What’s the Difference With “Difference”? Equity, Communication, and the Politics of Difference

Ralina L. Joseph


Can use of the word difference help communication scholars to rethink communication with equity central, with the politics of difference at its center, or, in other words, where a deviation from an assumed norm is embraced as an intrinsic and valued part of the process of change making? Does adopting the words difference and equity in lieu of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism help bring us to a place where racialized minorities are not just window dressing, the tokens that stave off allegations of racism? In this essay, I briefly trace various discourses surrounding tolerance, multiculturalism, and diversity, before moving to difference to think to equity. Linguistic change coincides with and can foment historical and political change, yet we do not need more or different words: We need more equitable universities. Interrogating the language around this potentially change-making word uncovers, in the words of Herman Gray, a politics of difference that is unutterable without demands for equity.


difference, equity, multiculturalism, tolerance, diversity

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