"A withering examination of how the celebration of cultural and ethnic difference obscures our yawning economic divide . . . This is a refreshing, angry, and important book." ―The Atlantic Monthly
Acclaimed as "eloquent" (Chicago Tribune), "cogent" (The New Yorker), and "impossible to disagree with" (The Washington Post); excoriated as a "wildly implausible" product of "the ‘shock and awe' school of political argument" (Slate), The Trouble with Diversity argues that our enthusiastic celebration of "difference" masks our neglect of the difference that really matters―the one between rich and poor. A magnificent skewer of pieties, Walter Benn Michaels takes on the many manifestations of our devotion―from affirmative action, to the worship of multiculturalism, to the obsession with heritage and identity―demonstrating that diversity offers a false vision of social justice, one that conveniently costs us nothing. In a daring break with both the left and the right, he calls for less attention to the illusory distinction of culture and more attention to the real discrepancies of class and wealth.
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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.
With lacerating prose and exhilarating wit, 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 the most controversial political book of the year.
Walter Benn Michaels is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "One of the most influential Americanists of his generation" (The Chronicle of Higher Education), he is the author of Our America and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, and n+1. He lives in Chicago.
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