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date: 07 March 2021

Diversity and Multiculturalismfree

  • Floyd BeachumFloyd BeachumLehigh University


The words diversity and multiculturalism are ubiquitous in the contemporary educational lexicon. They are certainly hallmarks in many educational conversations. Recent trials, tribulations, and triumphs in the areas of diversity and multiculturalism are not without historical context or educational precedent. The evolution of diversity and multiculturalism in the United States has been and continues to be a struggle. The lofty language that is immortalized in the United States Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance promises all U.S. citizens the right to life, liberty, safety, happiness, and so forth. However, this promise has not always been kept for all U.S. citizens. The full recognition of one’s rights in the United States has depended on one’s race/ethnicity, gender, social class, religious beliefs, ability status, and so forth. Consequently, the United States has also denied, ostracized, and oppressed groups of people based on these same aforementioned identities (e.g., slavery, segregation, sexism, etc.). This resulted in amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Rights Movement, as well as others. These movements were no panacea; they simply weakened overt manifestations of bias, and allowed for more nuanced, covert, and/or institutionalized forms of bias. The elimination of overt bias also creates the illusion of success. People begin to think that the problems are solved because they are not obvious anymore. This highlights the need for diversity and multiculturalism in order to identify and expose covert bias and remind people that the struggles of the past are not just part of history; they undergird the problems we face today (e.g., achievement gaps, disproportionate discipline, and misidentification for special education).

Ultimately, diversity/multiculturalism has the ability to provide a kind of interconnectedness among people by having them face the perplexing problems of equity, equality, social identity, and personal philosophy. Embracing and understanding diversity/multiculturalism is the key to unlocking its transformational power.


Diversity can be defined as variety or having different elements. When applied to people, diversity then includes the kinds of differences that are reflected in multiple races, ethnicities, and cultures. The term multiculturalism similarly recognizes the various cultures that make up humanity. These differences have the potential to connect us through our universal humanness if we appreciate other people’s experiences, histories, uniqueness, and struggles. At the same time, differences have led to war, oppression, division, and strife.

The aim of diversity and multiculturalism is to identify and expound upon our universal humanness, highlighting people’s similarities while recognizing and respecting their differences. The high moral intent of diversity and multiculturalism is reflected in the foundational and contemporary rhetoric of the United States. For instance, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States reads:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to The Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The language captures a sacred American ideal that the one indivisible nation under a Supreme Being will provide all of its citizenry with liberty and justice. History teaches us that this has not always been the case. Furthermore, it has been our differences that have been at the heart of many conflicts (e.g., American Civil War, slavery, segregation, feminism, human rights struggles). The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States indicates the following:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Words that stand out include order, union, justice, tranquility, welfare, liberty, and posterity. Again, these are excellent pillars with which to build a representative democracy. This also means that when we encounter human difference, we must go back to these concepts to make sure that they apply equally to all people in the United States. Therefore, America’s democratic principles are aligned with diversity and multiculturalism; however, the realization of these same principles in the lives of all Americans is a continuing struggle.

Notions of diversity and multiculturalism are intended to help bring all people together through greater understanding, appreciation, and empathy. This article will address contemporary definitions of diversity and multiculturalism. It will also examine some of their historical development and resulting controversies. Diversity and multiculturalism’s educational influence will also be explored.

Defining Diversity and Multiculturalism

Diversity at its core is about differences. In education we refer to the differences that can be found in human beings. Cox (2001) defines diversity as “the variation of social and cultural identities among people existing together in a defined employment or market setting” (p. 3). In education, the setting becomes schools, classrooms, or anywhere formal education takes place. The differences are best described by the term social identities. These social identities include (but are not limited to) race/ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, language, and national origin (Harro, 2000). Social identities can be incredibly unifying or divisive. These differences are unavoidable in most cases because they constitute our makeup as human beings.

