Diversity For Thee, But Not For Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a reasonable point:
I’ve said this before but conservatives often perceive liberal attachment to diversity as a kind of “everyone’s a winner” cuddle party, where we sit around exchanging rice-cakes and hating on the military. But the great strength of diversity is it forces you into a room with people who have experiences very different from your own. It’s all fine and good to laugh at Sherrod Brown dancing to Jay-Z. But dude is outside his lane and he’s learning something. M.C. Rove should be so lucky.
TNC’s point that we benefit from learning perspectives different from ours is perfectly valid, even anodyne. But it’s simply untrue that “diversity” in practice means what liberals say it means. If liberals meant what they said, they would push for “diversity” to include political conservatives, Southern Baptists, and others unlike themselves. How often does that happen? It seems that “diversity” only applies to racial and sexual minorities. Conservatives understand perfectly well that the concept of diversity is an ideological construct that implicitly marginalizes them. That is the essence of the conservative resistance to “diversity” — that it’s a racket and a sham. TNC’s post prescribes diversity to conservatives to get them to be less “stupid,” and again, I agree that it’s always good to try to understand the perspective of others. But: every conservative has heard liberals say incredibly ignorant, stupid, untrue things about conservatives, but one rarely hears liberals worry about their own epistemic closure resulting from their monocultural liberalism. As I’ve written here before, conservatives are extremely wary when they hear calls for “diversity” and for “racial dialogue,” not because either is a bad thing in and of itself, but because they are code words for, “We liberals are going to tell you conservatives why you are wrong, and what we expect you to do about it.”
I would say that half, and maybe even most, of my friends in my Red-America town are liberals. We never talk about politics, and if we did, I bet we could have an intelligent exchange, because we see each other as people, not ideological constructs. Living in a small town compels you to see the other as a subject, not an object. It doesn’t make you a more moral person, necessarily, but at least it gives you more opportunity to see people as more than the sum of their ideological commitments.
I have never learned a thing from official diversity programs, except to be extremely cynical. What I’ve learned from living among people not like myself is to be more careful in the judgments I make — and to separate the political beliefs of a person from my assessment of that person’s character. I’ve learned the truth of Solzhenitsyn’s observation that the line between good and evil runs down the middle of each person’s heart. As a political and cultural conservative living in New York City, and working in newsrooms, which are overwhelmingly liberal environments, I’ve learned what it’s like to be an outsider. But I’ve also learned, I think and I hope, to see how one’s outsiderness can corrupt one’s judgment as well. I have learned a lot about how people are basically the same, and how people really are different in some consequential ways.
The point is that learning to see the world as it is does not result in adopting one ideological platform or another, but rather training oneself to see the complexity in society, and within individuals, and to render judgments based on a more empathic understanding of how people are, and why they think the things they do. Too many people assume that those who believe the opposite things arrive at their convictions in bad faith, e.g., out of bigotry, malice, desire for personal gain, etc. It’s true for some, but true less often than you might think. This is not to say that becoming more widely exposed to different people makes you into an automatic egalitarian, or a liberal (or a conservative), but it should make you more discerning in your own approach to the world, and quicker to question yourself.
It could well be the case that being exposed to the Other hardens one in one’s dislike for them. We shouldn’t assume that “diversity” automatically leads to more tolerance, wisdom, and comity. I once knew a guy from Europe who lived for a while in America, and was glad to go home. He got to know a lot of Americans, and appreciated our good qualities, but in the end he felt like an alien here, and found that the bad aspects of our culture outweighed the good. I think that’s a shame, but I didn’t begrudge him that judgment. He thought ours was an inferior culture — and given the things he valued most of all, he was right. I can live with that. Can’t you?
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