Saturday, August 27, 2016

Walter Benn Michaels on “The Trouble With Diversity”

Walter Benn Michaels discusses his book The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (New York, 2006).


  1. Great video. I am glad there are people on the Left making the case against diversity mongering and identity politics. For too long that space was only or mostly occupied by the Right.

  2. LK and Tiberius, are either of you familiar with any of Adolph Reed's criticisms of identity politics within the context of the United States? While he's part of the Marxist tradition and does accept that there are systemic inequalities in the US which have been racialized, the two of you may find his writings on the emphasis on race very agreeable.

    This piece of his, "The Real Divide", is from late 2005, and despite mainly touching on the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, much of it is just as relevant today as it was over a decade ago. Wall of text incoming:
    "Race in this context becomes a cheap and safely predictable alternative to pressing a substantive critique of the sources of this horror in New Orleans and its likely outcomes. Granted, the images projected from the Superdome, the convention center, overpasses, and rooftops seemed to cry out a stark statement of racial inequality. But that’s partly because in the contemporary U.S., race is the most familiar language of inequality or injustice. It’s what we see partly because it’s what we’re accustomed to seeing, what we look for. As I argued in The Nation, class—as income, wealth, and access to material resources, including a safety net of social connections—was certainly a better predictor than race of who evacuated the city before the hurricane, who was able to survive the storm itself, who was warehoused in the Superdome or convention center or stuck without food and water on the parched overpasses, who is marooned in shelters in Houston or elsewhere, and whose interests will be factored into the reconstruction of the city, who will be able to return..."

    "Let me be blunter than I’ve ever been in print about what I am saying: As a political strategy, exposing racism is wrongheaded and at best an utter waste of time. It is the political equivalent of an appendix: a useless vestige of an earlier evolutionary moment that’s usually innocuous but can flare up and become harmful."

    "Upper-status liberals are more likely to have relatively secure, rewarding jobs, access to health care, adequate housing, and prospects for providing for the kids’ education, and are much less likely to be in danger of seeing their nineteen-year-old go off to Iraq. They tend, therefore, to have a higher threshold of tolerance for political compromises in the name of electing this year’s sorry pro-corporate Democrat. Acknowledging racism—and, of course, being pro-choice—is one of the few ways many of them can distinguish themselves from their Republican co-workers and relatives.

    As the appendix analogy suggests, insistence on understanding inequality in racial terms is a vestige of an earlier political style. The race line persists partly out of habit and partly because it connects with the material interests of those who would be race relations technicians. In this sense, race is not an alternative to class. The tendency to insist on the primacy of race itself stems from a class perspective."

    1. Yes, Adolph Reed is quite good on this and other issues. Thanks for the link.

      Another good article by Reed on the neoliberal Left:

    2. Another good article about Adolph Reed and his stance on identity politics.

  3. Found this random editorial from Maine: Nice fiery succinct case against "free trade"