zayn/zain malik is one of the members of the boy band, one direction. There is much buzz on his ethnicity, and a google search quickly revealed why. he is ‘muslim’.
some comments, instead of revealing a ‘like’ for him or what’s written, reveals a ‘not sure’, a surprise at discovering his ethnicity. malik is not ‘talented’, as the others in his band, who are, but is a ‘muslim’; or he’s talented ‘for a muslim’ or ‘he’s cute for a muslim’.
such feedback reminds me of the headlines of the great leopold senghor when he died. the news presented such headlines as ‘a great black poet dies’. when a poet or writer dies of euro/anglo/ american origin the headlines read ‘great poet/writer/ director ‘ etc dies. race and ethnicity are invisible.
diversity and difference are 2 ways of dealing with cultural variation. there is considerable support for diversity in the public sphere, but post 9/11 especially, difference is increasingly seen as a main cause of social problems associated with immigrants.
where is the boundary between diversity and difference located?
boundaries fluctuate between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ re cultural differences, concealing conflicts of another order, to do with politics and class. color, culture and religion are not easily disentangled as markers of difference, and diversity is fine, as long as it doesn’t exceed its boundaries. it is morally harmless and potentially economically profitable to sit in the many restaurants serving such diverse dishes as arroz con pollo, chicken vindaloo, kebabs etc, but the bearers of difference are still seen as different, and inferior.
difference has been written about, studied, observed, discussed in montesquieu’s turkish despot; barthes’ japan; kristeva’s china; derrida’s nambikwara indians; lyotard’s cashinahua pagans. but difference has still not yet been accepted. it is still noted and noticed; malik is muslim. while diversity has an easier time being accepted, difference straddles along. yoga is cool, feng shui and ayurveda, too and we even hold ‘griot’ summits at university lecture halls. we are making visual crossovers with cinema, but it remains perhaps too virtual. this diversity is ‘a la mode’, although homi bhabha, the great theoretician, suggests that theoretical change can only come from cultural difference, and not cultural diversity.
diversity is ‘chic,’ so we embrace much diversity.
but if we continue to use color, race, religion etc as markers of difference, we are headed in the same direction; one direction.