Bari Weiss, head of the Free Press, just published this article on her website, but it appeared in Tablet, in identical form, a few days ago. You can click on the headline below to read it, or go here to see it on her site.
As the subheader on her FP article says, “It’s not about diversity, equity, or inclusion. It is about arrogating power to a movement that threatens not just Jews—but America itself.”
Twenty years ago, when I was a college student, I started writing about a then-nameless, niche ideology that seemed to contradict everything I had been taught since I was a child.
It is possible I would not have perceived the nature of this ideology—or rather, I would have been able to avoid seeing its true nature—had I not been a Jew. But I was. I am. And in noticing the way I had been written out of the equation, I started to notice that it wasn’t just me, but that the whole system rested on an illusion.
What I saw was a worldview that replaced basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Colorblindness with race-obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob.
People were to be given authority in this new order not in recognition of their gifts, hard work, accomplishments, or contributions to society, but in inverse proportion to the disadvantages their group had suffered, as defined by radical ideologues. According to them, as Jamie Kirchick concisely put it in these pages: “Muslim > gay, Black > female, and everybody > the Jews.”
. . . Over the past two decades, I saw this inverting worldview swallow all of the crucial sense-making institutions of American life. It started with the universities. Then it moved on to cultural institutions—including some I knew well, like The New York Times—as well as every major museum, philanthropy, and media company. Then on to our medical schools and our law schools. It’s taken root at nearly every major corporation. It’s inside our high schools and even our elementary schools. The takeover is so comprehensive that it’s now almost hard to notice it—because it is everywhere.
Including in the Jewish community.
Weiss sees DEI as especially dangerous to the small community of Jews because although they’ve achieved a great deal despite historical persecution, they’re now perceived, courtesy of the DEI philosophy, as white oppressors, and thus are fair game (indeed, the fairest game) for hatred. Their Jewishness not only trumps that merit, but puts them, as noted above, at the very bottom of humanity’s heap.
But “DEI” is not about the words it uses as camouflage. DEI is about arrogating power.
And the movement that is gathering all this power does not like America or liberalism. It does not believe that America is a good country—at least no better than China or Iran. It calls itself progressive, but it does not believe in progress; it is explicitly anti-growth. It claims to promote “equity,” but its answer to the challenge of teaching math or reading to disadvantaged children is to eliminate math and reading tests. It demonizes hard work, merit, family, and the dignity of the individual.
An ideology that pathologizes these fundamental human virtues is one that seeks to undermine what makes America exceptional.
It is time to end DEI for good. No more standing by as people are encouraged to segregate themselves. No more forced declarations that you will prioritize identity over excellence. No more compelled speech. No more going along with little lies for the sake of being polite.
The Jewish people have outlived every single regime and ideology that has sought our elimination. We will persist, one way or another. But DEI is undermining America, and that for which it stands—including the principles that have made it a place of unparalleled opportunity, safety, and freedom for so many. Fighting it is the least we owe this country.
I wonder if this piece could have been written as effectively without the concentration on Judaism, which smacks a bit of special pleading. After all, halfway through the article she says this:
It isn’t only Jews who suffer from the suggestion that merit and excellence are dirty words. It is strivers of every race, ethnicity, and class. That is why Asian American success, for example, is suspicious. The percentages are off. The scores are too high. From whom did you steal all that success?
It is the denigration of merit in favor of identity that is the most destructive aspect of DEI. That is one reason that a number of us, concerned with the erosion of merit in our own fields of science, cowrote a paper called “In Defense of Merit in Science,” Of course we had trouble publishing it, and of course it was widely attacked. Merit is going out of style.
I still believe that some form of reparations are due those who have been held back by bigotry, but I am still unable to specify what kind of reparations. Weiss would probably not agree with me there, but I am with her in suspecting that the DEI movement, and its partner “identity politics”, are warping American society in many ways. It is not getting more unified, but more fragmented, with groups competing for hegemony. And I have no confidence that this trend will be reversed.