‘Celebrating diversity’ is a recipe for disaster

Multiculturalism should be abandoned – it only helps conservatives and religious fundamentalists.

Did ya even realize February was Black History Month? Probably not, because it and its supporting ideology – mainstream, Democratic Party-centered, U.S. liberalism – is a failure. A big, fat, irrelevant failure – doomed to oblivion. This ship is going down, folks; not even the mighty Howard Dean and his amazing Democratic fund raising can save it. Good riddance.

Black History Month is tolerant, liberal multiculturalism in practice. Multiculturalism (and a preference to leave Social Security largely intact) is really all that distinguishes most mainstream Democrats from run-of-the-mill Republicans. Multiculturalism has its origins in the civil rights and feminist movements that emerged after World War II and reached a crescendo in the ’60s and early ’70s, when racial minorities and women began to effectively organize around their shared identities (as blacks, American Indians, women, etc.) and demand long-overdue recognition from white men.

“Identity politics” is a slippery term, but it basically involves three “moves.”

The first “move” is the recognition that a racial, gender or ethnic group has been oppressed, stigmatized, marginalized, stereotyped, exploited, etc. The second “move” is to reclaim and transform accounts of what the marginalized group actually is and what distinguishes it from dominant groups, so members can feel “pride” in their membership.

The third “move” is for the self-conscious marginalized group to demand respect from the dominant group. But there’s a catch. The respect of the dominant group isn’t demanded despite the two groups’ differences, nor is it demanded by appeals to a “shared humanity.” The marginalized group practicing identity politics demands respect from the dominant group solely because of its difference and distinctness. Diversity and difference are good for their own sake. Thus, we are bombarded with earnest pleas to “celebrate diversity!”

The reasons that drove civil rights activists and feminists to embrace identity politics are understandable enough, and there can be no doubt that identity politics was, for a time, quite successful and necessary. But its time has passed. Its logic and rhetoric is being expropriated by conservatives and religious fundamentalists, while the effectiveness of traditional identity politics has waned.

The mainstream acceptance of identity politics has turned into the mushy, nonconfrontational, intellectual carcass known as “multiculturalism.” Like “identity politics,” “multiculturalism” is a slippery term, although most would agree it has a number of features. Multiculturalism exhorts minorities to take pride in their race, ethnic group and/or gender. It prizes victimhood, marginalization and weakness, and invites oppressed groups to reflect and dwell upon their status as victims. In fact, victimhood is often viewed as a badge of authenticity.

Moreover, multiculturalists (particularly those in university administrations) are constantly trying to create “safe,” “comfortable,” “nonhostile” environments in which traditionally marginalized groups can feel free to “be themselves” – the more diversity, the better.

Multiculturalism has lit the fuse on a political powder keg. Don’t believe me? Take a few hours and listen to conservative talk radio such as AM 1280, The Patriot. You’ll hear many very disaffected working-class white people who feel incredibly marginalized asking questions that multiculturalism simply isn’t equipped to answer.

For example, if it’s so great to be “black and proud” what’s wrong with being “white and proud” or “Christian fundamentalist and proud”? (Many white-supremacist organizations claim to merely facilitate “white pride.”)

Multiculturalism offers people off-the-shelf self-esteem: You can just say, “I am a woman!” “I am black!” “I am a creationist!” and pat yourself on the back. How about having pride in yourself for an actual accomplishment, such as being a good organizer or having the courage to try to form a union where you work?

If it’s such a good thing (or at least excusable) to tearfully wallow in victimhood, and if no one else can tell you whether you can properly refer to yourself as a “victim,” what’s wrong with white people or Christian fundamentalists deciding they, too, are victims? Talk-radio hosts and callers complain that white people and Christian fundamentalists are stereotyped and marginalized in popular culture. They complain that teachers tell Christian fundamentalist children that creationism is bogus. And on, and on, and on Ö

Finally, if “diversity” and “comfort” are such good things, why not promote diversity by giving conservatives and fundamentalists more visibility in academia, the workplace and government? That these types of grievances have no merit (unlike the grievances of groups that traditionally deploy identity politics) is besides the point. Multiculturalism is so thoroughly relativistic it can’t even grasp a concept such as “merit.”

The sad thing is many working-class whites who listen to conservative radio have essentially the same interests as the minorities and women multiculturalists claim to look out for: good jobs, access to health care, contraception, education and more democratic workplaces.

Instead of “celebrating diversity,” the left must celebrate sameness and the converging interests of superficially divergent groups. If we have to scrap multiculturalism, what can we do instead? I’ll have some answers next week.

Nick Woomer welcomes comments at [email protected]