In the last post I mentioned a book titled The Trouble With Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels. It was recommended to me by my sociology professor in the spring, and it made some very thought provoking reading. As I said in my comment of the last post, the book’s point is that by focusing on racial diversity we lose our focus on diversity of class. In other words, by trying to alleviating racial inequalities we end up concealing class inequalities, which then go on unaddressed.
Michaels argues that those who advocate for racial diversity are usually those that are well-off, and they like to make sure they have people of color around to make them feel better about their sense of social justice. However, the problem with this is that the people of color are simply those of the well-off sort. As an example, he cites the enrollment at Harvard University. The vast majority of the student body is made up of children of wealthy parents, most of which are white. It certainly meets its color quotas and affirms the quality of a racially diverse classroom, but the students of color are mostly those that too are well-off! In the end, what you have is a racially diverse student group that made up of a homogenous class, specifically the wealthy. And if the anecdote spoken of in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy is representative of the Harvard experience, bigotry towards the poor is common from wealthy students who get A’s on their ethics tests.
If you ever have been poor or worked with poor people you will know that racial diversity isn’t a very hard thing to achieve. It is true that there are large disparities between blacks and whites in the percentage of who falls below the poverty line. Everyone knows about the plight of African Americans in this statistical regard, and most would like to see it change. However, what is obscured by the statistic is that there are more white people than black people that fall below the poverty line, numerically speaking. To be white and poor is oxymoronic in our social consciousness. For black Americans there is at least an “awareness” of the problem that the higher classes have, though that doesn’t seem to matter that much in of and itself. The white poor have no voice that anyone really cares to care about.
I’ve experienced this in my job. Here at Minnesota Teen Challenge, we have a very racially diverse student body. Our choir trips every Sunday provide otherwise all-white churches around the metro area with a few black worshipers in their services for an hour or two. However, we still have far more students from the lower class white demographic than any other.
Contrast this with a friend of mine who is a manager at a large grain company outside the Twin Cities. According to her there is a push for a more racially diverse work force. Certain opportunities for traveling and advancement come up, and those that fall under the African American category are consistently favored. Yet the reality is the one “qualifying” candidate who comes up is an affluent person of African decent who has had numerous opportunities and benefits above and beyond any the other middle-class white co-workers!
The trouble with diversity then is that we create a hegemony far more homogenous than we started with. The poor stay poor and the rich feel better about themselves.