Diversity vs. Integration

Often times the words “diversity” and “integration” are used interchangeably when describing the racial composition of a neighborhood or town.  The differences between the two words, however, are greatly important to the fabric of a community.

Think of the neighborhood in your community that houses the refugee population or an area with a large university or medical center that brings in employees with different backgrounds.  These communities are diverse…but are they integrated?

Integration moves beyond the Census numbers. It not only acknowledges the variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, but it accepts, encourages, and thrives in the mixture.  Integration is purposeful in creating an environment where residents don’t merely live in the same zip code but they share their lives with each other.  While diversity spurs cultural competency and understanding of different backgrounds and perspectives through the presence of differences, it doesn’t outwardly promote the value of inclusion.  Plus, cultural competence can only increase if community members interact with one another.

The benefits of integration go farther than neighborly sentiments.  Integration not only fosters a sense of community among its diverse residents, but it also has quantifiable advantages.  Integrated communities have excellent public schools and students have higher academic performance than in segregated towns.  Home values are equal across races, making the prices closer to true value because the costs associated with racial-specific neighborhoods are void.  Concentrated poverty is reduced in integrated communities and social capital is more beneficial for minorities in these communities.  There is also more access to factors that measure opportunity in an area – transportation, public services, green space, quality education, nearby employment, and low crime rate.

The benefits of living in an integrated community sometimes go unnoticed by municipalities and home-seekers, so segregated communities persist.  Another concern is that civic leaders are unsure how to go about integrating their community.  Also, people often believe their community is integrated when it is actually diverse; this hinders community members’ access to the full benefits found in an integrated community and fails to affirmatively further fair housing.

It is important to understand the differences between diversity and integration because this awareness can greatly impact a resident, a community, and the fair housing movement.  Diversity is great, but integration is greater.

By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator

Photo By Billie Hara