Thursday, August 5, 2010

Promoting Diversity

I love diversity. Few things make me happier than eating a dinner of American-style BBQ ribs, German potato salad, and a bottle of South African Viogner, while talking to my Korean fiancee about some event in international politics like the ongoing Malawian flag controversy (don't tell me you haven't heard about it.).

In my personal life I am almost addicted to the challenges and unexpected pleasures that come with learning about and adapting to new environments. Familiarity bores and, in longer doses, genuinely frustrates me.


With that said I find most of the rationales for promoting diversity, particularly in the U.S., to be dishonest or at least intellectually tortured albiet driven by ethical impulses that I have much sympathy for. Take for example this recent defense over at orgtheory.net which focuses on promoting diversity in university faculties. In it we are told that "we shouldn't care about the racial background of a math professor" and that "the argument for diversity does not rest on giving preferential treatment to people." Rather promoting diversity is necessary in order to make "the university reflect the very best in scholarship."

I'll call the this "utilitarian" defense. Diversity creates better scholarship. But what does this mean exactly? And is it even on its face credible? It might be partially credible in a social sciences department but what about in math or physics? How do you judge "better" in this context? And what are the consequences of taking this position? Well in the U.S. where college students are still disproportionately white it will mean finding ways to exclude them.

And to me this is really the crux of the issue. Americans hate to think in terms of discrimination. In many ways this is laudable. But if we are to promote diversity, at least in the American context, we must discriminate. Coming up with tortured and suspect rationales for doing this might make some feel better but there is no getting around it and personally as a white male I would prefer advocates of diversity to fess up to promoting discrimination...and then keep on doing it.

Because again I like diversity, and if it means that I personally will be disadvantaged by its promotion then so be it. I'm willing to take that hit. Its either that, or I have to give up my love for humus and Youssou N'Dour and that's just something I am not willing to do.

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