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The False Promise of Diversity

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I recently read Charles Blow’s new book, where he urges Black northerners to move back South to concentrate their political power. It’s a super book and LGM readers should check it out. One of the points Blow makes, as many others have for a long time, is that the modern liberal idea of “diversity” really means having a few people of color around whites without whites giving up power over society. Even having a Black president effectively changed nothing in terms of white power in society. For white liberals, it was fun to have a Black president in part because it didn’t bring with it any kind of real advancement in Black power through the rest of society. Obama was most certainly not going to make Maddie and Connor to go to school with those kids. For Black voters, obviously the appeal of Obama was quite different and filled with a very different kind of politics.

Whether you agree with Blow’s arguments or not, I think we need to do a lot of rethinking about the value of diversity, as it is usually defined today which is effectively tokenism. The old joke that the nation has advanced so far that a Black Secretary of State like Condoleeza Rice can also order the murder of brown people around the world still holds pretty truthfully.

Too often, our phrasing of politics is about checking off boxes–first woman to do this, first Jewish person to do that–instead of focusing on women or Jewish people or whoever who would actually benefit the people at large. It isn’t going to be great if Marjorie Taylor Greene is the first white female VP in 2025!

That’s why this story about a Supreme Court of unprecedented diversity is going to shut down affirmative action doesn’t have much value. This just misses the point. Superficial discussions of diversity too often substitute for analyses of power. What matters is that we transform a broken corrupted society defined by racism, misogyny, homophobia, and capitalism into one that fights against all of these things. In doing so, that’s going to require lots of people from different races, genders, and positions on capitalism to participate. It’s going to require white people to actually give up power, not just in one office, but in the entirety of what that means in a world defined by colonialism and its perhaps even more insidious aftermath of post-colonialism, where we change the basic laws but the underlying structures remain as white dominant as ever.

In any case, the media continuing to be slack-jawed yokels when it comes to stories that are basically like “huh Clarence Thomas and Amy Comey Barrett are not white men but they support white male dominance” need to end yesterday.

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