The natural consequence of engaging with other human beings in educational settings is personal interaction. These interactions are crucial components of education. At the same time, diversity is growing in the United States. To underscore this point, Lindsey (2017) writes:

The United States of America will not become less diverse. Diversity is our present and our future. Now is the time, and opportunity is at hand to mold the vision of our diverse country as a place where one’s cultural characteristics are viewed and embraced as assets and not as deficits. One’s race, ethnicity, gender, faith, social class, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and the variations make us who we are as individuals and as a country. Our profession as educators puts us in position to be leaders in our country’s evolution in being inclusive. (p. 7)

Thus, educators have a great potential to take a lead role in developing generations of students to be more accepting and understanding of diversity. Furthermore, Cox (2001) notes that well-managed diversity efforts can (a) improve problem-solving, (b) increase creativity and innovation, (c) increase organizational flexibility, (d) improve the quality of personnel through better recruitment and retention, and (e) improve marketing strategies (p. 6). Although Cox (2001) was referring to businesses, the educational implications are obvious. When educators are well informed and cognizant of diversity, they have the ability to name bias when they experience it, understand the depth and breadth of educational inequities, and respond to diversity-based problems in more effective ways (Beachum, Obiakor, & Gullo, 2018; Milner, 2010; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). In a similar way, multiculturalism has had an important impact on society and education.

Multiculturalism can be described as the presence of various cultural groups within a certain location such as a nation or state. Banks (1994) describes the problem in American education when he writes, “many of our curriculum development and teacher education efforts are based on the assumption that ethnic groups are static and unchanging. However, ethnic groups are highly diverse, complex, and changing entities. Ethnic identity like other ethnic characteristics, is complex and changing among ethnic group members” (p. 223). Therefore, Banks (2001) advocates that educators have more of a multi-ethnic understanding. This perspective, along with those of other scholars, developed into a concept called multicultural education (Banks & Banks, 2006; Banks et al., 2001). Nieto (2000) defines multicultural education as “a process of comprehensive school reform and basic education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society and accepts and affirms pluralism (ethnic, racial linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers represent” (p. 305).

The need for multicultural education grew out of a historical context that privileged some and oppressed others.

The Socio-Historical Context for Multiculturalism in the United States

There was a time in the United States when, if you were a person of color, a woman, gay, Jewish, Catholic, or one of a number of things but white, male, heterosexual, and Christian, you were not guaranteed all of your rights as a citizen. Antebellum slavery was a particularly difficult and dreadful part of American history.

Although the United States has been described as a melting pot of various cultures, European capitalistic values and traditions have dominated this mix since its inception, long supplanting the theocratic system imported to North America by the early settlers. The opportunity to make huge profits in the New World led colonial entrepreneurs to use any means necessary to exploit the vast untapped resources of their recently claimed land. This included using force to extract labor from unwilling participants. After a trial-and-error period with Native American and indentured European workers, the “perfect” labor force for this harrowing task was identified on the African continent. Subsequently large numbers of Africans were brutally uprooted and shipped like cargo to strange lands hundreds of miles across the sea.

(Thompson, 2007, p. 50)

Under this social order, enslaved Africans were treated like property and subjected to all types of mental and physical abuse. With regard to education, it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write. During this time period, women were not allowed to vote and were expected to marry, have children, and be silent and deferential to their husbands. Women were to be seen and not heard.

Slavery was first abolished in the Northern United States, while it increased in the South. Concurrently the North, with its emphasis on industry, was growing, in stark contrast to the South, which had a largely agricultural economy based primarily on slavery. Tensions over slavery eventually led to the American Civil War, a Northern (Union Army) victory, and the end of American slavery (Beachum & McCray, 2011).

The American Civil War was followed by a brief period of progress called Reconstruction. “Many former slaves attained voting rights, began to attain a formal education, and for the first time in the United States, saw a glimmer of hope in the darkness. This glimmer was quickly squelched as the Northern armies that provided protection and maintained order in the South pulled out. The result was a new era which could be termed Jim Crow or segregation” (Beachum & McCray, 2011, p. 13).

