It has long been a pet peeve of mine that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by Merriam-Webster (my favorite dictionary) as:
- differing from one another
- composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities
Unfortunately, diverse gets misused to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be mainstream, dominant, or the cultural norm.
- racially diverse (or just diverse) being used to mean “someone who isn’t white”
- neurodiverse being used to mean “someone who isn’t neurotypical”
- gender diverse being used to mean “someone who isn’t cisgender”*
If you follow this thinking to the root, it’s based on the idea that there is a neutral, majority, dominant way of being, and that diversity is the addition of non-normative elements to that supposedly “default” environment. This is a falsehood. The truth is that diversity is what humanity inherently contains—we all differ from one another.
The idea that there is such a thing as “normal” or “neutral” is a lie. Not only does it uphold certain identities and experiences as best by virtue of their normalcy and marginalize other ways of being, it also sends the message that there is a universal, singular experience of all of the things that are considered “normal”: a universal white experience, a universal straight experience, a universal nondisabled experience, and so on. This is also a harmful untruth.
So it may seem like a small act to use the word diverse in a manner that is true to its dictionary definition, but it’s a small act with big ripple effects when you refuse to buy into a system that teaches us what “normal” is and then defines everything else as Other. Diverse is not Other. Diverse describes the collective beauty of humanity.
What’s your take on diverse? Comment below! Want to ask a radical copyeditor something? Contact me!
Notes: This post was updated slightly on May 18, 2021. A version of this flowchart and accompanying text was originally published in 2013 at Roots Grow the Tree. Many thanks to Alice Sofiasdiakonos for introducing me to the excellent work of Dr. Nick Walker.
*Cisgender means non-trans. It bears noting that gender diverse is being increasingly used in the Global South and in international contexts to refer to everyone whose genders don’t conform to gender binary cultural expectations; see “Ask a Radical Copyeditor: What’s the Best Way to Refer to Everyone Who Isn’t Cis?” for more.
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