excerpts from

The Trouble With Diversity

How We Learned To Love Identity
And Ignore Inequality

by Walter Benn Michaels

published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2006 by Walter Benn Michaels. All rights reserved.

“...Indeed, diversity has become virtually a sacred concept in American life today. No one’s really against it; people tend instead to differ only in their degrees of enthusiasm for it and their ingenuity in pursuing it."

"Among the most enthusiastic proponents of diversity, needless to say, are the thousands of companies providing 'diversity products,' from diversity training (currently estimated to be a $10-billion-a-year industry) to diversity newsletters (I subscribe to Diversity Inc., but there are dozens of them) to diversity rankings (my university’s in the top ten) to diversity gifts and clothing – you can 'show your support for multiculturalism' and 'put an end to panty lines' with a 'Diversity Rocks Classic Thong' ($9.99). The 'Show Me the Money Diversity Venture Capital Conference' says what needs to be said here."

"In an ideal universe we wouldn’t be celebrating diversity at all – we wouldn’t even be encouraging it – because in an ideal universe the question of who you want to sleep with would be a matter of concern only to you and to your loved (or unloved) ones. As would your skin color; some people might like it, some might not, but it would have no political significance whatsoever. Diversity of skin color is something we should happily take for granted, the way we do diversity of hair color. When you go to school or to work – just like when you go to vote – the question of whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, a man or a woman shouldn’t matter any more than the question of whether you are blond or brunette. An important issue of social justice hangs on not discriminating against people because of their hair color or their skin color or their sexuality. No issue of social justice hangs on appreciating racial or cultural diversity. If you’re worried about the growing economic inequality in American life, if you suspect that there may be something unjust as well as unpleasant in the spectacle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, no cause is less worth supporting, no battle is less worth fighting than the ones we fight for diversity."

" ...the really radical idea of redistributing wealth becomes almost literally unthinkable. In the early 1930s, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana proposed a law making it illegal for anyone to earn more than a million dollars a year and for anyone to inherit more than five million dollars. Imagine the response if – even suitably adjusted for inflation – any senator were to propose such a law today, cutting off incomes at, say, $15 million a year and inheritances at $75 million. It’s not just the numbers that wouldn’t fly; it’s the whole concept. Such restriction today would seem as outrageous and unnatural as interracial – not to mention gay – marriage seemed or would have seemed then. But we don’t need to purchase our progress in civil rights at the expense of a commitment to economic justice. More fundamentally still, we should not allow – or we should not continue to allow –the phantasm of respect for difference to take the place of that commitment to economic justice. In short, this book is an effort to move beyond diversity – to make it clear that the commitment to diversity is at best a distraction and at worst an essentially reactionary position – and to help put equality back on the national agenda.“

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