The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality
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The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  228 ratings  ·  51 reviews
A brilliant assault on our obsession with every difference except the one that really matters--the difference between rich and poor

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...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published July 24th 2007 by Metropolitan Books (first published October 3rd 2006)
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Jan 17, 2009 Tyler rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
The title says it: Identity has replaced economic insecurity as the issue modern liberalism embraces. For that very reason, conservatives also embrace debates on diversity. The fact that these two sides of society agree to make such an issue of diversity has the effect of shutting off all debate about economic class.

Identity is the red herring of politics: Nobody today can make a serious issue out of who another person is. Identity, we find, actually preserves the notion of merit -- the assumpti...more
You can't keep race alive by translating it into culture, Michaels proclaims, and yet we do and there it sits at the center of the American experience if one believes all the clap-trap emanating from the academies. Michaels tackles the controversial issue of anti-semitism -- "the fact that Jews were white was almost always more important than the fact that they were Jewish" -- which he considers to be a manufactured shibboleth of Jewish victimization. The real discrimination that we Americans ca...more
Meg Petersen
This was just enormously interesting. I don't agree with all of what the author says, and he definitely downplays race, but I think he is right about something essential. People will go to great lengths to protect their privilege, and don't mind "celebrating diversity" as long as it doesn't threaten that privilege.
Sometimes all of this focus on diversity allows the privileged to believe that they have earned their privilege because they are some how better or more deserving. The author does a g...more
Did you ever meet an intellectual whose opinion you respected and then had to listen to them try to explain some thing to you while they were on crystal meth? That's what this writing reminded me of. I pretty much agree with his basic point (I think), but all the tangents he goes on make him sound like a socialist Rush Limbaugh who happens to make $175,000 a year. I expected a lot from this book and got next to nothing; the front cover was the only thing good about it.
This is a braindump of a leftist university professor of English who argues that the Left should concentrate less on fighting discrimination and more on fighting exploitation, less on fighting racism and more on fighting inequality. He argues that race does not exist, culture is arbitrary, but class is real, and concentrating on cultural diversity distracts from class struggle. As the first step, he proposes equal funding for public schools and the banning of private schools, although he acknowl...more
I heard part of an author interview on a local radio show, and was interested enough to look for this book at the library. His basic idea is interesting - he argues that class and wealth are overlooked as root causes of inequality when issues of race/diversity are at the forefront. Racial diversity programs are popular with organizations because they are inexpensive. But they don't really touch the root of many of the issues they are supposed to address, which is inequality of opportunity due to...more
I really enjoyed this book, except for the final chapter, "Conclusion: About the Author". That chapter basically read like a large bit of prewriting for the entire book. I'm glad that you make $175,000 a year, Walter Benn Michaels, and you still feel poor, perhaps proving some of the larger points of the preceding chapters. But I really think this display of introspection detracted from the other, tightly written chapters.

That being said, I would recommend this book to anyone who wonders why des...more
This book is a bit of an oddball. I was excited to read it because the author seemed to defy the orthodoxies of both the left and the right, but as the book went on it all just kind of blurred into a rant. Paragraph breaks became fewer and farther between, points got reiterated just a bit too often, and then finally came an abrupt (and premature) end and a bizarre postscript wherein the author refers to himself in the third person and discloses his salary. Entertaining enough if you're intereste...more

At his best: the last chapter, on religion in public life. It's a good case (by an atheist) for why we're allowed to care about candidates' religious beliefs.

At his worst: ranting about the political landscape without offering policy suggestions. And the few times he does, it's clear he doesn't know what he's talking about. At one point he suggests leveling funding for public schools, as if that would solve the achievement gap (when many failing schools outspend their successful counter...more
Michaels makes the case that class rather than race or gender is the real issue in U.S. society. Though he certainly makes good points, and his discussion of the marginalization of class issues within the U.S. is important, Michaels ignores intersectionality and research done on the affects of gender and race on getting a job, keeping a job, and salaries once one has a job. Furthermore, if one is concerned with economics and quality of life, it is of the utmost importance to address these issues...more
Like many of the reviewers here, I agree with some of Walter Benn Michaels' points, particularly that discussions of income inequality were (in 2006, when it was published) and really, despite the financial collapse and bailout, despite Occupy, still are conspicuously absent from public discourse. However, his lack of historicity (conflating history with genetic heritage and/or using literature as examples without a strong sense of historical positioning), his generalizations about cultural and...more
Tony G.
Oct 02, 2007 Tony G. rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Zero Sum Binaries
Fakes left, goes right.
We all love diversity, right? We can all get behind it, it's a non-political, non-threatning cause we can all jump in and support. Plus, when we see injustice in the world, diversity is a go to fix for everything whether that be MORE diversity, or diversity awareness, diversity day, cultural competency what ever problem you see can be solved through diversity mediation. That is exactly what the author Walter Benn Michaels argues is the problem with diversity. When we draw our attention to divers...more
"Fakes left, goes right" was the last review of this book that I read, Rubbish. I haven't gotten to the end, so this may be premature but...
the ideas expressed are those of a class focused radical, and like many radicals, I agree with the theory but not the prescription. The eradication of poverty is something we should all work towards, with the knowledge that we are not having a revolution any time soon.
Visible diversity is certainly no threat to corporations trying to sell, obviously it is be...more
Not the ideal messenger, but a necessary message

A review of The Trouble with Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels

JDN 2456543 PDT 19:54.