The Jim Crow era was a time of strict segregation of the races in the South and more de facto instances of racism in the North. The South established a rigid set of rules to establish and maintain the racial superiority and power of whites over people of color. These rules were known as Jim Crow laws or Black codes. Woodward (1974) writes that these codes “extended to churches and schools, to housing and jobs, to eating and drinking. Whether by law or by custom, that ostracism extended to virtually all forms of public transportation, to sports and recreations, to hospitals, orphanages, prisons, and asylums, and ultimately to funeral homes, morgues, and cemeteries” (p. 7). With regard to the Southern economic structure, “under this regime, backed by custom and elaborate legal statutes, super exploitative sharecropping arrangements and debt peonage fixed black labor on the land, perpetuating the hegemony of the region’s agrarian upper class” (Wacquant, 2001, p. 101). During this time period, women were expected to be subservient to men, homosexuality was viewed as abhorrent, and people with disabilities were ignored or institutionalized.

The American Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century helped to bring an end to segregation in the United States and inspired other causes. The Civil Rights Movement’s purpose was to largely secure the rights of citizenship to African Americans who were being discriminated against by Jim Crow laws and other forms of racism. The tactics used by the Civil Rights proponents included marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, and other forms of what was considered civil disobedience. The goal was to end segregation and ultimately force America to live up to its promise of ensuring that all citizens have the right to prosper and have protection no matter their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or ability status.

In the years after the Civil Rights Movement, the need arose to emphasize diversity and multiculturalism. The overt bias and discrimination of the past was disappearing and more institutional forms of discrimination began to emerge. In K–12 schools, discrimination can be enacted through “tracking, ability grouping, and the misplacement of students in special education classes” (Spring, 2006, p. 83). Additionally, because of residential housing patterns and Supreme Court decisions, schools started to re-segregate (Tatum, 2007). In order to understand modern instances of more covert discrimination and to comprehend structural problems such as re-segregation, an awareness of diversity and an appreciation of multiculturalism is critical.

The Inequities Embedded in American Schools and Society

The United States continued on a course towards greater equity in K–12 schools and society in the years after the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case has been hailed as the single most important court decision in American educational history. The decision in this case overturned the Plessey v. Ferguson separate but equal clause by establishing that segregated schools denied African American students their constitution rights guaranteed to them in the 14th Amendment. Brown . . . would also serve as the impetus for challenging several inequities as Jim Crow laws in the south and, on a many levels, for generally protecting the civil rights of African Americans and later individuals with disabilities. (Blanchett, Mumford, & Beachum, 2005, p. 70)

Unfortunately, long-term political and societal will slowly undermined these efforts. The number of people of color began to increase in many American cities. Great migrations of African Americans from the South and immigrant populations from other countries made urban cities much more demographically diverse. As more people of color moved in, white residents at times chose to quickly move out of the neighborhood. According to Gladwell (2000):

The expression [Tipping Point] first came into popular use in the 1970s to describe the flight to the suburbs of whites living in the older cities of the American Northeast. When the number of incoming African Americans in a particular neighborhood reached a certain point—20 percent say—sociologists observed that the community would “tip”: most of the remaining whites would leave almost immediately. (p. 12)

The perspective that precipitated these efforts was a mix of classism and racism that was sponsored by local residents, sanctioned by state officials, and endorsed by government entities (Rothstein, 2017). Lipsitz (2002) asserts that “by channeling loans away from older inner-city neighborhoods and toward white home buyers moving into segregated suburbs, the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] and private lenders after World War II aided and abetted segregation in U.S. residential neighborhoods” (p. 64). This is an example of how racial and class bias evolved from the signs and codes of the Jim Crow era into a more institutionalized form of discrimination; however, this bias had an even deeper role in the structuring of American society. Lipsitz (2002) elaborates:

As increasing numbers of racial minorities moved into the cities, increasing numbers of European ethnics moved out. Consequently, ethnic differences among whites became a less important dividing live in U.S. culture, while race became more important. The suburbs helped turn Euro-Americans into “whites” who could live near each other and intermarry with relatively little difficultly. (p. 65)

Therefore, segregated housing tactics helped to create suburban areas where wealth was more concentrated than in many inner-city areas.

