In his book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, Peter Wood describes his pleasure as a child in Pittsburgh when visiting the city’s aviary, where birds from disparate regions of the world were all intermingled“species whose ancestors last met when Tyrannosaurus Rex still was king.” Several years later, however, a renovation of the aviary resulted in individual exhibits, separating the birds in order to simulate natural habitat. Now one can stand in front of a window, writes Wood, “and watch 14 cockatoos sit on an authentic dead Australian tree.”
This “self-consciously educational” exercise in artificial diversity has, on a grander scale, seeped into society, where it has given birth to a movement so powerful that it has transformed American culture. No institution has escaped the influence of “diversity,” an ideology that has taken the form of a social ideal. The entire education system, the church, the arts, and businessall have come under the spell of the diversity advocates (or “diversiphiles,” as Wood calls them) and have capitulated to their imperatives.
Real cultural diversity, the result of individuals demonstrating their differences through their opinions, experiences, talents, and tastes, has given way to an imposter diversity that insists on the pre-eminence of racial and gender identification. According to diversiphiles, group identity is a more substantial factor than individuality.
In this worldview, certain groups are singled out for special treatment and their members accorded privileges in proportion to the supposed suffering of their ancestors. Since damages done in the past, so the story goes, continue to impact the lives of the living, members of these groups deserve a share of society’s bounty that they may not merit through their own efforts.
Diversity is affirmative action and multiculturalism writ large. Where affirmative action sought to bend the rules in school and business, diversity’s more grandiose goal is, as Wood puts it, “gigantic in its ambition.” Diversiphiles demand more than just equality in the eyes of the law. It is social equality that must be guaranteed through a process that intrudes racial consciousness into society’s every crevice.
In the skewed world of diversity, nothing less than full acceptance of ethnic customs is acceptable. From a culture that burdens its members with odious practices like female genital mutilation to one that produced men who made tangible the liberating concept of individual rightsall are the same and must be accorded equal deference. (Well, maybe those dead white men aren’t due quite as much deference as others.)
Before the 1978 Bakke Supreme Court decision and Justice Powell’s meandering reasoning, the idea that diversity was educationally worthwhile was unknown. In fact, from a comprehensive examination of earlier references, Wood found that, up to the 1970s, when “diversity” was cited as a feature in academia, it referred to the country’s variety of colleges and their sundry curricula, as opposed to more academically rigid state-run institutions.
It’s not that the notion of diversity, as we know it today, did not exist. It was there, as Wood puts it, “in leftist American intellectual culture” for at least a decade before Bakke. But it took the Bakke decision, and the legal credibility that Powell appeared to give to diversity as a value in itself, to open the floodgates. And what a flood it has been.
Fanning out from the academia that gave it birth, diversity was soon embraced by the business community. I was made aware of this in the early 1990s, when a couple of black acquaintances sent me their résumés, in the scant chance that I might pass them on. I noticed that in each case, the person had added, under the skills category, “Diversity Consultant” or “Diversity Trainer.” Since neither of these people worked in fields that might seem related to such expertise, I could not imagine what they might know about advising businesses on race management. I was puzzled, but not for long. An investigation led to the discovery of a newly developing sub-division of the already hustler-filled race industry. I learned about “experts” who conduct diversity-training sessions for organizations and businesses. I read about people who performed “culture audits” for employers and of the growing numbers of diversity coaches and co-ordinators (who cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 an hour). There seemed to be new consulting firms forming by the minute, with some of them specializing in “conflict resolution.” (Could it be that the conflict that needed resolving was the anger of employees who were forced to endure multicultural indoctrination in demeaning “sensitivity” workshops?)
Business had clearly become a partner in expanding and nurturing the new ideal of diversity. With these two powerful institutions in its corner, I wondered about the prospects of it burrowing even deeper into American life. Now, years later, my apprehensions are confirmed. For even if some day the Supreme Court rules against racial preferences, its legacies may be insuperable.
It has cursed us with race leaders who have addicted their constituencies to competition in a racial spoils system. Although it was not the initiator of mass immigration run amok, it has provided justifications for harboring millions of illegal aliens, negatively impacting labor patterns and the overall welfare of native-born citizens.
Diversity is also responsible for despicable “hate crime” laws that ratchet up punishments primarily against those charged with petty crimes for the supposed thoughts in their heads instead of for the actual crimes committed.
