Selling Diversity Short: An Essay Responding to Nancy Leong's Racial Capitalism
13 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2012 Last revised: 3 Jan 2013
Date Written: November 5, 2012
Racial Capitalism’s attempt to cast “diversity” as an impediment, perhaps the impediment, to our collective ambition to achieve racial reconciliation exposes Leong’s fundamental misapprehension of diversity in both theory and practice. Leong attempts to indict diversity for our present system of exchanging racial identity in social status markets. The problem is that the commodification of race pre-existed the rise of diversity and will likely survive long past its demise if the late Derrick Bell’s prediction about the permanence of racism holds true. Critiques of diversity are nothing new, even those from the left, but Leong does more than just assail the efficacy of diversity’s means or the legitimacy of its ends. Racial Capitalism goes beyond prior critiques in attempting to render diversity not only bereft of its instrumental value, but also laden with harmful effects. On the former point Leong’s critique is familiar even if more cynical. But the latter critique is novel and reveals the error of Leong’s assumptions about the ways in which diversity operates both conceptually and practically. The trap into which Leong falls is not an unfamiliar one. She fails to recognize how diversity’s instrumental approach to race diverges substantially from the remedial/corrective justice approach to race under affirmative action theory and practice. She critiques only some watered-down and ineffectual version of diversity. The more robust version of diversity has more instrumental value than Leong admits and less harmful effects. Rather than creating or even exacerbating the problems Leong has identified, diversity is instead endeavoring to achieve the egalitarian goals to which Leong herself says we should be aspiring, and it is producing tangible results along the way. Leong‘s theory of Racial Capitalism fails because, in essence, it sells diversity short.
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