Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Response to "Teach Diversity--with a Smile"

You will need to read Barbara Ehrenreich, "Teach Diversity - With a Smile". I can't find a link to it, but if you do, please post it in the comments. When I get to it, I'll post it here.


In "Teach Diversity--with a Smile", Barbara Ehrenreich's main point seems to be that multiculturalism and political correctness are being marketed poorly, but despite that, they are improvements over the preexisting philosophy of Western monoculturalism. Or, in other words, she seems to say "multiculturalism isn't as bad as what I had when I was growing up." This is no ringing endorsement by any means, but to make it worse, she makes weak arguments to support her thesis.

Ehrenreich opens by indicating that conservative critics are outrageously overreacting. She sites no sources, but makes vague references to "the media," and "a flock of tenured conservative scholars." It appears as though she's creating 'straw men' critics that don't really exist so that she can put words into their mouths, and then discredit them for having said such things. By this tactic, she writes-off the argument that freedom of speech is under fire by the promoters of "verbal purification."

Replacing one well-intentioned, yet inadequate system for another one doesn't necessarily make the replacement better than the old one. This, however, is exactly the argument that Ehrenreich uses to try to persuade the reader that, multiculturalism, by virtue of by throwing out monoculturalism, must be better. Ehrenreich flashes back to her experiences growing up under the "opression" and "deprivation" of monoculturalism, to illustrate that that it was indeed inadequate. While this may be true--the age she describes was before my time--she does nothing to explain how multiculturalism actually fixes any of the problems she describes.

In the same argument, as if deliberately trying to weaken her point, she claims to be a "victim" of of white educated-class privileges. This simply doesn't carry any weight when compared to real discrimination based on physical disablity, race, religion, or gender.

She DOES, however, recognize that the advocates of political correctness and multiculturalism seem more interested in "fashionable phrases" than taking action. Perhaps she, herself, is actively involved in helping people in disadvantaged statuses, but if such is the case she doesn't indicate it. All she seems to prove is that she is capable of spewing flowery support of multiculturalism.

Finally, after failing to come up with anything actually positive or beneficial that has come from multiculturalism or P.C.-ness, the best Ehrenreich can offer is that both sides of this heavily charged issue of clashing global cultures, is to "lighten up" because it's "livelier and ultimately more fun." These are words that are used to convince friends and roommates to go to a late night party when there's schoolwork to be done. This cannot be held up as a serious argument. To paraphrase Barbara Ehrenreich: Um...like, monoculturalism TOTALLY sucked when I was growing up, but multiculturalism is, like, WAY better, because it's more funner.

I believe Ms. Ehrenreich will indeed continue to "teach diversity--with a smile" of blissful ignorance. As much as she bought into the preching of monoculturalism without critical thought while growing up, she seems to have also swallowed the new doctrine of multiculturalism with equal consideration.


-Wes Larson

1 comment:

John R. & Pat D. said...

Though some years have passed since you requested this, as your essay will come up on searches, I decided to add this link to the article on which you based your response:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,972692,00.html