Whereas the Founders prized unity, 21st-century America has embraced diversity.
Diversity is a neutral term, no more positive or negative than its array of antonyms such as homogeneity and uniformity. Iraq is certainly diverse. So is Syria or the Balkans; Japan and South Korea are not. Yet uniformity seems a virtue in the latter while difference in the former has birthed tragedy.
In other words, diversity as a positive demographic idea depends on how it is manifested within a particular political landscape. In the U.S., diversity was traditionally a word less fondly used than unity. Our coins, after all, do not bear the motto E singulis plures. And the Confederacy failed in its effort to allow the states their own diverse cultures without yielding to federal unity. The German-led invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 was certainly one of the most diverse coalitions in history, the invaders eventually including, besides the Germans themselves, Finns, Hungarians, Italians, Romanians, and Spaniards, in opposition to a mostly unified Soviet Red Army.
How, then, did diversity become the mantra of the American 21st century? A few reasons stand out.
First, during the 20th century the U.S. was steadily moving toward a multiracial, intermarried, integrated, and assimilated society. As a result, the 1960s idea of “affirmative action” had largely become played out after a half-century of canonized use; by the 2000s it was beset with a variety of class and racial paradoxes. The country was no longer the 90/10, white/black binary that dealt with the issues of the Civil Rights era.
Class, not race, had become a better measure of privilege. The kin of Oprah, Kobe Bryant, or Eric Holder are in no need of a government boost, at least in comparison to the lower middle classes of all ethnic and racial groups.
Appearance and accent are no longer reliable indicators of race. If Ted Cruz did not self-identify as half Cuban-American, he might easily be tagged with almost any ethnicity. Barack Obama — middle-class, Hawaiian-raised, prep-schooled, and of half Kenyan ancestry — had no early experience with the African-American underclass; Barack Hussein Obama massaged that fact in a way Barry Soetero might not have been able to.
The current career move of ethnicizing names, along with highlights of hyphenation and accent marks, reflects an unspoken reality: Ethnic heritage is now often so impossible to verify that bumper-sticker linguistic aids are vital. Professor Joseph Smith is not so likely an affirmative-action candidate as he most certainly would be if he chose to identify with his mother’s line and became José López-Smith
More importantly, how does the federal government continue to provide reparations of sorts through help in school admissions and employment, given the multitudes of competing claims of grievances? Affirmative action for African-Americans long ago stretched to include Latinos, originally to rectify perceived prejudices against Mexican-Americans.
Yet the latter term has all but disappeared, as Bolivians, Hondurans, Argentinians, Cubans, and Spaniards all became generic “Latinos” or “Hispanics” — largely because ethnic operatives hoped to cobble together a vast, monolithic minority of one-time Spanish-speakers analogous to blacks, one that might gain equal heft in demographic politics and thus the ensuing distribution of government spoils.
But, again, how does one adjudicate these competing — and growing — victimologies? Does a Spanish-speaking Castilian CEO earn affirmative-action status because of the Mexican-American experience, while an impoverished white from Oildale would not? Or, for that matter, does the Oaxacan who crosses the border at age 20 — a lifelong victim of racism and exploitation in his native Mexico — win instant preferences the moment he reaches San Diego? If so, on what logic will he now face oppression in a way not true of Greek-Americans or Punjabi-Americans?
We are a multiracial society in which thousands of Jews arrived after nearly being wiped out during the Final Solution; Southeast Asians fled the Cambodian death camps and the Vietnamese reeducation centers; Japanese were interned; Armenians, victims of Turkish genocidal forced migrations, were zoned out of particular American neighborhoods; Chinese were exploited by the railroads; and Irish were caricatured as subhuman. Even if an American can validate his membership in a particular minority group — at least in the manner of the old Confederate 1/16th rule (which, incidentally, neither Elizabeth Warren nor Rachel Dolezal meets) — how could the various claims of victimhood be properly calibrated?
By chronology? A particular aggrieved minority must demonstrate collective ancestral hurt as recently as 30, 50, 100, or 150 years ago?
By the precise shade of skin color? A Pakistani earns consideration that Valerie Jarrett and Rev. Wright would not; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is more authentically oppressed than is the firebrand Harry Belafonte?
By the identity of the tormentor? Bias and prejudice must derive from Americans, or at least from Westerners? We can offer reparations to Mexican-Americans, but not to recently arrived Oaxacans, whose gripes are properly with Mexico City, not Washington? Japanese who suffered at the hands of FDR, Earl Warren, and the McClatchy news guild have valid claims, but not Southeast Asians, who could more properly blame Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong? Note that the recent constant drumbeat of “white privilege” is a necessary political strategy to ensure compensatory rewards; without such a one-dimensional bogeyman, oppression would be too amorphous to chart and reparations too difficult to calibrate.