Walter Benn Michaels is really not the best person to be addressing the philosophical, political, and economic issues involved in identity politics: After all, his PhD is in English and he's best known as a literary theorist. His writing style is competent, but sometimes a bit verbose and repetitive. He does not appear to have learned that brevity is the soul of wit...more
Often Partisan
I agree with the author's focus on class totally. The analysis of the concept of classism was fantastic. Essentially thatthe problem with the whole enterprise of classism is that it assumes that working people want recognition and faux 'respect' from the rich rather than not to live in poverty in the first place.

While there is some stuff about feminism it would have been nice to have a more in-depth anaylsis as there is a lot less in the book about feminism than there is about race and class. Al...more
In The Trouble With Diversity, professor of English Walter Benn Michaels explores current expressions of American cultural pluralism to prove its collusive relationship to the real force that underlies American culture: economic and religious ideology. He argues that apologists for capitalism and religious belief from both the political left and right have framed shifts in American politics and economics not in terms of the normative and ideological values which inform them, but instead, in term...more
Mquin Quintana
This is a controversial journalistically-styled work meant to incite disagreement and thought regarding the American obssession with diversity, culture, and identity. I did not question MIchael's ingenuity but disagreed with many of his arguments (as to be expected of an opinion piece). He basically argues that the focus on identity and diversity (affirmative action, corporate "diversity" initiatives, and anti-racism) has hindered Americans from focusing on the REAL problem of economic inequalit...more
The point of this book is well-taken, and he makes it boldly (over and over again). Basically, he's saying that the left is ignoring real issues of class in pursuit of a vapid multiculturalism that would leave the class structure, and neoliberal capitalism, fully intact. He's right that the left loves culture wars: witness all of the press that any hate crime gets, or the putative racism of the tea party, or whatever. WBM wants to say that none of this really matters and is a distraction from th...more
Gabriel Oak
A powerful critique of the politics of "diversity" in contemporary America (particularly in higher education) from a leftist perspective. Michaels's arguments verge on devastating, and his prose is lucid. In the end, I disagree with his framing of the problem, which I think ignores the ways that race and class intersect in determining people's life chances. Still, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in identity politics.
Dec 28, 2007 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who champions celebrating difference
A very interesting, quick read on our country's obsession with celebrating ethnic/racial/religious differences and why this focus does a real disservice to creating economic opportunity for those who need it most--poor people. He also talks about how politicians have spun discussing low-income people as yet another "different" group whose difference should be respected and celebrated--which only serves to keep them in this "different" group of being poor.

To those in the DV world--you will cring...more
Other reviewers have summed this book up, so I thought I'd focus on the last chapter (without the book in front of me, mind you). I will vouch for the last chapter and say that it's this chapter where Benn Michaels earns being called a "literary theorist." The chapter is certainly a lighter note to end on, and wouldn't perhaps be my choice, but who am I kidding, I loved this as a parting shot. From other reviews of the last chapter, had this chapter started the book readers might have misinterpr...more
Michaels makes a compelling argument that -- at universities in particular -- our fixation on skin color (or celebrating "cultural diversity") distracts us from a more legitimate and important difference: socioeconomic inequality. "As long as we think that our best universities are fair if they are appropriately diverse, we don't have to worry that the people who do get to go to them do so because they've had the good luck to be born into relatively wealthy families." While I found much to disag...more
This book serves as a good starting point for a frank discussion of the connections between economic and racial/ethnic diversity. Though I did not agree with all of the author's arguments, I do applaud his central message of bringing the issue of economic inequality to the forefront. He accurately illustrates how society's focus on racial/ethnic diversity is blinding us to the realities and implications of the deep economic disparities in this country. I believe policy makers' and think tanks' f...more
Kate Levin
Really sharp polemic, more intellectual than What's the Matter with Kansas? but not dogmatic or stuffy. Argues that U.S. institutions (colleges, businesses, government) glorify diversity as a means of obscuring and neglecting the problem of economic inequality--that actually, the emphasis on diversity preserves the current economic order because people are duped into thinking that everyone has access to power. A little removed from the actual world at times (the globalization chapter especially)...more
I am not usually a fan of nonfiction work as I am more of a person who likes to submerge myself into my imagination instead of reality. But Michaels was able to make me want to do the opposite. His arguments were thought provoking and made me realize qualities about myself and my life that I had never seen before. I applaud him for his work and also, I do recommend that you read the conclusion because you'll find out so much about the author himself and as to write this book is very important fo...more
Definitely the book that I've had the most conversation and controversy with. There must be some further classification of diversity: things that are different, but just fine (race, ethnicity, etc.); things that are different but shouldn't be (wealth inequality, treatable disabilty); things that are different and should be made undifferent through talk (diversity of thought). I do have limits for this last issue, but great controversy, well written. Maybe a FYF book for next year, if not outdate...more
Apr 25, 2007 Jack rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: politics, economics
This is an easy, quick read but extremely interesting. I spent the first fifty pages trying to find out if the author leans right, left, or center... only to discover his radical proposals defy American party lines! Amazing! Everyone should read this book, if only so I can hear their arguments against Michaels' argument. It bounces from argumentative, to observational, to depressing, to optimistic. The title is conclusion is downright frightening.
This is basically a compressed, more politically forceful, layperson's version of Michaels' two most recent texts, "The Shape of the Signifier" and "Our America." Michaels' arguments about identity in the text are certainly interesting, but they're really more peripheral (to me at least) to the point that economic inequality is a big deal. It's in that point that the book carries a lot of weight.
I started the first 50 pages absolutely hating this book, but came to really love it. Michaels deconstructs this notion that "identity" is an "equal playing ground" and argues that the melting pot politics and "cultural diversity" does an excellent job of glossing over the real issues of poverty and class that confound us. He does it all in a remarkably lucid and honest way.
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