Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Edward Teller's Memoirs.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again!

I'm currently reading The Trouble With Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels, an English Professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC).  The basic thesis of the book is that the American left (such as it is) ignores class in favor of race.  I'm in chapter 3, and I guess my main observation on the first two chapters is that, like any author trying to sell a 200 page book to a general audience, he goes a bit too far with his thesis, trying to argue a bit too hard against including race in the analysis.  I think he would agree that race does certainly matter in many contexts and for many purposes, but he isn't communicating that balanced view as well as he should, because he's trying to push back on something and he only has 200 pages in which to push back.  If he had another 100 pages I think he'd caveat it more.

However, I think he's on fire in the first couple pages of Chapter 3, when he writes:
As almost every piece of literature that UIC distributes about itself announces, we are ranked among the top ten universities in the country for the diversity of our student body.  And that diversity, the literature goes on to point out, "is one of the greatest aspects of our campus."  The bad news about our current condition is that you may be jammed into a classroom so full that you can't find a place to sit.  But the good news is that 45 percent of the people jammed in there with you will be Caucasian, 21 percent of them will be Asian, 13 percent of them will be Hispanic, and 9 percent will be African-American.
(Emphasis added)

Now, it is quite plausible race has something to do with why state politicians under-fund his campus.  At the same time, class surely also has something to do with it.  They are not a flagship campus, and they get a lot of working-class students.  Race needs to examined, and class does as well, and leaving either one out means that you miss part of the picture.

ADDENDUM:  Here's a great quote on page 108:
The true victims of the injustice in our educational system are not the students who have been made to feel uncomfortable on the campuses of Duke, Northwestern and Harvard but the ones who have never set foot on these campuses or on any other.  What is surprising is that the battles over social justice in the university have taken the form of battles over cultural diversity, which is to say, of battles over what color skin the rich kids should have.  If you belong economically to the bottom half of American families (or even to the bottom three quarters), you will not benefit from having your ethnicity respected by the other students at Northwestern, you will not suffer by being made to feel uncomfortable by the partners in [law firm] Dewey Ballantine.  Diversity, like gout, is a rich people's problem.  And it is also a rich people's solution, as attractive to rich people on the left as it is (or ought to be) to rich people on the right.  For as long as we're committed to thinking of difference as something that should be respected, we don't have to worry about it as something that should be eliminated.
This was written in 2006.  If somebody read it to a campus protester today there would probably be a call for his resignation.

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