Monday, December 06, 2004

Column on diversity

The Ideal of Meaningless Diversity

Tibor R. Machan

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd isnÂ?t happy. When that occurs, we,
who follow the venerable publication, will know it. The home of her
columns are the envy of many who sound off on the events of our time.

On this occasion she was complaining about how Tom Brokaw of NBC TVÂ?s
Nightly News will not be replaced by someone black or by a woman but,
instead, by another white male. As she puts it, Â?Those guys are hard to
kill off. Indeed, white men are ascendant in Red State America.Â? She
quotes Brokaw himself opining on this: Â?I honestly thought, eight or nine
years ago, that when we [Peter Jennings, Dan Rather] left," she quotes
Brokaw, Â?that it would be the end of white male anchor time."

OK, so perhaps she didnÂ?t really mean literally Â?kill offÂ?, although with
her characteristic venom whenever her own will is thwarted, you cannot
tell for sure. On the occasion of her ill chosen words, however, we may
take a pause and consider just what this racial and sexual diversity stuff
is all about. Certainly, it follows nicely the intentions of many, many
people at university campuses across the country. As a member of several
panel discussions at those where I have taught and am still teaching, I
get this a lot: Â?But you are a white male and this shows we lack diversity
on this campus, what with those other white guys sitting there next to

Just exactly why is it so important to construe diversity in terms of
color and sex, even national or ethnic background? Surely it is rank
prejudice to believe that because someone is black or a woman or hails
from China, certain views will emanate from that personÂ?s lips. The depth
of diversity involved in mixing it by such criteria is ridiculously
shallow. So, OK, we will see blacks and women but for all we may usually
anticipate, the views we will get are the same across the board. The
really important diversity, namely of viewpoints, is completely unrelated
to whether on is a woman, a man, 50 or 23 years old, from Europe or
Africa, rich or poor.

Unless, of course, color, race, sex, location and such make someone think
a certain way. But that would be a racist, sexists, ageists or whatever
thought. And then, naturally, the very policy of diversity would be tied
to whether one is of a certain race, sex, national or ethnic origin. And
that would render it immune to criticism.

Ms. Dowd probably doesnÂ?t even fathom this, but her demand for other than
a white male at the helm of NBC TV Nightly News is, actually, racist. As
if picking a black would make the news come off differently. As if putting
people of a certain color, race, sex or national/ethnic background on the
airÂ?or, for that matter, on a panel of scholarsÂ?amounted to providing a
diversity of viewpoints.

If that were the case, racism and such must be viewed as very
naturalÂ?those who are white males can be counted on, reasonably, to make
certain choices in hiring, irrespective of competence, qualifications,
skill, and the like. Blacks will then be guaranteed by their color to
think in certain ways, as will whites, women, those from Russia or
Afghanistan. And Maureen Dowd will, of course, spout forth as she does
because, well, she has to, regardless of judgment, reflection, evidence,
argumentÂ?that is to say, regardless of the qualify of her thinking about
these matters. ItÂ?s simply all set, by race, sex, ethnicity.

Such Â?identity politicsÂ? is the death of true diversity, of the variety
of thinking that ought to be hosted at universities and other centers of
debate, including in the news media. What good does it do to mix it up on
the basis of such irrelevant criteria anyway when it has nothing to do, as
it surely does not, with how someone thinks?

At a recent event at my university, following the viewing of Michael
MooreÂ?s Fahrenheit 9/11, a few professors, including me, mixed it up about
the merits or lack thereof of this cinematographic jewel. None of us
looked all that different from one another but, by Jove, we all thought
quite differently. After I spoke a few words in the midst of it all, a
young black woman stood up to say that if someone is white, he or she will
never be able to know just what blacks have been experiencing in the way
of prejudice and oppression. I quickly replied that that is a hopelessly
defeatist view: it would mean that understanding across the races is
impossible. (Never mind that it assumes that no whites have ever
experienced prejudice and oppression!)

Very tellingly after the event was over, three black students came up to
me thanking me for my comments, saying they appreciated how I acknowledge
that what counts is not oneÂ?s color, race or similar relatively
superficial attributes but the qualify of oneÂ?s mind and the merits of
oneÂ?s thinking. Just so.

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