So. This is me getting some things off my chest. Grab a seat why don’t you? Strap yourself in. Make yourself comfortable. I want to talk about some of the reasons why I have… issues the popular cultural notion of “Diversity.”
Or as I like it call it: Diversity™
(Sam Beckett voice: “oh boy.”)
I cycled through a few different versions of a title for this. I toyed with going for something really direct like “I Hate Diversity™” but that seemed a little too confrontational maybe. So then I thought maybe something a little more neutral like “The Trouble with Diversity™” or “The Problems with Diversity™” but that didn’t really right either because this isn’t exactly as formal as a proper university essay or anything – so finally I settled on “Why Diversity™ Sucks” because that’s a pretty good encapsulation of my thoughts and feelings – because while yeah I can see that there are obviously benefits to the concept and it’s not all bad – it kinda sits in the middle of the cultural discourse as this big fat black hole that sucks in all considerations of nuance and subtlety and pretty much flattens everything into either “Good” or “Bad” and “everyone who disagrees is obviously a racist.”
Consider this then – an attempt to show some of the reasons why I think it sucks in the hope that therefore maybe we can escape and move the conversation further along to somewhere that’s a little bit more – free.
(We can dream right?)
It’s possible that maybe you already agree with everything I’m about to say. I don’t think any of it is really that controversial. But it’s not an argument that I see in most places I look so I guess it’s up to me to make it. Apologies if it’s a little dry but I want to make it as clear and as simple as possible just so (hopefully) what I want to say won’t get misinterpreted.
Now. Some of you reading this may already feel yourselves getting angry or irate. How dare I criticise the idea of Diversity. What am I? Somesort of Right Wing Gamergater? Well – no. Hopefully the opposite in fact. And that’s a big part of the reason I’m writing this. My values are Left Wing. Which – roughly speaking – means that I’m a big fan of and supporter of social equality and egalitarianism and it means that I support disadvantaged people in society of all types and I think there’s all sorts of unjustified inequalities that should be reduced and/or abolished if we’re going to create a better society (and speaking personally I would like to live in a better society – not just because it would be good for me but because it would be good for everybody).
(Yes. I may have stolen some of that from Wikipedia).
Point being: because I’m Left Wing I think that’s it’s important and necessary to understand and if necessary critique Left Wing values – because otherwise how else are we going to win right? It’s like – if your side are using weapons then you want to make sure that your side have the best weapons right? And if it turns out that your weapons are shooting members of your side in the face and making it easier for the bad guys to win – then you’re going to want to point out the defects right?
Or as Noam Chomsky says (so much better than I could):
“I don’t bother writing about Fox News. It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”
So think of this all as a weapons test. If it’s turns out that I’m wrong then that’s good – it means that the weapons work. And if it turns out that I’m right then hopefully it means we can start to make better weapons.
And if that’s not enough and you need a complete disclaimer then ok here you go: I believe that discrimination and prejudice based on superficial features such as gender, race, sexuality is completely backwards, socially harmful and idiotic.
And yes in terms of who the weapons are for: the bad guys are the racists.
Where I think I disagree with most people tho is that I believe the only way to help create a fair and egalitarian society is by constructing the best and most clear-sighted arguments. To purge our minds / collective unconscious of woolly thinking and dogmatic ideas. If you see the world clearly then all the bullshit ideas like sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia etc will disappear. I get that maybe that sounds a little naive and a little simplistic and maybe I’m putting far too much stock on the idea of making sense but it’s what I believe. I don’t believe that changing your mind because of group identity – so that you believe the same as everyone else on your team or whatever is a particularly good and in fact I believe that it’s ultimately self-defeating. This is also the reason why I get some passionate and indignant about this sort of stuff – it annoys the fuck out of me when I see and hear people who believe in the same kind of things that I do making a mess of it and constructing bad arguments. If someone on the Right Wing wants to say something dumb then well yeah I struggle to care – but if you’re someone that wants to make the world a better place and support those in society that are most oppressed and most victimized then you’d better make sure that you’re making the best case for it – because if not: it’s going to be used against us and that’s a set back for everyone.
Because ultimately – yes – I believe we’re all on the same side.
I know – It’s beautiful.
So what is this thing we’re talking about then? Let’s define our terms. What is Diversity™?
Ok then. Let’s make an important distinction between two different types of discrimination – “Negative” and “Positive.”
