Heather Mac Donald’s The Diversity Delusion is an invaluable resource of myth-busting fact and a reality check on the siren calls of identity-based “social justice” now so insistent in Western society. Detailed, rigorous and copious, it is a devastating expose of “how race and gender pandering corrupt the university and undermine our culture”. To be a believer in personal responsibility in the contemporary West is to be continually assailed by invocations to feel guilty about the—largely baseless—alleged grievances of an ever-growing list of “victims of society”. This competitive victimhood narrative originated in academia but now oozes daily from the liberal media and has been absorbed as orthodoxy in our institutions, all the way from schools to armed forces. It is so relentless, in “news”, entertainment, in officialdom and institutions of all kinds, that individual examples, though legion, are quickly consigned to the memory’s ashcan. This is why an evidence-rich book like The Diversity Delusion is so necessary, if only as a historical record of the madness.
This review appears in June’s Quadrant.
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The book is divided into three parts: “Race”, “Gender” and “The Bureaucracy”. The context is American but Australian readers will have no trouble relating it to their experience. Mac Donald recounts stories of self-engrossed, spoilt-brat, student hysteria and the craven appeasement of such behaviour by university administrations. Many of her case studies are jaw-dropping in their absurdity. After a violent attack at Middlebury College in 2017 by students protesting against a lecture invitation to the political scientist Charles Murray, “177 professors from across the country signed an open letter protesting that the assailants had been disciplined, however minimally. The professors blamed the administration for the violence, since its decision to allow Murray to lecture constituted a ‘threat’ to students.”
In 2017, at Evergreen State College, a biology professor had his class invaded by a frenzied mob hurling “F**k you, you piece of s**t” type abuse. The professor, ironically a lifelong progressive, “had refused to obey an edict from Evergreen’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services that all white faculty cancel their courses for a day … white students were also ordered to absent themselves from the school to show ‘solidarity’.” Evergreen’s president expressed his “gratitude” for the mob’s “passion and courage”.
In 2015 an orgy of foul-mouthed student self-engrossment took place at Yale: “Who the f**k hired you?! … You should not sleep at night!” screams a black student at her college master Nicholas Christakis. “You are disgusting!” screams another. (His wife had recently suggested that the Yale multiculturalism bureaucracy did not need to oversee Halloween costumes.) “Christakis meekly tells the students that he was trying to understand their predicament.” He hugs one of the students, Abdul-Razak Mohammed Zachariah, in a conciliatory gesture, “but Zachariah orders Christakis to understand that the ‘situation right now doesn’t require you to smile’.” Another female student, Alexandra Zina Barlowe”, responding to Christakis’s meek defence of free speech, said, “It doesn’t matter whether you agree or not … It’s not a debate.” Yale subsequently conferred on Barlowe and Zachariah its graduation prize for accomplishment in the “service of race and ethnic relations”.
The real shocker in these and many similar examples is not the behaviour of the student protesters, self-engrossed and feral though it certainly is, but the sycophantic response to and encouragement of it by college administrators. The epidemic of spoilt-brat student behaviour, however caused, could have been stamped out in short order but for the craven virtue-signalling of their “adult” academic mentors.
Much of Part 1 is devoted to subjecting the race-bias fiction—that the relatively poor academic performance of coloured students is caused by “discrimination”—to the copiously documented facts. Mac Donald demonstrates that black students have in fact long been the beneficiaries of a raft of racial preference policies whereby they gain admission to elite institutions with far lower entry qualifications than white or Asian students. In 2003 it was disclosed that “Berkeley had admitted 374 applicants in 2002 with SATs under 1000—almost all of them students of colour—while rejecting 3218 applicants with scores above 1400”. At Arizona State University in 2006, white and black students with the same academic credentials had respectively a 2 per cent and a 96 per cent chance of admission. The white and Asian applicants were the real victims.
There is occasional light relief in this depressing catalogue of misguided social engineering. When Berkeley tried to get round California’s 1996 Proposition 209 bar on racial preference, by substituting low-income preference instead, “the device backfired when it yielded a wealth of Eastern European and Vietnamese admits—not the kind of ‘diversity’ that the university had in mind”.
