Racial vs. Cultural Diversity

I’ve been following a discussion today on Andrew Sullivan’s blog regarding the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. The discussion stems from a NYT Op-Ed piece regarding the type of questions that should be asked of the nominee. A follow up post asks “Why do we treat racial diversity as different — and potentially more desirable — than other kinds of diversity?” I won’t go into the details because you can read them here and here, however, it does bring up an interesting point regarding the differences between racial and cultural diversity.

Both terms are often used interchangeably but often mean different things. For example, race is considered to be a group of individuals whom share a common origin or ancestry. A person’s race can be described by their original ancestry, such as African or Asian. A person’s culture can be described as a repeated practice or way of living. Belief systems or clothing can be viewed as cultural. Even differences between gender or philosophies about power can be cultural.

There is an important distinction to be made between both terms, particularly in a work environment. Because one understands Cuban-American culture, for example, does not mean one understands Mexican-American or Puerto Rican culture. Although each is Hispanic, each has a different culture.