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The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality Paperback – July 24, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

In this cogent jeremiad, which is certain to be controversial, Michaels diagnoses America's love of diversity as one of our greatest problems. Not only does it reinforce ideas of racial essentialism that it claims to repudiate; it obscures the crevasse between rich and poor. Michaels, a scholar of American literature, suggests that the growth of economic inequality over the past few decades is the result of a deeply ingrained and unchallenged class structure. Scrutinizing current events and religion, he argues that our fixation with the "phantasm" of race promotes identity over ideology, and he rejects the idea that meritocracy prevails in America's elite universities. A believer in the power of progressive politics, he calls for a debate in which class, rather than identity, would be at the fore.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A rarity in the forum of American political debate--closely reasoned, genuinely impassioned call to revive a politics of economic justice." -- --The New York Observer

"Bracing... its greatest virtue is the tenacity and precision with which Michaels dissects out muddled ideas about race and inequality." -- --The Nation

"Michaels has written a bracing polemic that should quicken the debate over what diversity really means, or should mean, in academia and beyond." -- --Andrew Delbanco, The New York Review of Books

"Michaels is at his best when he is running his chainsaw through other people's cant... A captivating read and necessary provocation." -- --Los Angeles Times

"Potent and disturbing... elegant and literary, The Trouble With Diversity bites and bites deep." -- --Toronto Globe and Mail

"This is a different line, and there's a touch of genius about it." -- --The Economist.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1st edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083316
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It does, however, seem a bit disingenuous to suggest that race and culture can be put aside; there is way too much history there.
J. Grattan
In fact, I think the author may not be very qualified to present a proposed solution, having neither economic expertise nor experience working with the poor.
seeker
Walter Benn Michaels makes the rather simplistic argument that the problem of inequity is simply "exploitation," it is all economic class.
MC Teach

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Marton on November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is aimed at drawing distinctions between subjective matters of identity and objective matters of income and beliefs. Each identity is as good as any other, but being poor is worse than being rich. Michaels accuses the left of having lost its focus on objective equality, to the point of glorifying poverty.

Treating poverty as a matter of identity is, according to Michaels, a pernicious strategy for willfully ignoring the problem that increasingly many people are increasingly poor, and have less and less opportunity to move out of poverty. Moreover, by fighting battles of identity -- WalMart and Wall Street women each making some percent less than the men -- we may ignore the fact that all the WalMart workers make a hundredth of what the Wall Street workers make. He does not argue against fighting injustices of identity so much as argue for prioritizing and looking at the problems in perspective.

The book draws sharp distinctions between the kinds of arguments that make sense for identities and those that make sense for wealth and ideology. It is a call to action in addressing "equality of opportunity" for everyone (the American Dream), hand in hand with reducing economic disparity.

This is an important social commentary, clearly and engagingly written, and exposing one of the great hidden weaknesses of politics in the United States. You may or may not be convinced, but reading it will broaden your view and sharpen your perspective.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The number one thing you need to keep in mind as you read my review is this: politically, I consider myself to be an "Independent" who leans way more to the left than to the right. O.K. Full steam ahead.

This is a topic that has interested me off and on for some time, coming from a background where I've seen the hardcore "diversity" rhetoric being force-fed in college classrooms across the country. You can't so much as throw a stone across a college campus without hitting something tagged with the diversity/multicultural label. It really has gotten to the point of mild insanity. And it is to the author's credit that he was willing to write a book that surely caused him no small amount of discomfort. In today's world, badmouthing "diversity" is akin to dangling a baby over a balcony. Everyone thinks diversity is just dandy... especially "radical" liberals making lots of money and living in fat houses far away from any "real" diversity. I was reminded of one of my professors in graduate school who lived in a fat house in the Berkeley Hills, probably worth over a million dollars (or more). Another professor, talking about him in a very serious tone, called him "a hardcore communist." It struck me as absurd. If he was really a hardcore communist, how could he ever justify his lifestyle of sipping drinks on the sunny patio of his million dollar home while beggars live off of peanuts just a few blocks away!

But this is what academics will try to sell you. And, again to the author's credit, he calls out his colleagues... big time!

If you have any sort of brain that has not been completely zombified by the "diversity" rhetoric being shoved in your face 24/7, you will have to agree with the basic tenets of this book.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Joseph M. Powers on October 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Prof. Michaels most persuasive point is that our society has neglected the laudable goal of striving for socio-economic diversity in our institutions in favor of emphasizing other classes of diversity. He relies on strong rhetorical skills to make this, and most of his points. He does not focus on the detailed statistics that would be necessary to convince many professional social scientists, but the prospective audience for this extended op-ed piece is more the general reader, who may be provoked into finding their own numbers to butress their arguments. The writing style is necessarily polemical, and it is likely that all readers will find some things with which to disagree. However, in contrast to other critics of modern implementations of diversity, the present author likely otherwise shares many views with advocates of diversity. Even those who take issue with Michaels' conclusions will find his ideas worth considering. His closest intellectual bedfellow is Thomas Franks, to whom considerable reference is made, along with a host of other timely sources (who may be dated in a few years!). I found the short book easily digestible in two hour-long evening readings.
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27 of 39 people found the following review helpful By R. Stone on February 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an engaging, sometimes brilliant, book that is also deeply flawed. It is wonderfully well written. The author can turn a phrase and produce the occasional memorable maxim. For example, he says "Diversity, like gout, is a rich person's disease" (p108) and he says regarding the diversity obsession in elite American institutions that "the supposed left has turned into something like the human resource department of the right, concerned to make sure that women of the upper middle class have the same privileges as the men"( p114). The early chapters on the biology of race and "Our Favorite Victims" (which argues that our obsessions with race and gender have obscured our vision of economic inequality) are especially subtle and illuminating.

Still the book suffers two flaws: whenever it treats hard sociological facts the interpretation is typically glib, and the author offers few if any concrete proposals to address the problem of economic inequality. Regarding the first problem, three examples will suffice.

1 On page 98, the author provides the average SAT scores for students in 10 income categories, ranging from less than $10,000 dollars (872) to more than $100,000 dollars (1115). The average SAT goes up with each step up the income ladder. The problem he fails to note, however, is that race or ethnicity is even more important than income in accounting for variation in SAT. In 2006 Blacks averaged 863 and Asians scored 1088 on the SAT, and Asians from families earning $20,000-$30,000 outscored blacks from homes earning over $100,000 by over 60 points. Income is important but ethnicity is more important. In terms of school achievement, "it is more important to be born Asian than born rich," as Lawrence Steinberg once put it.
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