Monday, October 02, 2006

Race vs. Class?

Economist-blogger Brad DeLong:

Teaching California Teenagers About Ramadan

A week or two ago, in preparation for the virtual drinking party at the Valve next week, I was thinking about this paragraph from Walter Benn Michaels's The Trouble with Diversity:

American Prospect Online - The Trouble With Diversity: So with respect to race, the idea is not just that racism is a bad thing (which of course it is) but that race itself is a good thing. And what makes it a good thing is that it's not class. We love race -- we love identity -- because we don't love class. We love thinking that the differences that divide us are not the differences between those of us who have money and those who don't but are instead the differences between those of us who are black and those who are white or Asian or Latino or whatever. A world where some of us don't have enough money is a world where the differences between us present a problem: the need to get rid of inequality or to justify it. A world where some of us are black and some of us are white -- or bi-racial or Native American or transgendered -- is a world where the differences between us present a solution: appreciating our diversity. So we like to talk about the differences we can appreciate, and we don't like to talk about the ones we can't...

At that moment the Daily Bulletin from the sixteen-year-old's high school hit my inbox. It said, in part:

RAMADAN & YOM KIPPUR: Leadership is very interested in helping the students celebrate and/or observe the religious holidays of Yom Kippur and Ramadan. If you observe either of these and are interested, please stop by B-1 sometime and let Mr. Petrocco know. The hope is to set up some displays in the library. Be aware in the future the Leadership Class will be displaying other religious holiday materials as the holidays occur...

Now normally--in my usual mind--I am an enthusiastic supporter of what I take to be Walter Benn Michaels's central point: that we have collectively gotten ourselves off balance because we are responding to the fact that celebrating diversity is easy and doing something about upward mobility and the intergenerational reproduction of economic and social inequality is hard.

When I am in my usual mind I grumble that the $400,000 a year that we at Berkeley are about to start spending on an Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity would be better spent hiring ten full-time outreach coordinators and on-campus tutors to make the idea of equality of opportunity less of a joke, and to make the population that does attend Berkeley a little bit more like the population that could benefit from attending Berkeley--if only things had broken right for them before they reached college age.

But I must be outside my usual mind. Because my reaction right now is that we love identity not just because we don't like to think about economic and social class, but because loving identity is a genuinely good thing in a diverse world, especially for America and Americans if we are to become who we are.

Some of us are rich and some of us are poor. Some of us send our children to high schools where they will take two years of calculus. Some of us send our children to high schools where they will still be shaky on their multiplication tables when they leave. Some of us send our children to high schools where they teach five sections of AP European History to tenth graders. Some of us send our children to high schools where they don't. And as a card-carrying child of Adam Smith and company, I think that is the most important polarizing dimension in America today.

But it is also true that some of us are black and some of us are white; some of us are Muslim and some of us are Mormon; some of us have grandparents who speak Spanish and some of us have grandparents who speak Cantonese. These dimensions of difference are important also, perhaps especially so because we as a nation are pretty good at dealing with them.

3 comments:

Liannye said...

You're the most unbelievable idiot I have ever had the misfortune of coming across, and I've met people who think 9/11 was a conspiracy planned by the big bad government.

Do the world a favor and jump off a cliff. Thank you.

CrankyDoc said...

Charming, of course. But is it me who's the idiot, or Brad DeLong, who I've quoted here at length? And surely you must be able to articluate your objection better than with mere invective and ad hominem, no? What, precisely, so outrages you about DeLong's observations, which seem rather thoughtful to me.

Liannye said...

Was I just commenting on that particular post? Alas, no.