The Trouble with Diversity How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality

Walter Benn Michaels

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

256 Pages


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If there's one thing Americans agree on, it's the value of diversity. Our corporations vie for slots in the Diversity Top 50, our universities brag about minority recruiting, and every month is Somebody's History Month. But in this provocative new book, Walter Benn Michaels argues that our enthusiastic celebration of "difference" masks our neglect of America's vast and growing economic divide. Affirmative action in schools has not made them more open, it's just guaranteed that the rich kids come in the appropriate colors. Diversity training in the workplace has not raised anybody's salary (except maybe the diversity trainers') but it has guaranteed that when your job is outsourced, your culture will be treated with respect.
Michaels takes on the many manifestations of our devotion to diversity, from companies apologizing for slavery, to a college president explaining why there aren't more women math professors, to the codes of conduct in the new "humane corporations." Looking at the books we read, the TV shows we watch, and the lawsuits we bring, Michaels shows that diversity has become everyone's sacred cow precisely because it offers a false vision of social justice, one that conveniently costs us nothing. The Trouble with Diversity urges us to start thinking about real justice, about equality instead of diversity. Attacking both the right and the left, it will be one of the most controversial political books of the year.


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1The Trouble with RaceHere are two stories, one from the end of the nineteenth century, the other from the end of the twentieth. First, the nineteenth-century one. In 1892, a young man gets on a train going from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. Because Louisiana trains have recently been segregated, he can enter either a coach reserved for whites or one marked COLORED. Despite the fact that he is very light skinned (he is only one-eighth black, and his lawyer would later claim "the mixture of colored blood" was not "discernible"), when he enters the one for whites,
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  • Walter Benn Michaels

  • Walter Benn Michaels is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Widely noted as one of the founders (with Stephen Greenblatt) of the New Historicism, he is the author of Our America and The Shape of the Signifier and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine and The Boston Globe. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.