So. Negative Discrimination is when people are discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc. Let’s say if I own a company and I don’t want to hire a black person to join my company simply because they’re a black person then that’s negative discrimination. Or in terms of Art and stuff – it’s like if I say I don’t want to read this book because a woman wrote it.
Just so you know (and this should be obvious but what the hey) I am against the idea of negative discrimination. I don’t think people should be discriminated against because of their superficial physical qualities. Because obviously you shouldn’t discriminate against people because of that kind of stuff. Obviously. (And wow isn’t it great that the cultural conversation has devolved to such a point that I need to start with “I am not a racist”? Oh well).
On the other hand we have Positive Discrimination which is something slightly different. Positive Discrimination is when you discriminate in favour of people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc. So let’s say if I own a company and I want to hire a black person to join my company simply because they’re a black person then that’s positive discrimination. Or in terms of Art and stuff – it’s like if I say I do want to read this book just because a woman wrote it. Right?
My position = both forms of discrimination are bad. Because – well – discrimination is bad. Obviously.
This doesn’t seem like a particularly contentious viewpoint to me. But well – we live in interesting times.
When I talk about the idea of Diversity™ that’s what I’m talking about. Positive Discrimination. I’d also be happy to refer to it as Corporate Diversity but Diversity™ just looks a lot cooler and it’s a little bit simpler too right?
The idea that we need to discriminate in favour of people’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc.
I get that everyone is trying to make the world a better place and all the rest of it but here’s the thing tho: as with most things it tends to get more complicated and fraught the more you think about it (uh oh)… And I don’t know maybe everyone realises this stuff anyway and of course it’s much easier to tweet “Hooray for Diversity.”
The basic idea as far as I can tell is this (and hopefully I’m making the best possible argument that I can here – but apologies if I don’t get it quite right). As a general rule tho I would say that it’s best to try and argue against the best possible version of what you disagree with rather than trying to an easy straw man to blow down.
Sorry. I of course meant straw person.
The Argument for Diversity™
The Argument for Diversity™ Point 1.
- Society has and continues to be unequal.
We live in a society that’s racist and sexist and homophobic and misogynistic and transphobic etc. It’s white supremacy. It’s a patriarchy.
The Argument for Diversity™ Point 2.
- Straight White Men have had all the advantages.
For far too long straight white men have been afforded special privileges and treatment so that the vast majority of artwork has been created for and by this small segment of society. Being a straight white man in our society is like playing a computer game on the easiest difficulty setting. For every difference that someone has to this default the more difficult their lives become.
Therefore – The Argument for Diversity™ Point 3.
- Diversity™ is the best way to rectify this.
Therefore: in order to make a fairer and better society therefore we need to celebrate and positively discriminate in favour of those who did not have the good fortune to be born as straight white men.
Ok. You got all that? Who could possibly object? Right?
I mean – only a misogynistic racist could possibly oppose the idea of making things more Diverse™ – right?
Ha. Well… Let’s see.
To be clear and get things straight you should know that well yeah – in the main I do agree with Point 1 and Point 2. I do think that society has and in some senses continues to be unequal in the way that it describes. And yes I do think that society also discriminates in favour of straight white men. In a way that’s not really healthy or helpful for anyone.
(Altho – dare I say this – it’s interesting to think of how much room for interpretation / disagreement there is in these descriptions. But then it’s tricky to be specific with this kinda stuff. If we say that society is racist – how much racism are we talking about exactly? How exactly do you quantify it exactly? Speaking in terms of percentages seems a bit strange. Plus it might depend what society you’re comparing things too. Would most people agree that things have improved from the days of segregated schools and restaurants and bathrooms? If so – how much? These are interesting questions I think that would be helpful to look at and think about – but maybe some other time?)
To get a few more things straight before we properly get into things I should say that I’m not really attacking the idea of Diversity™ in general – like how it works in other parts of society (although it’s obviously all connected). Nah – the bit that I’m going to zero in on is how Diversity™ works when it comes to Art which as you may have guessed – is a subject I hold very dear to my heart and my head.
Mmmmm. Yeah. That’s the stuff.
And yes by “Art” I don’t mean paintings hanging in galleries or piles of bricks on the floor and stuff like that. I mean more the popular culture stuff like movies, books, music and yeah – comics (this is the London Graphic Novel Network after all). You know: all the good things that make life worth living.
