Posted on July 18, 2020

The ‘Diversity’ Trap

Zaid Jilani, Tablet Magazine, June 29, 2020

A shallow, reductive version of diversity that first gained a foothold in progressive political spaces has rapidly spread across American institutions and the corporate world. It values skin color and other inherited characteristics above all else, largely ignores class issues, and overlooks the benefits of real diversity, like the anti-fragile resilience created by fostering people with different viewpoints. Yet, despite the many flaws and dangers of this new orthodoxy—or perhaps because of them—anyone who challenges it, risks damage to their career and social life.

Just look at the case of Denise Young Smith. Young Smith spent almost two decades working her way up in Apple, becoming one of the few black people to ever reach its executive team. She was named vice president of diversity and inclusion, and in 2017 traveled to the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia.

At the summit, she was asked by a reporter whether black women would be a priority in her new role promoting diversity in the company. In her answer, she described a lonely rise through the ranks: “I’ve been black and a woman for a long time. I have been a first, I’ve been an only,” she said. She talked about hearing from other black women in the industry who shared stories about people assuming they were the assistant or secretary rather than the manager.

Her words were a powerful testament to anyone who has ever been stereotyped or been on the receiving end of low expectations due to the color of their skin.

But then, despite all her years of hard work and accomplishments, she made a fatal mistake and breached the etiquette of high liberalism’s diversity culture. “You asked me about my work at Apple, or in particular, who do I focus on?” she said to the reporter. “I focus on everyone. Diversity is the human experience. I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color or the women or the LGBT or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around … Because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads,” she replied.

Then she uttered the sentence that really got her into trouble: “And I’ve often told people a story—there can be 12 white blue-eyed blond men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” she noted.

Within a week, the uproar over her comments forced Young Smith to write an apology. A few weeks later, her departure from the company was announced. She was replaced by Christie Smith, a white woman.

Neither Apple nor Young Smith has directly connected her departure to the controversy over her comments but they didn’t have to for the point to be made. The contemporary “diversity culture,” which I had first witnessed in progressive organizations, has spread across the entire corporate world and is enforced by a highly educated activist class. And what the culture dictated in this case was that Young Smith had to be punished for stating an obvious moral truth—that people are individuals, whose experiences and identities are not reducible to their race or outward appearance. Her humiliation served as an example and a warning to others: If a black female executive could be defenestrated for expressing the mildest criticism of the high-liberal definition of diversity as a matter purely of inherited background, then anyone could be.

My entire professional life, I’ve been a member of the progressive-industrial complex, jumping from think tanks to political action committees to left-wing publications and nonprofits. A few years ago, a troubling thought occurred to me: Had I ever been hired because of my ethnic or religious background?

I’ve worked in so many different organizations that touted their commitment to racial and ethnic diversity that I wondered if some well-meaning liberal hiring manager could have brought me onboard, not because they judged me the most qualified for the job, but because they thought my name and appearance would shore up their public image among other high-culture liberals.


{snip} Within the rarefied environment of professional progressivism, racial diversity is not only seen as an inherent good, it is increasingly demanded by younger staffers and necessary to maintain status and reputation with the public. And what was once an ethos unique to progressive spaces has spread throughout the wider white-collar economy, as corporations spend billions of dollars promoting racial diversity.


While liberal diversity culture can go as far as advocating for outright racial quotas, there is very little discussion of promoting differing modes of thought or true multiculturalism. In fact, in the progressive spaces where I have worked, it increasingly appears that the desired outcome is for employees to look different but think exactly the same; the end state is a monoculture that defeats the whole point of meaningful diversity. {snip}


Like Obama, I want to take satisfaction in my accomplishments without thinking that I was given any advantage due to the color of my skin.

And it turns out, I’m not alone. A recent Pew poll shows that 74% of Americans say companies should make decisions about hiring and promotions by only taking a person’s qualifications into account, “even if it results in less diversity”—that includes a majority of every single racial group. By a similar margin, Americans oppose the use of racial preferences in college admissions.