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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  ·  Rating Details  ·  273 Ratings  ·  59 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 n
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 really liked it  ·  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
May 12, 2009 Damien rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 24, 2010 Ilya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 27, 2012 Meg Petersen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 11, 2011 vylit rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011
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
Will Shetterly
Jan 09, 2016 Will Shetterly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Walter Benn Michaels is brilliant, and like many brilliant people, he's misunderstood by people whose ideologies conflict with his insights. Rather than quote from this book, I'll quote two bits by him from elsewhere that are consistent with what you'll find in this book.

From "Chav chic, and respect the poor": " a time when class difference in the US is as high as it’s been in the last hundred years, we’re being urged not to talk about what we never talk about (the inequalities produced by
Tony G.
Oct 02, 2007 Tony G. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Zero Sum Binaries
Fakes left, goes right.
Jan 24, 2008 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 10, 2007 Kimberly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2014 Lfrench rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nicolas Name
Dec 27, 2015 Nicolas Name rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you have already read or are familiar with Marx (the real Marx, not the boogeyman he is made out to be) then this book will offer you little to no new insights.

For a better interpretation of the root causes of the behavior of the wealthy, the right-wing, and the left, I would suggest Escape from Evil by Ernest Becker. An argument that essentially treats opposing forces as evil is one that does not truly understand the motives of the acting party.
Dec 03, 2010 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2011 Victor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: junk-drawer

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
Aug 11, 2015 April rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The idea of this was more thought provoking than the book. He played amateur political theorist, sociologist, and religious scholar but it never came back to the central idea that we overlook inequality to exalt identity.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other
Short and cogent argument that the current "neoliberal" emphasis on diversity (of race, culture, language, or religion) devalues economic equality and real political progress. "Celebrating diversity . . .is now our way of accepting inequality."

Michaels doesn't spend much time talking about his suggested solutions to the problems, but based on what he reveals, I would strongly disagree with most of his solutions anyway. He has, however, framed the arguments exactly right, and with a slyly sarcast
Apr 27, 2013 Whittyfh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Apr 18, 2009 Mquin Quintana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 14, 2010 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Amy Lawton
This is an intriguing book, both in the ways that the author is completely correct and completely, totally divorced from reality. He is absolutely right that inequality is part of our social system and not just a result of our prejudice; he is wrong that prejudice is always a subordinate influence to economic inequality. There is co-construction taking place which Walter Benn Michaels is not at all interested in examining; what reads as the total rejection of intersectionality will make you pull ...more
Feb 07, 2016 Fishface rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Makes a lot of good points about how the current hang-up on cultural identity is a red herring that obscures ongoing social inequality. I don't agree with every word -- for instance he cuts down Schlesinger's DISUNITING OF AMERICA in a way that makes clear to me he totally missed the point of that book -- but it's still excellent food for thought.
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 really liked it  ·  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
Nov 07, 2008 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 24, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"For as economic inequality has increased, we have become increasingly committed to imagining that our schools are open to all, regardless of class. In 1947, everyone knew that Ivy League colleges were mainly for the children of the rich, but no one much cared. Today, however, we've all begun to care, so it's important that we don't really know."
Jul 29, 2013 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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