But then that’s how we all make sense of our lives right? I mean #MeToo isn’t really about cleaners or poor people being sexually assaulted – it’s about the celebrities and the people with power right? Because it’s only through viewing ourselves through the prism of their lives that we can make sense of our own.
(That’s the power of thinking about things in terms of symbols right?)
But all of that is beside the point – because while I can agree with Point 1. Society has and continues to be unequal and Point 2. Straight White Men have had all the advantages I do disagree with Point 3. Diversity™ is the best way to rectify this. In that well – I think there are problems with this approach which I’d like to go into and examine and – well – see what happens…
So – let’s begin.
The Problem with Diversity™ One
Only a Certain type of Diversity™ is Important
The first problem with Diversity™ is that it only registers a certain form of diversity as being important.
And of course as it’s literally such a superficial way of looking at the world – it only registers superficial levels of diversity. If you’re a woman or the colour of your skin is noticeably non-white or your sexual preferences are non-normative and you’re very overt about that fact then you will be a beneficiary of the Diversity™ regime. However if your differences are non overt and/or you’d prefer not to advertise them then unfortunately that means that your differences aren’t as important / aren’t recognized.
This leads us to…
The Problem with Diversity™ Two
Diversity™ Encourages Essentialism
Of course this all makes sense. The main idea of Diversity™ is that it’s a response to all of the evil racists out there.
These people with their evil racist ways of seeing the world are only concerned with superficial ways of seeing and understanding different people therefore in response to this we all need to raise up and promote those very people who would otherwise be marginalized.
The thing that’s well… problematic with this is that it means that you’re buying into the evil racist’s worldview. By uplifting the particular groups of people that the evil racist has designated you give both credence and value to the categories. The evil racist says that these are real and important ways of seeing and understanding people and the trouble with Diversity™ is that it agrees with the racist and says that these are real and important ways of seeing and understanding people too.
I mean – maybe it’s not really the best thing that something that is supposed to counter essentialist ways of thinking about human beings helps to actually encourage that thinking itself? But what can you do huh?
Of course it’s important and helpful to note at this point that if you’re just going for the anti Negative Discrimination approach we mentioned earlier you don’t run into this problem.
If you’re anti Negative Discrimination then you can just say that all moves to think of people in terms of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc are all equally bogus, stupid and wrong: and that’s why the evil racists are wrong. The categories that they use to understand the world are world and this should be opposed by denying any possible validity to these categories.
Diversity™ on the other hand in it’s attempt to fight off the evil racists concedes their assumptions.
Here’s a little example.
Let’s say you had a bunch of marbles.
Now – you want all of your marbles to be the same. But this evil racist guy shows up and takes all of the blue marbles and separates them from the others and makes a pile just of blue marbles and says that these blue marbles aren’t as good as the rest of them. You don’t like this and want to be able to say “screw you evil racist” and to show him how wrong he is.
Option 1. Diversity™
You move the blue marbles to the opposite side and say – “actually the blue marbles are the best marbles.” I mean yeah sure this makes emotional sense and when you see how mad and angry the evil racist gets that’ll probably make you feel good for a bit – but in doing so you’ve still accepted his idea that the category of blue marbles is one that makes sense. Compare and contrast this with:
Option 2. Anti Negative Discrimination
You move the blue marbles back into the main pile with all of the other marbles and tell the evil racist – it doesn’t make any sense to categorize the marbles like that. This approach may not be as emotionally satisfying I agree but it is one that doesn’t accept the evil racist’s assumptions about how to categorise marbles.
Of course – marbles are different to people. But there’s a particularly important point here that I think is worth highlighting. Or if not a point then at least a dilemma… To put it in the form of a question it’s this:
The Diversity™ Dilemma
Are the differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc between people real and important or not?
If you think they are (and I think this is what the idea of Diversity™ is committed to): that the differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc are real and important differences that should be taken into consideration then I think you leave yourself open to the evil racists – if it’s a real and important way to understand people then I think it’s much more difficult to refute the evil racists. Indeed if you go the Diversity™ route things almost become simply a matter of preference – I think the blue marbles are the best and you think they are the worst and maybe all that separates us is whether we’re a blue marble or not.
On the other hand if you don’t think that the differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc between people are real and important then what is the point of Diversity™ in the first place?
So it seems Diversity™ either leads us to sharing the same categories as the evil racists or collapses into redundancy. That doesn’t really seem like much of a choice.
But let’s stop there for now.