If racism is so bad, why is diversity so good?
It all makes sense once one realizes that diversity is a lie.
Written by Bo Winegard
Progressives profess contradictory views about racism and diversity. On the one hand, they contend that whites are pervasively though often unconsciously prejudiced and that, like spiders mindlessly spinning webs, they create and promote racist norms, laws, and institutions even when free of overt antipathy. On the other hand, they contend that diversity is one of humanity’s great goods, a moral virtue so elevated and noble that they have promoted it with the zeal of a proselyte. And although the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion now permeate many of the West’s most prestigious institutions, from Harvard to Hollywood to The New York Times, they still complain that the United States (and the West more broadly) is not diverse or equitable or inclusive enough.
But if whites are almost irremediably racist, and if their racism stifles and traumatizes blacks (and other “people of color”), why would diversity be a strength? Why would it not be wiser for blacks to avoid whites and to create their own communities as free from the baneful influence of anti-black racism as possible?
The claim that racism is pervasive, stubborn, and stultifying is not new. People on the left, in the center, and even on the right have forwarded it to explain a variety of black ailments and dysfunctions, from high crime rates and fatherless homes to low grades and test scores. But the claim has become more popular and more integral to mainstream political narratives since the rise of racial progressivism (also called “wokism”).
Today, journals, magazines, and television programs abound with stories and studies contending that racism is rife in the West and remains a stubborn obstacle to black health and prosperity. These follow a common pattern. Consistent with the circular anti-logic of anti-racism, they assume that any inequality between races is caused by racism because racism is understood as anything that “produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.”
However, one must add an important qualification. Only white people can be racist because only white people have the power to oppress. And because of their unique status in the West, white people may even be inherently racist. Thus, only their bigotries and prejudices, which are as natural to them as song is to a sparrow, are worthy of attention. And they receive a lot of attention.
With this implausible but ideologically useful definition of racism, progressives can recount copious horrors of anti-black bigotry by exhibiting and lamenting the many statistical disparities between blacks and whites. In a paradigmatic example of this genre, Reuters contended that blacks “…face systemic disadvantages in American life more than 150 years after slavery was abolished,” pointing to numerous outcome inequalities in health (e.g., life expectancy), education (e.g., attainment of degrees), and wealth (e.g., net worth). The causal mechanism from racism to these disturbing disparities was not specified, but the message that anti-black biases were involved was unambiguous.
This is not an isolated example. The genre is packed with credulity-straining examples from mainstream writers and institutions. For example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blamed racism (both “structural” and “interpersonal”) for persistent health inequalities, asserting that racism’s consequences are “severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.” Dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Michelle Williams wrote that “Racism is still pernicious, pervasive and cutting short the lives of black Americans to this day.” At the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), scholars purported that “Structural racism and everyday discrimination can lead to many negative effects on health, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, preterm birth, anxiety, depression and suicide ideation.”
Perhaps the causal mechanism of these unfortunate outcomes is related to racial trauma, a condition which allegedly ails “marginalized or stigmatized racial or ethnic groups” who are exposed to “racial stressors such as racism, racist bias, discrimination, violence against people of color, and racist abuse in the media.” Although sometimes subtle, this form of trauma can cause myriad detrimental symptoms, from physical pain, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and digestive issues to low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, and dissociation.
The notion of racial trauma is not limited to obscure activists or impassioned bloggers. It is mainstream. Many universities, for example, warn students of color about the baleful influence of racial trauma. The University of Georgia, to pick an example almost at random, has a page at its department of psychology about coping with racial trauma which warns that this form of trauma can afflict people as young as 12. Furthermore, at least 13 paragraphs are dedicated to racial trauma at Wikipedia, which notes that racial trauma can be caused even by “covert” racism, such as only teaching a “European account of history in a history class.” That is, teaching an exclusively “European account of history” can apparently lead to debilitating psychological and physical symptoms, which may ultimately result in early mortality. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs includes a page on racial trauma, which contends that it is not only inimical to mental flourishing, but also that it can lead to PTSD.
According to progressives, racism also infects the criminal justice system where it corrupts police, prosecutors, and judges alike. Disparities in arrest and incarceration rates are routinely forwarded as incontrovertible evidence of systemic racism. An article at the Harvard Gazette, for example, informs us that “racial disparities in policing and police violence, they [historians and scholars] say, are sustained by systemic exclusion and discrimination, and fueled by implicit and explicit bias.” And of course after the death of George Floyd, the narrative that ubiquitous racism engenders disproportionate outcomes in the criminal justice system became so conventional that it was endorsed and promoted by prestigious corporations, many of whom proudly (or, perhaps, cynically) advertised the Black Lives Matter banner on their websites and elsewhere.
