Are all cultural beliefs of equal ‘value’, to be respected no matter what? Are some beliefs or practices just plain wrong?
Diversity is about difference and variation. It is possible for diverse things to be equally valued, but it’s a concept that is extremely hard to manage in practice.
I visited South Africa after the end of apartheid, and found myself having to pay the gardener in a house we were renting. Having given him his week’s wages, I asked him to do a particular gardening job. I am a keen gardener and could see the job needed doing. The chap (for it was a man) responded that he did not take orders from a woman. He told me that, in his culture, women were quiet and did what they were told.
I am not debating the rights and wrongs of Zulu gardener culture, but I am seeking to explore how I am to deal with equality and diversity when diverse cultures do not offer me equality, or accept the notion of diversity.
How do I respect a culture that regards me as a second class citizen with limited rights?
What if someone holds a belief that demeans me? Should I wait until it has a practical effect on my life, and then challenge it? Should I take pre-emptive action and campaign for protection against those beliefs being activated in the real world?
For the gardener, should he be entitled to:
- Hold his beliefs silently, but not express them to other people?
- Express his beliefs within his own culture, but not outside it?
- Act upon his beliefs within his own village, but not when he leaves it?
- Act upon his beliefs because, wherever he is, that is his culture?
My exchange with the gardener was relatively trivial, but what if we apply this question more widely.
Does my freedom rest in the censorship of others? If so, how far should they be censored before my freedom is excessive? How far should I be censored? Does anyone have, or should they have, a legal or a moral right not to be offended at any time?
The Equality Bill requires the Equality Commission to square the circle of “equality or diversity” by demanding “equality and diversity” as part of its fundamental duty (see below). The Commissioners are being set an impossible task by the legislature. It would be better that the legislators were honest in calling for achievable outcomes, rather than promoting high-sounding phrases that are bound to disappoint.
3 Fundamental duty
The Commission shall exercise its functions under this Part with a view to the
creation of a society in which—
(a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or
(b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights
c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,
(d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
(e) there is mutual respect between communities based on understanding
and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human