Furthermore, these same suburban areas created a social context where strong ethnic identity melded into an American white identity, making their differences less important or apparent and subtly emphasizing distinct racial differences (e.g., inner-city areas with people of color). Rothstein (2017) notes that “our system of official segregation was not the result of a single law that consigned African Americans to designated neighborhoods. Rather, scores of racially explicit laws, regulations, and government practices combined to create a nationwide system of urban ghettos, surrounded by white suburbs” (Rothstein, 2017, p. xii). These efforts became the basis for much of the bias in American society.

The attitudes to enforce these efforts consisted of patriarchy, racism, classism, and xenophobia. This was more than some kind of covert conspiracy; it was an investment. Lipsitz (2002) calls it the “Possessive Investment in Whiteness”:

The increased possessive investment in whiteness generated by disinvestment in U.S. cities, factories, and schools since the 1970s disguises as racial problems the general social problems posed by deindustrialization, economic restructuring, and neoconservative attacks on the welfare state. It fuels a discourse that demonizes people of color for being victimized by these changes, while hiding the privileges of whiteness by attributing the economic advantages enjoyed by whites to their family values, faith in fatherhood, and foresight—rather than to the favoritism they enjoy through their possessive investment in whiteness. (p. 75)

This investment was more than just in whiteness. It was an investment in male dominance, economic concentration of wealth at the top, and anti-LGBT messaging. These other outcomes came along with the investment. This was not the origin of the different forms of oppression, but this became a modern extension of these old ideas of bias and exclusion. Therefore, understanding the evolution and solidification of bias helps us to recognize the importance of diversity and multiculturalism.

This societal phenomenon had an incredible impact on schooling. The vision of public schools being a great “equalizer” rests on the idea that students must be in schools together in order to learn and interact. Without the opportunity to socialize and engage with people of different races, ethnicities, economic classes, and beliefs, the educational pendulum swings back in the direction of segregation. Thus, white people with economic means began to move their families to the suburbs, leaving many urban areas with large and more segregated communities and schools of color. “The suburbanization of the United States has created two racially segregated and economically unequal systems of education—one urban, mostly for children who are poor and of color; the other suburban, largely white, middle-class children” (Villegas & Lucas, 2002, p. 48).

Power, Privilege, and Diversity

The aforementioned social history helped to establish the modern context of bias and oppression, which necessitates the need for diversity. What has evolved is a mix of power and privilege that must be addressed by diversity initiatives and multicultural perspectives. Power is the ability to exert influence or change behavior. It is not negative or positive in and of itself. When a person or group utilizes power in the service of themselves, their group, or their interests, it can then be described as negative or positive. In American society, who has or does not have power is based on history, habit, values, expectations, perspectives, and wealth (Harro, 2000).

In the United States, power is automatically ascribed to certain groups. Harro (2000) calls these agent groups, which include white people, men, heterosexuals, middle- and upper-class people, gentiles, Christians, and able-bodied people. Groups who lack power in American society are described as target groups. People in target groups can include people of color, women, people who identify as LGBTQ, poor people, Jewish people, elderly people, and disabled people.

At the same time, you can have power as a member of an agent group and feel oppression as a member of a target group. For instance, a white female may possess power because of her whiteness as compared with people of color, but at the same time experience bias because of her gender. Johnson (2006) addresses the relationship between African Americans and whites with regard to power when he states:

African Americans, for example, have to pay close attention to whites and white culture and get to know them well enough to avoid displeasing them, since whites control jobs, schools, government, the police, and most other resources and sources of power. (p. 22)

Thus, power, while not positive or negative, is oftentimes ascribed to certain groups while denied to other groups. Once this power is conferred and realized, then a sense of privilege can develop.

