It’s Not About “Diversity” It’s About Acceptance.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Posted by: Andrea Evans
By Tom Evans
It’s hard to talk about diversity these days without the conversation getting dragged into politics. That’s just the nature of the beast that is the year 2018.
But I’m going to try, because no matter where your political preferences lie, there’s a fact coming our way that is indisputable — Arizona is becoming increasingly diverse, and will emerge over the coming years as one of the most culturally diverse states in the country.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2017 Arizona was home to just over 7 million residents. Of those, 55 percent classified themselves as “white, not Hispanic or Latino,” meaning a full 45 percent of our population consists of minority groups. That’s a 5 percent drop in the Caucasian population from 10 years before. Twenty-six percent of Arizona households have a language other than English spoken in the home.
But when it comes down to it, as community leader Oscar De las salas pointed out to me, diversity is really nothing more than math. And it means nothing if it’s not accompanied by an acceptance of others.
Not “tolerance” — that’s a term that leaves wiggle room, De las salas pointed out. “When it comes to diversity and community, the word ‘tolerance’ defines a way to harbor inner feelings of discomfort, and unpleasant emotions that could be damaging for all. I choose the term ‘acceptance,’ which has a more soulful, driven meaning, and speaks to inclusion.”
De las salas speaks from a unique perspective. He’s a tireless community volunteer, a proud gay man with a loving husband, and a naturalized American citizen of Latin American descent who has called Arizona home for about 20 years. He sees the diversity in the Grand Canyon State, but sees a lot of road ahead until we are a truly inclusive community.
“When real data and numbers and percentages are shown about how our state is made in terms of cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, lifestyle and races, you would think that Arizona is a melting pot,” he said. “In reality, the melting pot is simply a bowl that’s never been mixed.”
Another unique perspective comes from Mesha Davis, an African-American woman who is CEO of the Arizona Foundation for Women and has worked closely with the LGBTQ community as well.
“As far as becoming more diverse, for African Americans, the scale teeters,” she said. “I have encountered many African Americans who move to Arizona but leave within six months to a year. When I asked them why they left, or are leaving, they share that they didn’t feel connected to Arizona and those living here, or it was a culture shock due to the lack of seeing other African Americans and ethnic cultures.”
But Davis said she has enjoyed some wonderful experiences when it comes to diversity and inclusion in Arizona — despite the tendency of some about our state’s growth in general.
There has been some progress — it’s a process, De las salas said.
“Slowly, we have seen the Hispanic community (those who speak Spanish), Latinos (those from Latin America), Native Americans, African Americans, Asians, gay and lesbian people, disabled individuals, veterans, single mothers, and many others taking a prominent seat at the tables at which conversations and discussions about their own home are happening,” De las salas said. “All sorts of dialogue, conversations and action-producing meetings are happening here in the place where they live to help participate in the future of our ‘home.’”
Davis said she believes that people from diverse backgrounds are finding their own communities in our state — she mentioned the LGBTQ community and women in our state as examples — but the communities could benefit from more interaction.
“Arizona still has a way to go in attracting diverse populations,” Davis said. “Like Minnesota or Washington, we don’t have a great pool of corporate headquarters or tech jobs that attract a variety of individuals. I have not truly noticed or been exposed to many cultures actually coming together, but as individuals of various backgrounds move to Arizona, I do feel they often find others like themselves and continue to build on their personal culture and community.”
At the end of the day, De las salas is optimistic about our state’s future when it comes to being an inclusive, accepting place to live — but with a big “If.”
“I believe Arizona will continue to evolve in diverse directions and benefit from the natural enrichment in every corner of society — IF we include everyone, IF we hear what each
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