Let me just state here clearly that I don't take all the ideas in the quotes below as fact, but at the same time I cannot dismiss them, nor can I devalue their impact in bringing a fresh perspective for me to the often unmoving beliefs on either side of polarizing issues like affirmative action and economic justice. If you follow the link below, the reporter goes on to point out several and glaring shortcomings of this point of view. But I don't think that detracts from the value of some parts of these arguments. I can say with certainty that the quotes below and the article in general from Walter Benn Michaels, struck some kind of chord in me. Parts of what he says not only shook the foundations of some views about race, justice and society that I unthinkingly accepted (and that I think are widely accepted as fact by most in this country), but more importantly they made me think about this issue in a new light.
The basic premise, from what I can understand of it, is that the issues and arguments surrounding racial diversity are in some ways nothing more than an excuse for those with inherited economic (class) advantages to maintain those advantages and claim a moral high ground because they support some form of "diversity." In fact, issues of racial inequality help divert attention away from the much more powerful and wider issue , and that is economic inequality. I'll let the quotes explain more:
“'The vision that the primary problems of America are intolerance—sexism, racism—is completely compatible with the view that if we could just get rid of that intolerance...we’d be living in a fundamentally just society.' That has not happened...wages and salaries (which include soaring executive paychecks) took the smallest share of national income since records started in 1929, and corporate profits took the largest share since 1950."
"The obligation of diversity is to be nice to each other, Michaels writes, but the obligation of equality is to give up some money. Given the choice, diversity has the advantage of appearing to be morally righteous while at the same time preserving economic self-interest."
"everyone is told that a college education is the key to success. Admitting a diverse student body, especially for the most elite schools, helps to create the impression that upper middle-class and rich students have won this educational ticket to higher incomes fairly, not because they come from families that are well off. "
"'Race-based affirmative action … is a kind of collective bribe rich people pay themselves for ignoring economic inequality.' If class-based affirmative action replaced racial affirmative action at Harvard, and its student body reflected the country’s income distribution, he calculates that more than half the students would be gone, most of them rich and white."
So, read the rest of the article - make up your own mind - post your feedback here (but please don't blame me if just talking about this issue offends you).
from: In These Times, Oct. 2006, pp.29-31 (online version here: http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/2848/)