Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Steve Hayward's Wrong About Diversity and "Trump 101"

My friend Steve Hayward is put out with The Chronicle of Higher Education for not including non-white-guy voices in its recent “Trump 101” syllabus:

Where to begin. First, let’s note that Trump has caught on precisely because he speaks to “marginalized groups” that the fashionable, race-obsessed academic left (and much of the GOP establishment—ahem) disdains. So the identity politics set gets a failing grade here for low self-awareness. Second, it is embarrassing but necessary to point out that when inquiring about any subject, any serious list will want to include only the best work that bears on the subject. When Ta Nahesi Coates writes something sensible about Trump, someone will include it on a recommended reading list.

So let’s talk about the “identity politics” involved here.

Steve’s underlying assumptions, it seems, are twofold: A) There’s an objective measure-it-with-a-ruler standard for what’s “best” when it comes to an inherently subjective endeavour like explaining Donald Trump and the forces behind his rise* and that B) that cream will necessarily find its way to the top. If you make an effort to include women and people of color, then, you’re engaging in a bit of PC cherry-picking.

* We don’t have a Trump canon yet, do we? We need more time.

But at this point, though, isn’t it odd that an effort to turn up a list of insightful works about All Things Trump turned up no works by women or people of color? That only white guys had something of intellectual heft and worth to say? Really?

Lefty academics can take this too far, admittedly, but they have one smart insight: A process that continually puts works by white guys as the “best” work being done — even when there are plenty of women and people of color working in the same field — over time is probably not rewarding merit so much as it’s rewarding whiteness, or the networks in which whiteness prevails. (Academia is no exception to the many fields where this is the case.) If you’re saying only white guys are doing the “best” work, either your standards are off, or you probably haven’t looked hard enough.

Conservatives like Steve seem to think that making that extra effort somehow rewards minority mediocrity. Maybe that happens in some cases, but it’s probably also the case that such efforts end up excluding mediocre white work to make room for an additional array of voices.

Steve contends the authors on the syllabus are ideologically diverse, and great! But perhaps there are perspectives that are valuable that aren’t neatly placed under an ideological rubric?

So, no, The Chronicle of Higher Education didn’t “beclown” itself, as Steve says. Sometimes, getting all the “best” voices means making an extra effort to seek out voices that might not otherwise be heard.

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