Privilege can be defined as “when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do” (Johnson, 2006, p. 21). Two types of privilege are “unearned entitlements” and “conferred dominance.” Unearned entitlements are “things of value that all people should have, such as feeling safe in public spaces or working in a place where they feel they belong and are valued for what they can contribute” (Johnson, 2006, p. 23). The problem is that certain unearned entitlements are restricted to certain groups (usually agent groups).

This form of privilege can be lessened or eliminated by the change of laws, rules, or policies. An organization could create a fair merit system, a school could revise its admission and retention policies, or a country could change laws to eliminate forms of bias (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education). The problem is that “unearned advantage gives dominant groups a competitive edge they are reluctant to even acknowledge, much less give up . . . to give up that advantage would double or even triple the amount of competition” (Johnson, 2006, p. 23).

Conferred dominance recognizes that one group has power over another group (Harro, 2000; Tatum, 2007). “The common pattern of men controlling conversations with women, for example, is grounded in a cultural assumption that men are supposed to dominate women” (Johnson, 2006, p. 23). This assumption is also embedded in sexist sayings such as “women should be seen and not heard.” Conferred dominance also highlights the power of whites over blacks, wealthy people over poor people, and heterosexuals over homosexuals. Together, power and privilege give certain groups both unearned advantages on the one hand and the ability to dominate other groups on the other hand. Tragically, the recognition of these privileges is frequently hidden by denial, disbelief, deflection, or rejection. Because of these vary same privileges, these actions are frequently accepted.

It is critically important for diversity efforts to highlight these privileges. These efforts have the ability to get the privileged to actually see that they have privilege, recognize the unfairness, and ultimately work to create a more equitable situation.


The recognition and implementation of diversity and multiculturalism has not been without difficulties. These concepts have created significant and ongoing controversy. There are at least three lingering challenges. The first is the age-old idea that diversity and multiculturalism seek to divide America by focusing on differences rather than concentrating on our shared experiences. This viewpoint sees diversity and multiculturalism as inherently divisive. In K–12 schools, critics would claim that there is no way that teachers can effectively teach all aspects of the cultures of so many different groups (Banks, 1993). They would claim that this would be too daunting a task. They would further ask: to what end? They view equality as something that has already been achieved through past laws, regulations, and modern thought. Their conclusion is that there is no need to seriously engage in diversity training or multicultural education because the days of overt racism, sexism, and widespread manifestations of physical bias are long gone. Instead, they would claim that educators’ time would be better spent focusing on academic subjects and our shared humanity (Schlesinger, 1991).

The second challenge is the idea that diversity can be a barrier to organizational performance. As Cox (2001) writes, “increasing diversity presents a double-edged sword; hence the challenge of managing diversity is to create conditions that minimize its potential to be a performance barrier while maximizing its potential to enhance organizational performance” (p. 4). Cox recognizes that increasing diversity can also heighten intergroup conflict. When different groups of people come together in the workplace, it is very possible that they will have differences with regard to communication styles, language, customs, and values. In comparison with homogeneous work groups, “workers in diverse work groups may also experience lower levels of social attraction and display lower levels of commitment to the group” (Cox, 2001, p. 5). At the same time that diversity is not an option, it is an inevitable aspect of most of our lives, either now or in the future (Banks et al., 2001; Cox, 2001; English, 2008; Johnson, 2006; Lindsey, 2017; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Cox (2001) also notes that diversity has to be well managed and not avoided.

The third challenge is the criticism that diversity and multiculturalism is a form of indoctrination. In the years following the American Civil Rights Movement and the American Women’s Rights Movement, there seems to be a belief that many colleges and universities (especially in social science departments) have wandered to the far Left. Critics claim that many of the professors are ideologues who are indoctrinating young minds with their increasingly left-wing, anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, feminist, and race-baiting ideas (D’Souza, 1991). Similarly, these critics assert that because of this ideological influence, a free exchange of ideas is not allowed to occur. While this line of argument sounds compelling, it too is a ruse. It does not acknowledge the long history of racism, sexism, and overall bias that has existed in colleges, universities, and everywhere else for that matter. And because it does not, it seeks to silence a perspective that is relatively new in the span of American history. It also overemphasizes the scope of the issue, making it seem as if all colleges and universities are far-left progressive strongholds, when this is not true. If it were, then all business, engineering, chemistry, medical, and law schools would fall under the same liberal umbrella. This is truly not the case. As with most organizations, there are very different programs, perspectives, and peoples. Diversity actually seeks to recognize these differences, inform everyone in the organization, and make sure that the organizational culture is conducive for the success of all (Cox, 2001).