Scholars have even argued that the invidious stereotypes caused by racism can reduce black people’s cognitive ability and test scores. The theory of stereotype threat remains popular (despite a spotty replication record) and contends that pervasive stereotypes that blacks are inferior to whites in intelligence can cause cognitive load which significantly diminishes black people’s test-taking abilities. In moments of exuberance, scholars may even claim that these negative stereotypes can explain most or even all of the large test-score gap between blacks and whites, though the original and much celebrated stereotype threat paper did not find that. And even those who do not ascribe most of the black-white gap to stereotype threat often ascribe it to some manifestation of racism or another.
To summarize this horror story of racism and bigotry. White people are thoroughly and perhaps inherently racist. They stifle black youth, immiserate black communities, terrorize black men, and sexualize black women. They insult, demean, harass, and exploit the black body. And they angrily refuse to address or admit their own bigotry, becoming agitated, upset, and defensive when accused of racism. The effects of this are devastating: Blacks score lower on IQ tests, obtain lower grades, commit more crimes (per capita), commit more homicides (per capita) than whites; blacks are more likely to be poor, divorced, incarcerated than whites; and blacks are more likely to die during pregnancy or from disease than whites. Without hyperbole, one can assert that white racism is a public health menace every bit as devastating as a pandemic. Small wonder that some people have lambasted whiteness itself, even advocating its abolition.
The theme, the meaning, the raison d'être of racial progressivism is that white people are responsible for the failures and dysfunctions of black people. Their racism—not the traits and propensities of black people—leads to the depressing list of disparities detailed above. To be sure, this is a gloomy and divisive view, but it is logically coherent. However, things become confusing as racial progressivism’s pessimistic logic takes an inexplicable turn: It embraces and celebrates diversity. I say inexplicable because a natural solution to the problem of persistent and pervasive white racism would be to reject diversity, to eschew racial intermingling, and to promote homogeneity instead. No diversity, no racial conflict, no stifling racism. At minimum, one might think that progressives would bemoan diversity (and the racism it causes) even if they begrudgingly accepted it.
But the opposite is true. Progressives extol the virtues of diversity, endlessly uttering the incantation that it is “our strength” and claiming that it is responsible for everything from smarter groups to more successful businesses to more vibrant college campuses. An article in the New York Times put it this way, “Ethnic diversity is like fresh air: It benefits everybody who experiences it.” Not only do most progressives offer panegyrics to diversity, but they also castigate people who dissent from or resist the diversity-is-great dogma. And they excoriate the mere suggestion of separatism as a solution to recalcitrant racism. But this seems like an obvious contradiction. If racism is caused by diversity (i.e., different racial groups living together) and is so intransigent that it persists despite many decades of efforts to eliminate it, and if racism is detrimental to black and brown people, why would diversity be good?
I can think of four possible answers, three of which are at least moderately charitable to racial progressivism, and one of which is damning. My own view, for reasons I will make clear, is that the damning answer is more plausible.
Answer one: Diversity is inevitable in the United States and elsewhere across the West; therefore, we should embrace and celebrate it.
Answer two: Diversity is costly and taxing for black and brown people, but ultimately the benefits (diverse perspectives, foods, cultures) outweigh the costs.
Answer three: Diversity is currently costly and taxing for black and brown people, but constant exposure between the races will decrease the costs and increase the benefits.
Answer four: Diversity is a rhetorical sleight of hand which ultimately means “fewer white people in positions of power and prestige.” Diversity is a tool to appropriate resources from white people; therefore, progressives embrace diversity only insofar as it leads to more resources for black and brown people.
The first answer is dismissible because it is consistent with the position that diversity is a net negative. And if that is true, then widespread encomia to diversity are dishonest propaganda. Progressivism is a lie. And we should unveil its deceptions, drawing attention to the gulf between the uplifting rhetoric of progressivism and the depressing reality of multiracial democracy.
The second answer is possible but contradicts both the enthusiasm with which progressives promote diversity and the enthusiasm with which they document and denounce anti-black racism. For if diversity is ultimately a net good, if its benefits outweigh its substantial costs, then widespread white racism, though perhaps lamentable, is a price worth paying, and though a decent society should work to eradicate racism, it should probably not obsess over it. After all, in the progressive’s narrative, white racism is an unfortunate side effect, a disagreeable concomitant, of society’s greatest strength. And anything that might discourage people from promoting diversity should be eschewed.
