We Made the Rainbow Boring

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Here’s a little morning pick-me-up for you, from a Boston Review article titled “An Antiracist Agenda for Medicine”:

This is exactly what we have tried to achieve in the design our new pilot initiative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital set to launch later this spring. Adapting Darity’s reparations framework of acknowledgment, redress, and closure (ARC) to an institutional level, we have designed a program—we call it a Healing ARC—with initiatives for all three components. Each centers Black and Latinx patients and community members: those most impacted by unjust heart failure management and under whose direction appropriate restitution can begin to take shape.

And here’s another exhilarating snippet from Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility about those who sit at what she calls “the tables of power”:

The decisions made at those tables affect the lives of those not at the tables. Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion. While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.

What those two passages have in common is the same thing they share with zillions of other news reports, essays, journal articles, mission statements, diversity seminars, equity resources, and antiracism manifestos: They are unbearably boring. And not just boring in the sense that they’re too declarative and presumptuous. Granularly boring. So larded up with jargon and taxonomy as to feel like flowcharts that have somehow been transubstantiated into paragraph form.

This is what diversity looks like in 2021 America. It’s how critical race theory (CRT), which is becoming the stuff of dogma among our elites, is communicated. Those of us who like to trash CRT are often met with a response: That’s an academic discipline! It’s different from antiracism efforts outside the classroom! Except it isn’t really. Unlike many other philosophies and schools, CRT has never taken on much of a pop or folk form, at least beyond its routine insistence that “Black Lives Matter.” It has no protest songs or poetry, no TV shows that amount to more than propaganda. What it has is the same eye-glazing drivel about “equity” and “intersectionality” over and over again, filtered down from the ivory tower through the consultancies and the corporate boards onto Twitter, a seamless garment of narcolepsy.

Which raises a question: how did diversity become so boring? How did one of the most interesting facts of life—that we’re all different, that humanity comes in many shades and variations—end up as the kind of H.R. PowerPoint seminar that everyone at the company sleeps through?

One reason is that CRT by design is meant to conceal. The objects of wokeness—an allegiance to identity groups, a modern racial hierarchy, equality of outcomes, inverting America’s promise of freedom and opportunity, 1619 rather than 1776, assailing virtually every institution as systemically racist and in need of overhaul—are so radical as to be non-starters for much of the country. Many of these assumptions are also racist in and of themselves, which risks driving people away (warning about the dangers of “white culture” sounds an awful lot like the sort of bigoted pseudo-social science we’ve all been conditioned to reject). Wokeness gets around this by cloaking itself in jargon. It hides its audacity behind terms that sound at once both harmless and indecipherable.

But there’s more to it than that. If the modern world has succeeded at one thing (and it’s succeeded at many things; I’m not trying to shortchange it), it’s to dress up even the most medieval of ideas in the starched clothing of expertise and utility. Abortion, for example, discussed by Socrates and pondered by societies for millennia, is portrayed today as a triumph of modern medicine and sexual revolution. Likewise is wokeness sold as fresh and cutting-edge, even though it amounts to little more than antique tribalism and grievance-mongering. “We’ve learned a lot since George Floyd!!” the woke cry, as though no one had ever thought to position the races against each other until 2020 rolled around. The jargon enables this by conflating neologisms with novelty. It makes wokeness seem like a snap fit into our modern technocratic world, even if CRT is anything but empirically rigorous.

The effect has been to make CRT stiflingly conformist, to strip diversity of anything diverse. Think of the great spectrum of America, all the varying joys of this vast, undulating country: the pots and pans of rap music from out an open car window, the opening musical number from your favorite Broadway show, the warm tears in your eyes as you eat spicy gumbo down in New Orleans, the jagged-glass syllables of a Boston accent. Now siphon all that into a single academic system, one that eschews meaningful differences of ability and accomplishment and quality in favor of only race and gender. This is what wokeness has wrought. Martin Amis once said, “In common with all novelists, I live for and am addicted to physical variety; and my one quarrel with the rainbow is that its spectrum isn’t wide enough.” What we’ve done is to systematize the rainbow, distill it into fine print, run it past the lawyers.

Amis’s choice of word there is interesting—not diversity but variety. That calls to mind another thinker usually not domiciled in the same sentence as Amis, Russell Kirk, who in his “ten conservative principles” listed “variety” as number five. Conservatives, he said, “feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.” Kirk believed that any society would produce “many sorts of inequality.” Any tyrant who tried to level those natural differences would ultimately end up creating new inequalities, presumably between his regime and his subjects.

Or between the woke and the unwoke, as the case might be. The fashioning of “diversity” into an authoritarian monolith by the left has led some conservatives to chafe at the term, to warn that it’s a weakness rather than a national strength. Too much of it, they worry, can soften a society by dispersing commonly held ideas of citizenship and the good. It’s certainly true that some types of diversity—a diversity of national allegiances within the same nation, for example—can be destructive to the societal fabric. It’s also true that the universal and the particular, the national and the local, have to be harmonized, a subject that’s long occupied conservative thought.

Yet it’s further true is that one of our less awful clichés still holds up. Variety really is the spice of life. It would be a terrible world if we were all the same, clad in gray smocks, subject to compulsory healing ARCs and implicit bias trainings, and whatever the hell else woke pencilheads have dreamed up for us. True and reasonable diversity ought to be acknowledged and celebrated. And if “diversity” as a term has been disfigured beyond repair, perhaps conservatives ought to take a cue from Kirk and embrace “variety,” a fine word that can encompass not just races but talents, backgrounds, sensibilities, tastes, social stations, cultures, cuisines, opinions, dialects, eccentricities, foibles.

Of course, there are some things that are best done as one. So join me, my fellow Americans, in a great national yawn, from sea to shining sea, from whites to Blacks to Latinx non-binaries to whatever Demi Lovato thinks she is these days, in the direction of those who babble on in incomprehensible post-diversity gibberish, the dreary conformists of our age.

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