Diversity? C’est Moi!

Donna Britt has a regular column in the Metro section of the Washington Post providing the black woman perspective.

I’m sure she would resent this description — no doubt preferring “Donna Britt’s perspective” or perhaps “a black woman’s perspective” — and in fact she may be right and I may be unfair. Maybe she was hired because of her individual talents, and even if she wasn’t maybe she should have been. But one of the costs of “diversity” is that people who are not racist are also not unreasonable when they suspect that columns like hers are published as, at least in part, a token of commitment to “diversity,” with Ms. Britt as its representative.

Thus her column Friday claiming, as the head puts it, that “Diversity Benefits All Kinds” is of particular interest. On one level it is yet another example (I discussed others here and here) of minor celebrities offering their own success, and implicitly the sensitivity and wisdom on which their success is based, as evidence for the rightness of racial preferences. But she also adds some unique twists.

She begins, referring to the exchange between Justice Thomas and John Payton, Michigan’s lawyer in the undergraduate preferences case over diversity, or the lack of it, at historically black colleges (an exchange mentioned here), by noting the presence of a group that had traveled to D.C. from the historically black Hampton University to demonstrate in favor of Michigan’s preferences. And then comes the autobiographical zinger:

Some question whether black colleges — founded when mainstream universities routinely rejected blacks — should exist. If diversity is crucial, Justice Clarence Thomas asked during oral arguments, does it weaken the case for historically black universities?

But I sought Hampton for its diversity — the kind I’d get meeting rich, poor, urban and rural black folks, whose heritage as slavery’s descendants resembled mine but whose circumstances differed. Hampton offered a better sense of myself, my people.

Now let’s be clear about this. According to the latest figures available (which I discussed in a post on “Black Colleges and Diversity” last December), 3% of the Hampton students are white. Britt’s statement that she sought out a virtually all black college for its diversity certainly puts a new spin on diversity. Well, not so new; it is similar to the irony, skewered by Peter Wood, of elite women’s colleges — colleges that by definition exclude half the human race — celebrating the virtues of diversity.

But after Hampton Britt wanted to experience, what? I guess a more diverse variety of diversity.

Four years later, I craved something else — and spied a notice urging wannabe minority newspaper writers to apply for scholarships to the University of Michigan’s graduate journalism program. The scholarship sponsor, Booth Newspapers, figured that recipients — who’d earn their keep by assisting professors with undergraduate courses — would someday boost the paltry numbers of minorities in journalism.

Let’s pass over the fact that if the Booth scholarship Britt received was in fact limited to minorities, it would now be presumptively unconstitutional. (Racially exclusive scholarships were rejected by the Fourth Circuit in the Podberesky case, and the Supremes refused to grant cert.)

Britt devotes most of the remainder of the column to discussing a friend she met at Michigan, Garth Kriewall, “a self-described ‘white farm boy with manure on his shoes,'” who also went on to a successful career in journalism.

Kriewall, 48, recently e-mailed me to say he’d ended a 25-year newspaper career to write local education grants. I asked his feelings about affirmative action.

Every admissions policy is a procedure, he began — and “you can argue the specifics in any procedure manual. I’ve yet to see the perfect implementation of any great idea.”

Over the years, his college roommates were black, Hispanic and a white Vietnam veteran — “and I had no idea if affirmative action had anything to do with any of them being there.”


Then and now, “Michigan wanting a diverse student population benefits everybody — I can’t see a drawback to it,” says Kriewall. His diverse college contacts “contributed to who I am. Is [the system] unfair to some?

“Any system will be unfair to somebody.”

It’s hard to believe that Kriewall, and Britt, really “can’t see a drawback” to discriminating on the basis of race. Maybe that little “drawback” is necessary to achieve some greater good — that’s the “compelling governmental interest” justification for narrowly tailored discrimination — but not even seeing it at all seems a bit much even for diversiphiles.

Since Britt/Kriewall do not acknowledge that “diversity” as practiced at Michigan and elsewhere requires some whites and Asians to be excluded because of their race so that some minorities can be admitted because of their race, they are left to lament only some generalized, amorphous bromide about life being unfair. The fact that “any system will be unfair to somebody” thus presumably justifies a very particular kind of unfairness, racial discrimination. True, life cannot be made altogether fair, but one of the great struggles of American history was to remove one particularly odious kind of unfairness, discrimination based on race. That movement was, for a brief, shining moment, successful, but the principle on which that success was based — that every individual should be judged “without regard” for race, creed, or national origin — has now largely been trashed, and would be trashed even more severely if the Supremes follow Britt’s wishes.

And for what?

Without Hampton, I wouldn’t have understood my people’s diversity. Without the Booth scholarship, I wouldn’t have met Kriewall — or dozens of others who widened my view of America.

It’s tricky. But any system that makes friends of farm boys and steel town girls is worth preserving.

We can all be thankful that Britt made a farmer friend, but there are better ways to promote such friendships than rejecting the principle of non-discrimination for a “system” based on permanent racial double standards.

Say What?