promoting the LatinX message is a good thing. The same holds true for any other cultural message. But here’s the thing: projecting those messages naturally creates lines of division. One community is distinct from another community. That is what the message says. And by creating distinction, we also create division.

  • Unity Is Good, Too

The other side of the cultural diversity coin is the need for unity. Calls for unity are as commonplace today as news about coronavirus. Any time a significant event seeks to work division among us, there are those calling for unity. And who doesn’t want people to come together rather than fighting?

Unity is a good thing when there’s work to be done. It’s a good thing when there is a common enemy in need of defeat. But in order to be unified, we have to willingly set aside our divisions. Therein lies the dichotomy. How can we be a unified nation if each individual group identifies itself according to its own cultural message?

There are some people whose attachment to their culture identity is so strong that it defines who they are – at least in their own minds. They feel as though they are nothing if they are without that identity. That certainly is their choice, but how can they possibly unify with people of a different cultural identity when they can’t compromise on their own?

It is impossible to be truly unified and still culturally diverse. It has to be one or the other. In a perfect world, we could easily unify when necessity demands it and still embrace cultural differences the rest of the time. To date, we haven’t been able to make it work.

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