By severity? Slavery certainly is far worse than mere bias. But does it rank with Treblinka? The Zoot Suit Riots were bad; but Leland Stanford’s use of coolie labor worse?
By present circumstances? If overcoming perceived discrimination earns exemption from special consideration, does failing to do so earn its retention? If Japanese-Americans or Korean-Americans earn on average higher incomes and are better educated than most Americans, are they still minorities in need of special affirmation? If the present yardstick of “other than white” does not ensure affirmative action at UC Berkeley, then do we expand it to OTWA — “other than white and Asian”? Who wins and who loses their grievance badges, and how, when, where, and why?
All these contradictions have swamped affirmative action. And that is why from its ashes has risen the Phoenix-like “diversity” — precisely in the Orwellian manner that “climate change” has superseded global warming, since the planet in recent years has not heated up, and given that cold, snow, hurricanes, and rain could become far more useful criteria than just heat and drought.
In other words, diversity means everything and nothing — and thus there is no need to address its contradictions. There is increasingly little diversity in the NBA, which is run on the basis of meritocratic criteria. The idea of disparate impact or proportional representation in professional sports simply does not exist, largely because diversity is not an absolute term, but an entirely political idea based on the notion that particular groups pledge fealty to progressive movements and politicians and in exchange receive proportional representation according to tribal affiliation — except when their specific group is already “overrepresented” in a particular lucrative or prestigious field.
Diversity is a word that the Left conjured up to escape the paradoxes of the increasingly fossilized notion of racially biased affirmative action. And since diversity was never defined, it has never had to offer an accounting for its many ironies and inconsistencies. But surely diversity must have some definition, or even the Left could not navigate its myriad manifestations?
I suggest the following are a few of its various tenets:
1. Diversity is the antithesis of white, male, Christian, conservative, and heterosexual. That combination precludes any claim on diversity, and with it any special consideration. There is no such thing as political or ideological diversity — of trying to hire professors or journalists across a spectrum of ideologies. Even having a staff or a student body that is less than 50 percent white, in today’s crowded diversity field, is problematic. “Other than white” is a favorite term of college administrators who seek career promotion through their use of race-based hiring. Being female — over half the population and approaching 60 percent of all college graduates each year — can qualify one for diversity, if grafted to the idea of progressive feminism. Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin, for example, are most certainly not diverse, and might as well be male for all the advantages that their sex might win them. Multimillionaire and Wall Street toady Hillary Clinton is diverse in a way a waitress who supports Trump would not be. So politics trumps diversity. If three African-American conservatives hosted a cable-news show, it would be less diverse than if it had three white male leftists. A presidential ticket of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would not be more diverse than a ticket of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
2. Perceived success can also squander ethnic, gender, or religious diversity consideration. Asian-Americans are on the verge of going the way of the Jewish community, primarily because of their “overrepresentation” on college campuses and their perceived affluence. Central to this process is a necessary disconnect: One must never question why certain minority groups, despite past oppression and current perceived bias, not only match but exceed so-called norms. To do so would implode the very notion of racial oppression as destiny, central to the entire diversity industry. Believing in the content of our characters, and embracing certain cultural attitudes about what makes one successful in America, are viruses that can kill diversity. Being of a diverse background increasingly means that one’s tribe feels that it is not as successful as it would like to be. If I go to a cardiology group, and all four M.D.s are Punjabi-Americans, no one worries about diversity, especially the quite successful doctors themselves.
3. Assimilation is not diversity. Greek-Americans or Armenian-Americans may be impoverished, face racial prejudice, and seek to identify with their ethnic heritages, but they are no longer diverse, largely because their parents and grandparents made the decision to assimilate, integrate, and intermarry within American society. Long ago, large numbers of people who were clearly not “white” by their appearance became part of the so-called majority by choice. Once a group has forfeited diversity, it is lost and cannot be regained. Even if you are quite dark and your grandparents from Smyrna fled the Turkish ethnic cleansing of Asia Minor, and even if your name is something most non-WASPish such as Agape Anagnostopoulos, sorry, you are still not diverse.
So what is diversity? It is a catch-all leftist phrase, useful for providing a quid pro quo edge to a particular person largely on the basis of political considerations, as long as he or she is not hopelessly white or conservative — or suspected of being not opposed to either.