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Political Perspective of Diversity: Overview, Limitations & Example

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are someone who cares about diversity and inclusion, then you probably know that there are many different ways to think about diversity. This lesson provides an overview of the political perspective on diversity.

Understanding the Political Perspective

Tanya has been interested in diversity, or human differences, for as long as she can remember. She knows that when most people talk about diversity, they are talking about representation within social identifying categories like race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, and educational levels.

Many of Tanya's friends think that diversity is more of a psychological phenomenon than a political one, but she is increasingly moving toward a political perspective on diversity. Tanya explains to her friends that within the political perspective, diversity is important as a way of ensuring that traditionally underrepresented and disadvantaged groups get representation on a political scale.

This has to do with representation within politics and government, in the context of legislation, and even in terms of which aspects of politics are covered in the news and other media. Tanya knows that what she is explaining to her friends is a little abstract and, as such, hard to understand, so she thinks of examples that help make sense of the political perspective on diversity.

Examples of the Political Perspective

First, Tanya points out to her friends that over the course of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, more and more women have played a role in local, state and national politics. More women run for and get elected to office, and more are appointed to judicial positions and other political appointments.

Tanya demonstrates that this increased gender diversity in representation makes a really different picture for today's young girls than what her mother grew up with. Having more diverse representation in politics has also altered the legal landscape, since women politicians are more likely to argue for family leave and for pro-choice policies.

Another example Tanya thinks of has to do with race. She believes that African-Americans have been historically disadvantaged in laws and economic policies, and she continues to see tremendous racial disparities in the ways incarceration works, among many other things. Tanya believes firmly that one of the only ways to end this tremendous inequity is to involve more African-Americans in lawmaking and the judicial system. She also thinks it is the responsibility of every politician, regardless of racial identity, to think about the ways that laws and politics affect those who have been historically underserved and mistreated by the political system.

Finally, Tanya explains to her friends that political perspectives on diversity sometimes interact interestingly with cultural shifts. For example, although gay and lesbian people are still underrepresented in politics, a general sea change within culture in terms of gay rights has moved straight politicians to be more likely to embrace human rights for gay and lesbian people. Developing willingness to speak up on behalf of others is an important part of the political perspective on diversity.

Why Diversity is Studied From a Political Perspective

One of Tanya's friends wonders what it means for researchers to study diversity from the political perspective. Tanya explains that researchers who hold this perspective are interested in leveling the political and economic playing field, so that traditionally underserved people are better represented. Analyzing politics and political issues with a political perspective of diversity as the theoretical underpinning helps researchers ask and answer questions that will allow them to lobby for the needs of those who have historically been marginalized.

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