The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, by Walter Benn Michaels.
This is a bad book with an interesting premise. Walter Benn Michaels, head of the English department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is fed up with his fellow liberals' obsession with diversity—from affirmative action in college admissions, to the army of diversity workshops, programs, and mission statements that have conquered corporate America, to the left-wing conceit that every culture and language in the world needs to be protected from the ravages of globalization. Diversity, he argues, is "a rich people's solution" to economic injustice, a way for the well-off to surround themselves with classmates and business partners who look like America, the better to ignore the inequalities of opportunity that keep the poor and working class out of the ivory tower and the boardroom.
This is true enough, but unfortunately Benn Michaels seems to think that it's the only true thing there is. So instead of merely suggesting that race and culture may be less important to American life than class divisions, he spends much of the book arguing that race is a complete fiction, that neither culture nor language should matter to anyone with any sense, and that children are defined by their parents' bank accounts and little else. Meanwhile, the complexities of what inequality means in a wealthy country like the United States are brushed aside, as is the crucial question of whether money-equality or civic-equality is more important to democratic self-government. Instead, The Trouble With Diversity summons left-wingers to the barricades to fight for, among other dumb and hopeless causes, the abolition of private schools. Good luck with that.
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This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books