If diversity is the cure for racism, why, instead of promoting racial harmony, has it brought racial division and conflict?

It is now taken as a virtual axiom that the way to cure racism is through the promulgation of racial and ethnic diversity within corporations, universities, government agencies and other institutions. The diversity movement has many facets: diversity awareness, diversity training, diversity hiring and admissions, diversity promotions, and diversity accommodations (e.g., black student organizations and facilities at universities). The common feature in all these facets is: racial preference.

If diversity is the cure, however, why, instead of promoting racial harmony, has it brought racial division and conflict? The answer is not hard to discover. The unshakable fact is that you cannot cure racism with racism. To accept the diversity premise means to think in racial terms rather than in terms of individual character or merit. Taking jobs away from one group in order to compensate a second group to correct injustices caused by a third group who mistreated a fourth group at an earlier point in history (e.g., 1860) is absurd on the face of it and does not promote justice; rather, it does the opposite. Singling out one group for special favors (e.g., through affirmative action) breeds justified resentment and fuels the prejudices of real racists. People are individuals; they are not interchangeable ciphers in an amorphous collective.

Consider a more concrete, though fictional, example. Suppose that since its creation in 1936, the XYZ Corporation refused to hire redheaded men due to a quirky bias on the part of its founder. The founder now dies and an enlightened Board of Directors decides that something “positive” needs to be done to compensate for past injustices and announces that, henceforth, redheads will be hired on a preferential basis. Observe that: (1) this does not help the real victims–the previously excluded redheads; (2) the newly favored redheads have not been victims of discrimination in hiring, yet unfairly benefit from it; and (3) the non-redheads who are now excluded from jobs due to the redhead preference did not cause the previous discrimination and are now unfairly made victims of it. The proper solution, of course, is simply to stop discriminating based on irrelevant factors. Although redheaded bias is not a social problem, the principle does not change when you replace hair color with skin color.

The traditional and essentially correct solution to the problem of racism has always been color-blindness. But this well-intentioned principle comes at the issue negatively. The correct principle is individuality awareness. In the job sphere there are only three essential things an employer needs to know about an individual applicant: (l) Does the person have the relevant ability and knowledge (or the capacity to learn readily)? (2) Is the person willing to exert the needed effort? and (3) Does the person have good character, e.g., honesty, integrity?

It will be argued that the above view is too “idealistic” in that people often make judgments of other people based on non-essential attributes such as skin color, gender, religion, nationality, etc. This, of course, does happen. But the solution is not to abandon the ideal but to implement it consistently. Thus, organizational training should focus not on diversity-worship but on how to objectively assess or measure ability, motivation and character in other people.

The proper alternative to diversity, that is, to focusing on the collective, is to focus on the individual and to treat each individual according to his or her own merits. Americans have always abhorred the concept of royalty, that is, granting status and privilege based on one’s hereditary caste, because it contradicts the principle that what counts are the self-made characteristics possessed by each individual. Americans should abhor racism, in any form, for the same reason.

With a few heroic exceptions, such as Nucor and Cypress Semiconductor, which have defied quota pressures, business leaders (following the intellectuals) have been terror-stricken at the thought that there is any alternative to diversity. Their belief–that you can cure racism with racial quotas–is a hopeless quest with nothing but increased conflict and injustice as the end. It is time that business leaders find the courage to assert and defend the only true antidote to the problem of racism: individualism.

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Edwin A Locke

Edwin A. Locke is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. He is author of The Prime Movers.

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