In addition to the previously mentioned challenges to diversity, there are at least two additional problems with multiculturalism. The first is the recognition that multiculturalism has been watered down over time. In other words, multiculturalism has become depoliticized and is now known by many to be mostly about “celebrating other cultures” (Gorski, 2006). The original intent of multiculturalism was to address societal inequities through the recognition of other cultures and the analysis of bias by using critiques. Over time, both critics and even proponents have relegated multiculturalism to less critical and more human relations approaches. The latter are frequently viewed by people in the organization as “soft” skills and not taken seriously. Note that sometimes educators and people who support multiculturalism buy into this process when they accept it as normal that multiculturalism is primarily about celebrating ethnic foods, recognizing certain heroes and heroines, and not seriously challenging or questioning long-standing inequities.

The second problem is the notion of reframing. Gorski (2006) indicates that a sophisticated process of reframing has occurred over time that recasts our memories of certain ideas and changes the narrative. Thus Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is less known for his more radical thoughts near the end of his life and instead gets frozen in 1963 with his “I Have a Dream” speech. This is the Dr. King that is most frequently quoted and presented to audiences. Unfortunately, it dilutes Dr. King’s methods and message.

Similarly, the public perception of feminists has changed from those who advocate for women’s equal rights to men-haters, lesbians, and radicals. This reframing seeks to undermine the original intentions of the movement. In the same way, multiculturalism has been reframed from its more critical and political origins to something more palatable to those with and without power; however, the point of doing so is to appease those with power. According to Gorski (2006), we end up valuing peace over justice and comfort over change. This means that in order for multiculturalism to achieve its goals, proponents will have to risk making some people upset. The problem is that most people have become resigned to engaging in “soft” approaches that recognize differences, but do not question power, privilege, or perspectives. In discussing this issue regarding multicultural education, Dantely (2002) states that proponents must “openly identify oppression and struggle against it” (p. 540). Ultimately, those who are serious about multiculturalism may have to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term change.


Diversity and multiculturalism are similar terms that both seek to address social differences. The United States is founded upon the same values that are promoted by these terms. Historically, there has been an ongoing challenge to make sure the United States lives up to the bold promises and rhetoric that are routinely repeated. The quest to build a better American society took us through Antebellum slavery, segregation, the American Civil Rights Movement, and beyond. Although significant barriers and impediments were placed in the way of progress, the destiny of diversity and the message of multiculturalism kept finding a way to guide us in the darkest of times. The challenges of the 21st century are no less daunting. Diversity efforts face the problems of being viewed as divisive, an obstacle to organizational efficiency, and a form of indoctrination. Multiculturalism faces the challenges of being depoliticized and reframed to lessen its critical and justice orientations in exchange for comfortable conversations and softened approaches.

The United States is still facing a number of significant diversity-related issues in the 21st century. For years, the issue of police brutality towards communities of color, especially African American communities, has been ongoing. A number of high-profile cases caught on video and spread over the Internet has made this a national conversation. Furthermore, it has helped create the somewhat controversial Black Lives Matter movement. Similarly, when National Football League (NFL) players “took a knee” during the playing of the American National Anthem, it sparked a national debate that received input from politicians at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Another issue is whether or not to build a wall along the United States’ southern border with Mexico. This issue tends to polarize the American populace into those who support building the wall under the auspices of national security and those who believe that a wall is exclusionary, divisive, and aimed at denigrating Latinos (especially those from Mexico or Central American countries). The #Me Too movement in the United States has heightened awareness and concern about sexual harassment and assault. While this movement seeks to empower women (and men) and encourage empathy, it also challenges long-held notions of patriarchy and cultural assumptions about the place and power of women in U.S. society. Other controversial diversity-related issues include the attempt to ban certain Muslims from entering the United States, the attempt to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces, and controversial “bathroom bills” that define and regulate bathroom use especially for transgender individuals. All of these issues are related to diversity and/or multiculturalism. All of these issues can be better addressed, debated, and resolved with a better understanding of people’s social identities, power and privilege, and historical context.

