Culture is shifting in Lee’s Summit, but it’s nothing new. In 1970 the population of Lee’s Summit was just over 16,000. When I moved to Jackson County in 1978 it was 26,000. Today, the Lee’s Summit population is over 90,000.
With such explosive growth, cultural shift is the natural order of things. But in my opinion, the Lee’s Summit Human Relations Commission Report, at least as presented in the Journal, is making an error. Councilman Alan Gray, as quoted in the Journal piece, is correct when he notes that diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity and encompasses gender, age, class, people with disabilities, and more. The Councilman adds, “There’s diversity of thought.”
Yet, if the Journal series is an accurate representation of the force of the Report, the definition of “diversity” will be race based. In a (supposedly) melting pot society such as ours, is this really the best way to measure diversity, and to what end? Is it accurate – or even morally sound – to assume that all people of the same shade of skin or the same non-English sounding names all have the same culture, the same politics, the same socio-economic class, or the same values? Is it fair to a person of whatever color of skin to assume their attitudes and other indentifying characteristics are defined by heritage instead of their individuality?
Further, how would we identify for purposes of demographics the growing mixed race population? If someone is half Asian and half White, what box would she check? The current president has as much claim on being of European descent as he does African (with his African roots not traceable through American slavery), yet he is not expected to check the “White/European” box.
I’m not Hispanic. I’m 100 percent of Italian descent. My skin tone is darker than many whose names end in “ez,” yet I’m not considered a minority. Why is that?
The point here is not to say we need more categories of people defined as minorities. The point is to express the concern that dividing us all up into special interest groups with mandated interests and privileges attached to each one is not in the best long term interests of either our city or our country.
We are Americans without hyphens, yet from many backgrounds, with each heritage contributing to the mosaic of a unique American culture with a core set of values, but always with respect for differences. Councilman Gray is exactly right in his assessment about diversity. It is much more than a racial issue, which itself should call into question whether hiring based on diversity is a workable goal.
Hopefully the final report will address that, and even more importantly, go back to the old motto many of us learned in our school days: “E pluribus unum.” Many unto one.