The evidence Mac Donald marshals, about the pointless but self-serving antics of a vast and ever-expanding multi-billion-dollar campus “diversity” bureaucracy, comes so thick and fast that one needs to put down the book for regular head-scratching breaks to ponder just how this pampered world of the academy managed to so disappear up itself without the wider public speaking out against it. She takes the words from your mouth when she asks, “Are there any grown-ups left on campus, at least in the administrative offices?” She makes a convincing case that this multi-billion-dollar campus bureaucracy is likely to have harmed the interests of as many students of colour as it has helped. A study in 2004 found that, by pushing black students with relatively low SAT scores into the most elite law schools, affirmative action actually had the effect of reducing the number of qualified black lawyers. “As such findings mount, the conclusion will become inescapable: College leaders who embrace affirmative action do so simply to flatter their own egos so that they can gaze upon their ‘diverse’ realm and bask in their noblesse oblige.” It is telling that her numerous invitations to university administrators to counter her research have yielded no rebuttals, only windy sidestepping rhetoric on the (now discredited) “implicit bias” concept and the need for “safe”, “secure” learning environments for minority students.
I suspect that, in the unlikely event of The Diversity Delusion being read by anyone on the Left, they too would mentally airbrush the evidence away. All of us—but some more than others—are capable of ignoring uncongenial truths. People who buy into the diversity delusion do so in spite of such evidence as does occasionally manage to jump the liberal media PC cordon. And they do so in their millions, not only in the academy but (in diluted form) much of the graduate, professional Western middle class as well. The roots of this are twofold; first, the seductive payback of virtue-signalling—of feeling more-caring-than-thou—and second the seductive and effortless illusion of knowledge to be had from a wholesale adoption of bien pensant groupthink. (It is my impression that this bien pensant monoculture is actually less all-pervading in the US than in many other Western societies because of America’s more evenly matched—CNN/Fox/Cable—political discourse, putting it less under the yoke of an opinion-forming liberal monolith like the BBC and ABC.)
Occasionally Mac Donald takes a break from the evidence coalface to make some pithy observations that should be obvious to everyone: to have a place at an elite university is (black or white) to be a very privileged human being indeed. Commenting on UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s nauseating chastisement of his own institution for its reluctance to have “conversations about race”, she observes:
UCLA spends vast amounts of time having “conversations about race”. But if it wants even more, a good place to start would be with some facts. He could rebut the baseless allegation that UCLA deliberately destroys blacks’ “dreams”. He could lay out the vast academic-achievement gap, whose existence demolishes the claim that the absence of racial proportionality in the student body results from bias. Most important, he could provide a dose of reality. “This campus is one of the world’s most enviable educational institutions,” he could say, “whose academic splendours lie open to all its students. You will never again have as ready an opportunity to absorb knowledge. You are surrounded by well-meaning, compassionate faculty who only want to help you.”
Chapter 5 moves the story of phantom racism on to how “social justice” fads, spawned in the hothouse of academe, leach into the world beyond. It presents copious details of how vast police budget resources are diverted from tackling crime to a gravy-train bureaucracy “helping” to combat an institutional race bias that is virtually non-existent. A study by Stanford University on racial profiling in police-stops by the Oakland Police Department uncovered no significant “implicit bias” but “managed to run to nearly four hundred pages without ever disclosing black and white crime rates in Oakland. (Hint: they are vastly disparate).” Mac Donald also makes the observation that, contrary to the race discrimination narrative, “suitably qualified blacks will be snapped up in an instant by every tech firm and academic department across the country [as will] competitively qualified black lawyers, accountants and portfolio managers”. But for the poisonous myth-making of the race bias industry, most white people would, I believe, be pleased for them.
Part 2, “Gender”, documents the desperate efforts of the billion-dollar campus rape industry to inflate rape statistics in the face of a pesky dearth of corroborating data from female students themselves. It amounts to: “Please, please tell us you have been raped. What if we change the definition; then will you feel you have been raped?” Mac Donald comments that, if the rape epidemic scare actually came to be widely believed, “college administrators would turn on a dime and affirm the obvious, that their colleges are blessedly violence-free zones”. And she notes the irony that this self-same bureaucracy encompasses a “dour anti-male feminism” hand in hand with “sexpert” services—tips on sex games and techniques—to facilitate students’ promiscuity. One student who gained minor celebrity as “the mattress girl” (when she took to carrying a dormitory mattress on her back in protest against the failure of her rape allegation against a fellow student) actually received academic credit for this stunt and “earned rapturous accolades from the campus-rape industry”. The facts: “After her alleged rape, she emailed her alleged rapist, begging to get together again … A week later she suggested they hang out together: ‘I want to see yoyououoyou’.” This collision of the rape phantasm and the promiscuous hook-up culture has also spawned a legal bonanza:
Risk management consultants travel the country to help colleges craft legal rules for student sexual congress. These rules presume that an activity originating in inchoate desire, whose nuances have taxed the expressive powers of poets, artists and philosophers for centuries, can be reduced to a species of commercial code.
