The semi-hysterical diatribe of Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, over the victory of the MCRI indicates the extent to which the concept of “diversity,” or outcome-based group equality, has become the new definition of America for many, competing with the older understanding of equality of the individual before the law. An article in the current Academic Questions, “Diversity Trumps Freedom on Campus,” by Scott Talkington, examined the websites of a number of institutions, not only in academia, but also in labor, business, media, and religion, and found that for many of them “diversity” was more frequently mentioned than truly foundational American concepts such as “freedom” and “democracy.” The article further suggests that in some areas of the culture “diversity” may be replacing the word “equality” altogether as a guiding concept, perhaps because the latter word still suggests for too many people individual and not group equality.
I am overjoyed at the victory of the MCRI but I would caution against becoming too confident about defeating affirmative action outright. First of all, I have heard too many premature declarations of victory in the past and I think all they did was invite complacency in the middle of the battle. Second, the forces aligned on the side of preferences are comprised of just about all the structures of our society: government, labor, business, military, non-profits, civic organiations, mainstream churches, and the two major parties. (Harry Stein details the extent of the Republican Party’s retreat on affirmative action in the latest City Journal). Not only won’t the Republican Party campaign on eliminating preferences, but will actually oppose those who do. And of course ”diversity” received constitutional approval in Grutter. Admittedly, a majority of ordinary Americans is evidently on the anti-preference side, which is very heartening, but it’s not at all clear that that will be enough. Even a Supreme Court reversal on Grutter, as welcome as that would be, might not be enough to stem the tide.
I don’t think it’s possible any more to contend that this development of “diversity” as a guiding principle of American domestic policy had nothing to do with the mass immigration of recent decades. Yes, I would agree that it didn’t have to turn out this way, if America had insisted on the assimilation it demanded from previous waves of immigrants. But for whatever reasons, and we could argue over those reasons, we did not make this demand, and the demographic shift has thus been used to demand a new definition of America as a nation of “diversity.” As a corollary of this, the preferences that were originally intended for blacks have been extended to other non-white groups as well. Even the super-successful Asians have joined the preference brigade for areas where they do not naturally excel. (There is even a group called Chinese for Affirmative Action.)
Furthermore, the great engine of assimilation for previous waves of immigrants, namely the educational institutions at all levels, so far from fostering assimilation, gave themselves over to multiculturalism–the denigration of our culture and history and the celebration of minority cultures. And by now of course there is less and less core culture into which to assimilate, so cries for greater assimilation at this point simply have a hollow ring. Even businesses and the workplace are now given to “diversity”–preferential hiring and promotion, sensitivity workshops, and the like.
This should at the very least make legitimate and understandable the opposition many citizens have to “comprehensive immigration reform” that would entail a quasi-amnesty for the millions of illegals already here and the possible addition of tens of millions of new immigrants in the coming decades. Until America is able again to regain its cultural confidence, many feel this would further work to transform the country away from its founding principles and toward the newer ideas of group equality and multiculturalism. There is no use insisting any more that America’s universal values can sail above any demographic reality. In fact, the universalism may have led to the multiculturalism, as we worked to strip ourselves of any cultural essence into which immigrants could assimilate, leaving them, nay, encouraging them, to retain their own.