And by rendering the Church a hollow, nonjudgmental instrument (that Wood rightly describes as “neo-pagan”), diversity has robbed us of a moral voice with which to fight its destructive incursions.
Is it possible that diversity’s entrenched principles, fortified by legal statutes, can ever be waved away with the stroke of a Supreme Court decision? Will it be possible to eradicate the suspicions, fears, and demoralization that have played an important part in diversity’s control over the ordinary, well-meaning American?
In 1999, I was flabbergasted by a story written by a white reporter, Katherine Corcoran, in the San Jose Mercury News. This was not a news item but a revelation of her concerns about how best to convey the correct views on race to her seven-year-old daughter. Corcoran shared the details of an incident, when her daughter’s aunt took the child to buy a doll. In the store, out of an array of “multiracial” Barbie dolls, the girl chose a white one. Later, at home, showing off the doll to her mother, the child told of how she had pushed aside a black Barbie and emotionally asked, “Am I prejudiced?”
The child’s question perturbed Corcoran as she searched for the “right” answer. Before we learn her response, she sets out on a long discourse that would make any diversiphile proud.
She quotes from the scriptures of various diversity ideologues, who lectured on pride and heritage. One claimed that children should not be allowed to come to their own conclusions. After all, “You don’t know where children are getting their information from.” Don’t we? If this seven-year-old was a pupil of the school system, she already had been subjected to full doses of multicultural preachments.
Returning to her daughter, Corcoran asked the child if she had chosen the doll because she thought it was prettier. The little girl responded, “No, she had better lipstick.” Now Corcoran felt compelled to find out if the child was “gravitating to the familiar,” towards “her own kind.” No, that wasn’t it, protested the child, since she did not “look like a white Barbie.”
From this evidence, Corcoran finally told her daughter that, no, she was not prejudiced for choosing a doll based on lipstick. Mother then decided that she would buy more Barbie dolls that “at least would be diverse.” From this point on, Corcoran was ever alert to signals emanating from her daughter. One day, when the child referred to Asia as having “countries with the funny writing,” Corcoran was pleased that the girl quickly “corrected” herself. Could there be a better illustration of the success of the diversiphiles than this anxious little girl’s fears that are reinforced by those of her mother?
Other than its antecedents in ’60s radicalism, is it possible to finger specific culprits for diversity’s transcendence? Wood finds no plot, no band of conspirators responsible for its conquest. There is no Machiavelli, claims Wood, no Darwin, and no Friedan. Diversity “arrived unparented, as a kind of collective emanation of ponderous academic silliness.”
On the prospects for its ultimate demise, Wood is ambivalent. In one place he suggests that members of diversity’s preferred groups might themselves oppose its condescending implications. (Any takers on that possibility?) In his only bewildering passage, he writes that diversity is “both disappearing and indelible.” Finally, he concedes, “Diversity may not pass away at all.”
This is a pragmatic conclusion when you consider that diversity is now an indispensable tool in party politics, rooted in the marketing practices of businessas companies seek to create, exaggerate, and exploit multicultural nichesand thoroughly written into countless government regulations.
Even if the most recent Supreme Court decision had come down against racial preferences, there is no reason to believe that diversity would die of its own accord. Its most vigorous supporters are too buoyed by the enormous grants delivered over by major foundations. Wood cites the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund that, in the late1990s, gave $25 million to find ways to make arts audiences “more diverse.”
And, let’s face it, diversiphiles thrive on euphemisms. When, in the past, various court decisions sought to limit the scope of affirmative action, like outlawing “race norming,” advocates of diversity just called their pet projects by other names. Such was the lesson learned in California by a majority who thought they had done away with affirmative action through their vote for Proposition 209. Voters in Washington State, thinking their will counted for something, did the same in 1998. In each case, where the educational system had been affected, diversity’s acolytes simply set out to achieve affirmative action by other means.
As unwelcome a speculation as it may be, the Founders’ nation may never be rescued from the clutches of the multiculturalists, if for no other fact than the onrushing populations arriving from abroad, who are displacing those Americans who still retain a memory of the Constitution’s “guarantees.” In just a few years, when expounding on the finer points of habeas corpus or enumerated powers, who will even know what you’re talking about?
Elizabeth Wright is the editor of Issues & Views.