This also makes the contradiction at the heart of progressivism even starker. For progressivism contends that diversity (i.e., racism caused by diversity) leads to appalling outcomes for black and brown people. But if that is true, who benefits from it? How is it a net good if the costs on black communities are immense? The only logical answer is that diversity benefits white people, and it is this which supposedly offsets the considerable costs it inflicts on black and brown people. But this would mean that progressives promote diversity because it improves the lives of white people even though it significantly degrades the lives of black people. One could of course make this (incendiary) argument, but I have never encountered it.
And I am quite certain that progressives would reject it with horror and outrage.
The third answer is probably the most plausible charitable answer, since it is consistent with the contact thesis which is promulgated by many scholars and journalists. The contact thesis contends that racism is caused, at least partially, by fear and misunderstanding and can be abated, if not eradicated, by more association between races, since this familiarizes and reduces misunderstanding and otherness. Our current diversity leads to racism not because racism is inevitable, but because the United States is too segregated, too tribal, too full of suspicions and erroneous stereotypes. Hatred, misconceptions, and unconscious prejudices may be common, but we can alleviate them by “Cultivating a more diverse group of friends and engaging in some perspective-taking exercises, mindfully acknowledging the similarities between yourself and others…”
Constant contact and affiliation will decrease the costs of diversity (the racial hostility) and as the costs decline, the benefits will become more worthy of celebration. Still, one might ask: If racism currently causes myriad undesirable consequences in black populations, few of which are trivial, what are the benefits of diversity that make it worthwhile? Are different perspectives and sundry foods fair recompense for the daily degradations and humiliations of black people so vividly recounted in story after story by the media? Or for the elevated crime and stress and mortality? Or for the depressed intelligence, test scores, and wages? This seems unlikely.
Furthermore, whites and blacks have interacted for many years and the supposedly beneficial effects of contact have not much mitigated many of the important gaps between them. What evidence suggests that these gaps will shrink anytime soon?
This brings us to the fourth answer: Diversity is not about diversity; rather, it is about redistributing resources from white people (and Asians) to black and brown people. Progressives denounce separatism despite claiming that anti-black racism ravages black communities because they need white people’s money. And therefore virtually anything whites do that does not boost the status and resources of black people is condemned as racist. Whites move in—racist. Whites move out—racist. Whites see color—racist. Whites don’t see color—racist. And so on.
Many conservatives have condemned this Kafkaesque logic in which guilt or innocence, like truth itself, is irrelevant. But the analysis here suggests that the logic is at least explicable—less like a Kafkaesque nightmare and more like a politically motivated Humpty Dumpty for whom words mean whatever helps progressives extract resources and votes.
This might sound polemical. But it straightforwardly makes sense of the prima facie incoherence of the positions promoted by progressives. They emphasize the incomprehensible evil of white racism to induce feelings of guilt and shame, which are then used to encourage the embrace of an ideologically loaded conception of diversity, a conception which translates roughly thus:
(1) Any high-status or desired position in society that is full of black and brown people with few white people.
(2) A description of a non-meritocratic process in which highly qualified white people are passed over in favor of less qualified black and brown people.
(3) A rhetorical trick used to distract from the appropriation of resources from white people.
One might think that progressives would be committed to separatism since they tirelessly document the myriad costs of anti-black racism, from lower IQ scores to higher crime rates. If whites are so bad, so effortlessly evil, getting far, far away from them would probably be a good idea. But progressives not only do not support separatism, they castigate anybody who promotes it, and they propound exactly the opposite view, namely, that diversity is our strength. Thus progressives seem to praise the very conditions (diversity) that create the racism they so ardently attack.
This apparent contradiction can be resolved not through some subtle dialectic or esoteric logic, but by recognizing that diversity does not actually mean diversity. It’s a rhetorical cloak that disguises the exercise of raw power. For in practice, diversity is a non-meritocratic intervention in the market at the expense of white people. It appropriates wealth and status. It steals from whites and gives to others who have not earned it.
And this is why the same political coalition that howls incessantly about the evils of white racism also cheers diversity. Howling about racism creates white guilt. And applauding diversity encourages whites to relinquish status and resources. Thus, these ostensibly contradictory views—racism is bad but diversity is good—hold together perfectly well. They are only contradictions for people naïve or confused enough to interpret them literally. For others who have seen through the smoke and mirrors, what remains is to call diversity what it is: A lie.
Bo Winegard is the Executive Editor of Aporia.
Consider supporting Aporia with a monthly paid subscription: