If you read the NYT, you should definitely subscribe to the columns of Pamela Paul, now an op-ed writer but the paper’s former book-review editor. This site has highlighted three of her columns: “The far Left and far Right agree on one thing: women don’t count“, “The limits of lived experience“, and “She wrote a dystopian novel. What happened next was pretty dystopian.” As you can tell from the titles, Paul is anti-woke, or at least “heterodox,” which probably puts her in bad odor with other NYT staffers. But I’m sure she doesn’t care: she’s been with the paper since 2013, and her job is secure.
This week we have another column by Paul bucking the NYT tide. Click to read.
Like Paul, I’m not “politically aligned with [Liz] Truss on most issues”. The new Prime Minister is a Tory, and I think most of her views are dire. But what I’m highlighting today is that the coverage of Truss’s new cabinet, which is as ethnically “diverse” as one could hope for, isn’t good enough for the Left. That’s because it’s the “wrong kind of diversity”, for the “diverse” members of Truss’s inner circle, while none of them are white men, are still conservatives. And that caused the press to beef (Paul doesn’t mention her own paper’s beefing, which I’ve put below). From the column:
But even amid all the pomp, one news item out of Britain has attracted curiously little attention. Liz Truss, the new Conservative prime minister, announced her cabinet, and for the first time ever, not a single member of the inner circle — what’s referred to as the Great Offices of State — is a white man.
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, is the daughter of Kenyan and Mauritian immigrants. The mother of the foreign minister, James Cleverly, emigrated from Sierra Leone. The new chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, was born to Ghanaian parents.
One could write a column saying “Truss appoints a diverse Cabinet,” but that wouldn’t sell papers, nor would “Truss appoints a conservative cabinet.” No, the press had to beef that the diversity was the wrong kind of diversity:
Did the left break into applause? Were there hosannas throughout progressive Twitter heralding this racial, ethnic and gender diversity as a step forward for society?
Instead, the change was dutifully relayed, often with caveats. “Liz Truss’s cabinet: diverse but dogmatic,” noted The Guardian. The new team was criticized as elite, the product of schools like Eton, Cambridge and the Sorbonne. These people aren’t working class, others pointed out. They don’t sufficiently support the rights of those seeking asylum in Britain or policies that address climate change.
Perhaps knowing which side her bread is buttered on, Paul doesn’t mention her own paper’s column from ten days earlier:
And that column isn’t that different from the one in the Guardian. A quote from Castle and Landler:
Still, Ms. Truss’s inner circle, while progressive in its ethnic makeup, also has a hard ideological edge, which critics say makes it unlikely to pursue policy friendlier to Britain’s minority population, or for refugees arriving on the country’s shores.
Indeed, some argue that the diversity among cabinet ministers gives Ms. Truss the cover to pursue even more radical approaches, such as a plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda — a policy now the responsibility of Suella Braverman, the new home secretary, whose father came to Britain from Kenya in 1968.
“There’s a difference that makes no difference, and a change that leads to no change,” said Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, citing as one example the Conservatives’ immigration policy and the Rwanda plan.
And the cabinet was also criticized for being guilty of MERITOCRACY, the dreaded m-word which is increasingly pejorative because it is often at odds with diversity. Here we have a diverse cabinet chosen for quality—a meritocratic cabinet—but it’s the wrong kind of meritocracy, too.
“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”
This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.
The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view. Even before Truss’s cabinet was finalized, one member of the Labour opposition tweeted, “Her cabinet is expected to be diverse, but it will be the most right-wing in living memory, embracing a political agenda that will attack the rights of working people, especially minorities.”
Another Labour representative wrote: “It’s not enough to be a Black or ethnic minority politician in this country or a cabinet member. That’s not what representation is about. That’s actually tokenism.”
The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn. Is that fair?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course. In science, one can get into trouble for promoting hiring or professional advancement based on merit, because, as everyone knows, it sometimes conflicts with “equity.” If you write an article saying that scientists should be valued by their merit rather than their ideology, as my friend Anna Krylov did in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, you get a ton of pushback. Pushback is okay, of course (it’s free speech), but what astounded Anna, and me, was the dogged and ubiquitous insistence that meritocracy is bogus—just another tactic that white supremacists use to keep minorities down. (This is why, of course, standardized tests and grades are being eliminated left and right by American colleges.)
And in Paul’s column we see the denigration of meritocracy extends to politics Of course Truss would appoint a conservative Cabinet, and judging by the reaction, it was a high-quality Cabinet. But it was a Conservative cabinet. I’d rather have one with more liberals, but seriously, what can you expect from a Tory PM?
Beyond the unjustified denigration of meritocracy, the other point is that in both the UK and the US, you can’t expect someone to hold a certain set of views because of their ethnicity or skin color or “race”. You’re supposed to, of course, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In America, plenty of smart black people are “heterodox,” including John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Wilfred Riley, and Coleman Hughes. Because they don’t agree with the likes of Ibram Kendi or Ta Nehisi Coates, they’re seen as traitors to the “black cause,” or even as “self-hating blacks.” But the fact is that all these men have had thoughtful and intelligent things to say—they just don’t agree with others of similar pigmentation.
When are we going to learn that we need to judge arguments based on their merit, not on who’s advancing them? That’s elementary, and an extension of Dr. King’s famous (and derided) statement about not judging people by race.
Further, ignoring the diversity of opinion among members of a group can have consequences—political ones. Paul notes this:
Black and other ethnic minority voters in Britain aren’t uniformly lefty, either. They cast 20 percent of their votes for Conservatives in 2019.
A similar diversity of political opinion among minorities exists in the United States, and it bewilders the left. An increasing number of Latinos are running as and voting for Republican candidates. Donald Trump got more votes from ethnic minorities in 2020 than he did in 2016. Black men’s support for Trump increased by six percentage points the second time around. And that was after the murder of George Floyd, an event assumed to have galvanized many minority voters on the left.
In his prescient 1991 book, “Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby,” the law professor Stephen Carter decried many of the assumptions around diversity nascent at that time — including the notion that racial or ethnic minorities are expected to think as a group, not as individuals. He bemoaned “the idea that Black people who gain positions of authority or influence are vested with a special responsibility to articulate the presumed views of other people who are Black — in effect, to think and act and speak in a particular way, the Black way — and that there is something peculiar about Black people who insist on doing anything else.”
It’s been three decades since Carter’s book was published, and that lamentable assumption has only gained purchase. As he pointed out then: “In an earlier era, such sentiments might have been marked down as frankly racist. Now, however, they are almost a gospel for people who want to show their commitment to equality.”
The assumption that your ethnicity gives you special authority to talk about race, and that you have to advance an ethnically “correct” viewpoint, may bring universities to grief as well. In fact, it already has, for “studies” departments pump out ideologically uniform products who go on to advance only one point of view and have a tendency to stifle those who disagree. And they go to other “studies” departments, perpetuating a suffocating uniformity of thought (and chilling the speech of opponents).
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) reportedly said Democrats don’t need “any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice” during a liberal Netroots Nation conference on Saturday, a comment that comes as racial politics threaten to divide the party.
The Washington Post reports Pressley said she’s not interested in bringing “a chair to an old table.”
“This is the time to shake that table. … We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice,” Pressley reportedly said during the event. “We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”
One rationale for making groups ethnically diverse is to ensure a variety of viewpoints, whose clash may result in something like the truth—or at least in agreement. But that’s not the reason for DEI initiatives. If if it were, universities would also be looking for and advertising the need for viewpoint diversity. As Paul notes, the two goals aren’t always the same.