The challenges facing society and schools are truly daunting. In the face of increasing demographic diversity, more cross-cultural understanding, interaction, and engagement will be necessary. In addition, organizations today and in the future must find new and creative ways to manage and lead diversity efforts (Beachum & McCray, 2011; Cox, 2001). With regard to what we can do, Johnson (2006) suggests that we can all (a) acknowledge that privilege and oppression exist, (b) pay attention to how we benefit from the way our society is structured and how others are systematically excluded, (c) learn to listen, and (d) do something. Villegas and Lucas (2002) capture the essence of our equity-based efforts when they state:

Every small change that we make alters the overall configuration, but these changes have tended to take place in a piecemeal and unsystematic fashion. The changing demographics of this country make it imperative that our response to diversity be powerfully thought out and undergirded by a commitment to learning for every child in a society that is striving to become more equitable and just. (p. 201)

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In the speech, he warned against the “drug of gradualism.” He was telling the audience and the world to be careful not to fall into the trap of incremental change. Dr. King would later in the same speech declare that “now is the time” to make the United States live up to its promises for all citizens. The “dream” of Dr. King was an oasis of understanding, affirmation, and humanity. His dream is also the goal of diversity and multiculturalism and it is a dream that all people can take part in to make it a reality.

Further Reading

  • Banks, J. A., Cookson, P., Gay, G., Hawley, W. D., Irvine, J. J., Nieto, S., . . . Stephan, W. G. (2001). Diversity within unity: Essential principles for teaching and learning in a multicultural society. The Phi Delta Kappan, 83(3), 196–203.
  • Johnson, A. G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Lindsey, R. B. (2017). The cultural proficiency manifesto: Finding clarity amidst the noise. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. New York: Longman.
  • North, C. E. (2006). More than words? Delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 507–535.
  • Singleton, G. E., & Linton, C. (2005). Courageous conversations about race. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? And other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books.
  • Villegas, A. M., & Lucas, T. (2002). Educating culturally responsive teachers: A coherent approach. Albany: State University of New York Press.


  • Banks, J. A. (1993). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions, and practice. Review of Research in Education, 19, 3–49.
  • Banks, J. A. (1994). Multiethnic education: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MD: Ally and Bacon.
  • Banks, J. A. (2001). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals. In J. A. Banks & C. H. McGee-Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (4th ed., pp. 3–30). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. (2006). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Banks, J. A., Cookson, P., Gay, G., Hawley, W. D., Irvine, J. J. Nieto, S., . . . Stephan, W. G. (2001). Diversity within unity: Essential principles for teaching and learning in a multicultural society. The Phi Delta Kappan, 83(3), 196–203.
  • Beachum, F. D., & McCray, C. R. (2011). Cultural collision and collusion: Reflections on hip-hop culture, values, and schools. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Beachum, F. D., Obiakor, F. E., & Gullo, G. L. (2018). “Realizing that they don’t know”: An exploratory study. In F. D. Beachum & F. E. Obiakor (Eds.), Improving educational outcomes for vulnerable children. San Diego, CA: Plural.
  • Blanchett, W., Mumford, V., & Beachum, F. D. (2005). Urban school failure and disproportionality in a Post-Brown era: Benign neglect of the Constitutional rights of students of color. Remedial and Special Education, 26(2), 70–81.
  • Cox, T., Jr. (2001). Creating the multicultural organization: A strategy for capturing the power of diversity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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