As you have seen or will see, I found it hard to take the New York Times article on diversity discussed in my last post very seriously. (If you haven’t read it, please read that post before continuing here.) But it does raise one important issue — I think of it as the dark secret of diversity — that is significant enough I want to address it separately.
The article quotes a black senior at Dartmouth who said
she was tired of contending with the perception that she got here only because of affirmative action. She is also tired of being the only African-American in class and having the professor turn to her for “the black opinion.”
“It seems,” she said, “as if a lot of your function as a student of color is to educate the campus.”
Her complaint is voiced by minority students at colleges across the country, said Professor Milem, of the University of Maryland….
The criticism that diversity, almost by definition, treats all minority individuals as fungible representatives of their race has been made before, such as here and here. This student’s objection, however, raises an even more serious criticism, one that has not been heard as often.
Let me state it bluntly: diversity uses blacks for the benefit of whites.
I have seen few critics of diversity make this argument. Typically, they stress the unfairness to qualified white applicants who were denied admission in favor of diversity-producing minorities. For example, in her perceptive critique of diversity in SLATE last May, “The Legal Fiction of Diversity,” Dahlia Lithwick criticizes Judge Clay’s concurring opinion in the 6th Circuit University of Michigan case upholding preferential admissions by noting that he
can justify refusing some qualified white applicants positions in the law school because the wonderfulness of diversity “provides significant benefits to all students-minorities and non-minorities alike.” In other words, some white students are refused so that other white (and nonwhite) students may be enriched. This is the core of the “diversity” defense.
Lithwick argues, in other words, that those white applicants who were sacrificed to the greater good of “diversity” were not treated fairly. Presumably (she doesn’t really argue or develop the point) this is because they were not treated with what Ronald Dworkin (and others) would call “equal respect.” Their interests were subordinated to the (presumed) interests of others in being exposed to more “diversity” than the rejected applicants could provide. In short, they were treated as a means to the more important ends of others.
What Lithwick doesn’t say, what the quoted Dartmouth senior does in effect say, is that the same point could be made about the successful “diversity”-providing, i.e., black, applicants. Even though they were awarded the prize of admission, they too were treated as a means of providing a benefit to others, i.e., the non-minorities who will benefit from being exposed to them. They are not treated as individuals. They are not admitted, after all, to provide “diversity” to themselves but to others. True, they may receive some benefit from being in a “diverse” student body. But they would receive that benefit no matter what majority-white institution they attended. That is, admitting the preferentially treated blacks admitted to any highly selective university does not provide them with any diversity benefits they would not receive at less selective majority-white institutions. The diversity benefit that preferences are said to provide, that is, flows to the non-minorities exposed to the preferentially admitted minorities. This is treating them as a means, not an end, every bit as much as the rejected whites Lithwick and others emphasize.
If Prof. Milem of Maryland is correct in his claim that many preferentially admitted minority students around the country share the Dartmouth senior’s perception that their “function as a student of color is to educate the campus,” it suggests they may regard preferential admissions as a form of bribery: they are offered admission, frequently with scholarships, to prestigious institutions so that whites can receive the benefits of being exposed to them. No wonder they resent it, at least in part, and especially because the liberals who devised and support what is a genteel and rewarding form of exploitation aren’t even aware of what they’re doing.