Chapter 8, “The Fainting Couch at Columbia”, describes a draconian “Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative” now imposed on all Columbia University students with dire consequences for anyone who opts out, feeling that their time would be better spent studying. And any gender bureaucracy worth its salt needs to stay ahead of the curve on “transgender rights”:
Narcissistic students are now coequal drivers with their professors when it comes to rapidly evolving victim theory. By one count there are now 117 categories of gender identity, many of those developed by students struggling to find some last way to be transgressive in an environment where their every self-involved claim of victimhood is met with tender attention and apologies from the campus diversity bureaucracy.
This from Part 3, “The Bureaucracy”, is its own commentary:
This new [vice-chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion] would augment UC San Diego’s already massive apparatus, which included the Chancellor’s Diversity Office; the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity; the assistant vice chancellor for diversity; the chief diversity officer; the director of development for diversity initiatives; the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity; the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues; the Committee on the Status of Women; the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion; the Diversity Council; and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.
Chapter 11, “How Identity Politics is Harming the Sciences”, is a huge trove of data on the self-harming “identity” obsession now spreading to the science and technology (STEM) academy and much of corporate America too. The National Science Foundation has established its “Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science” (INCLUDES) initiative to bankroll “fundamental research in the science [sic] of broadening participation”. Mac Donald comments dryly that “somehow NSF-backed scientists managed to rack up more than two hundred Nobel prizes before the agency realised that scientific progress depends on ‘diversity’”. A study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science found “systemic anti-LGBTQ bias within STEM industry and academia”. The notorious James Damore Google discrimination lawsuit revealed an instance where an employee was reprimanded for pointing out that white males are actually underrepresented at Google: “Being absolutely correct is inappropriate” when it comes to “discussions of race and justice”, he was told. Meanwhile, “driven by unapologetic meritocracy, China is catching up to the United States in science and technology. Identity politics in American science is a political self-indulgence we cannot afford.”
Chapter 13 describes the current clamour in humanities departments to insulate students from having to read any works by the “white, male patriarchy”: courses in Shakespeare ditched in favour of compulsory Gender, Race, Disability, Sexuality and Imperialism modules. In contrast to this virtual book-burning frenzy in the corrupted academy, Chapter 14 takes a more optimistic look at evidence that a healthy appetite for learning about the West’s cultural treasures continues to exist in the real world outside of universities.
Few of those who would derive the most benefit from reading Heather Mac Donald’s book will ever do so; the curiosity instinct needed to fact-check received narratives being ever in short supply. The Diversity Delusion is packed with incontrovertible facts and unanswerable arguments and yet, were it to be widely read, it would be considered highly controversial by professional “educators” and other bien pensants in their millions, right across the Western world.
The only possible mitigation of this wilful blindness is that in decades past, white people tended to look down on coloured people and women were not afforded equal status with men. But only a staggeringly unobservant person could fail to notice that these former prejudices have eroded almost to zero and are being replaced by new mirror-image ones. The Diversity Delusion is primarily a book of facts, not propositions, but there is an inevitable current of exasperation running through it. Mac Donald offers no realistic, politically deliverable remedies to the madness she records, because of course there are none, given the Western zeitgeist.
But, in the long run, change (unbidden change) will eventually come, as history always shows. It may be, for example, that the humanities and social sciences academy will disappear up itself to the point of its eventual extinction. This report from City Journal in April may be a harbinger:
This weekend, more than 14,000 academics gather in Toronto to share their research for the American Education Research Association’s annual conference. A keyword search of the conference program reveals 422 hits for whiteness—more than for [all others] combined. A symposium promises to explore “the experience of teachers and education leaders who work to undo whiteness in public schools”. A featured paper in that session is “Critical-Race Elementary Schooling: Teacher Change Agents are Undoing Whiteness in Elementary Schools” and celebrates teachers who “actively resist elements of whiteness”.
No explanation is proffered in The Diversity Delusion as to why Western civilisation is doing this to itself. The reasons are surely complex but perhaps the gathering together, in campus hothouses, of over-cosseted people, entirely unmoored from the real world, has something to do with it. The world we inhabit is more benign than the world imagined by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four but it has enough parallels for him to be judged a seer. Speaking personally, my own life is hugely preferable to, and safer than, Winston Smith’s, but little of the content of this essay could be spoken to many of my friends, family or professional colleagues without serious discord. And some things I might wish to say are probably against the law. When the historians of some future civilisation come to research how Western civilisation came to eviscerate itself in the twenty-first century, they will find in Heather Mac Donald’s book a compact and accessible source of answers to many of their questions.
The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture
by Heather Mac Donald
St Martin’s Press, 2018, 288 pages, $57.99
Graham Cunningham is a British writer of occasional essays and poems. He has contributed to conservative-leaning journals in Britain, Australia and America.