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Little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society

Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway, although what made it famous -- or at least made Hemingway famously repeat it -- was not the remark itself but Hemingway's reply: Fitzgerald's mistake, he thought, was that he mythologized or sentimentalized the rich, treating them as if they were a different kind of person instead of the same kind of person with more money.

That's why in The Great Gatsby, the fact that Gatsby has made a great deal of money isn't quite enough to win Daisy Buchanan back. The change of name is what matters. One way to look at The Great Gatsby is as a story about a poor boy who makes good, which is to say, a poor boy who becomes rich -- the so-called American Dream.

But Gatsby is not really about someone who makes a lot of money; it is instead about someone who tries and fails to change who he is.

Or, more precisely, it's about someone who pretends to be something he's not; it's about Jimmy Gatz pretending to be Jay Gatsby. Jimmy Gatz isn't quite white enough. What's important about The Great Gatsby, then, is little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society it takes one kind of difference the difference between the rich and the poor and redescribes it as another kind of difference the difference between the white and the not-so-white.

To put the point more generally, books like The Great Gatsby and there have been a great many of them give us a vision of our society divided into races rather than into economic classes. And this vision has proven to be extraordinarily attractive. Indeed, it has survived even though what we used to think were the races have not.

In the 1920s, racial science was little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society its heyday; now very few scientists believe that there are any such things as races.

But many of those who are quick to remind us little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society there are no biological entities called races are even quicker to remind us that races have not disappeared; they should just be understood as social entities instead.

And these social entities have turned out to be remarkably tenacious, both in ways we know are bad and in ways we have come to think of as good. The bad ways involve racism, the inability or refusal to accept people who are different from us.

The good ways involve just the opposite: It was not asserting that preference in admissions could be given, say, to black people because they had previously been discriminated against. It was saying instead that little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society had a legitimate interest in taking race into account in exactly the same way they had a legitimate interest in taking into account what part of the country an applicant came from or what his or her nonacademic interests were.

Two things happened here. First, even though the concept of diversity was not originally connected with race universities had long sought diverse student bodies without worrying about race at allthe two now came to be firmly associated. When universities publish their diversity statistics today, they're not talking about how many kids come from Oregon.

My university -- the University of Illinois at Chicago -- is ranked as one of the most diverse in the country, but well over half the students in it come from Chicago. What the rankings measure is the number of African Americans and Asian Americans and Latinos we have, not the number of Chicagoans. And, second, even though the concept of diversity was introduced as a kind of end run around the historical problem of racism the whole point was that you could argue for the desirability of a diverse student body without appealing to the history of discrimination against blacks and so without getting accused by people like Alan Bakke of reverse discrimination against whitesthe commitment to diversity became deeply associated with the struggle against racism.

Instead of trying to treat people as if their race didn't matter, we would not only recognize but celebrate racial identity. Indeed, race has turned out to be a gateway drug for all kinds of identities, cultural, religious, sexual, even medical.

We don't think black people should want to stop being black; why do we assume the deaf want to hear? Our commitment to diversity has thus redefined little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society opposition to discrimination as the appreciation rather than the elimination of difference.

So with respect to race, the idea is not just that racism is a bad thing which of course it is but that race itself is a good thing.

The Trouble With Diversity

And what makes it a good thing is that it's not class. We love race -- we love identity -- because we don't love class. We love thinking that the differences that divide us are not the differences between those of us who have money and those who don't but are instead the differences between those of us who are black and those who are white or Asian or Latino or whatever. A world where some of us don't have enough money is a world where the differences between us present a problem: A world where some little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society us are black and some of us are white -- or bi-racial or Native American or transgendered -- is a world where the differences between us present a solution: So we like to talk about the differences we can appreciate, and we don't like to talk about the ones we can't.

Indeed, we don't even like to acknowledge that they exist. As survey after survey has shown, Americans are very reluctant to identify themselves as belonging to the lower class and even more reluctant to identify themselves as belonging to the upper class.

The class we like is the middle class. But the fact that we all like to think of ourselves as belonging to the same class doesn't, of course, mean that we actually do belong to the same class. In reality, we obviously and increasingly don't. And while it's not surprising that most of the rich and their apologists on the intellectual right are unperturbed by this development, it is at least a little surprising that the intellectual left has managed to remain almost equally unperturbed.

Giving priority to issues like affirmative action and committing itself to the celebration of difference, little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society intellectual left has responded to the increase in economic inequality by insisting on the importance of cultural identity.

So for 30 years, while the gap between the rich and the poor has grown larger, we've been urged to respect people's identities -- as if the problem of poverty would be solved if we just appreciated the poor. From the economic standpoint, however, what poor people want is not to contribute to diversity but to minimize their contribution to it -- they want to stop being poor. Celebrating the diversity of American life has become the American left's way of accepting their poverty, of accepting inequality.

The American love affair with race -- especially when you can dress race up as culture -- has continued and even intensified. Almost everything we say about culture that the significant differences between us are cultural, that such differences should be respected, that our cultural heritages should be perpetuated, that there's a value in making sure that different cultures survive seems little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society me mistaken.

We must shift our focus from cultural diversity to economic equality to help alter the political terrain of contemporary American intellectual life.

About the Author

In the last year, it has sometimes seemed as if this terrain might in fact be starting to change, and there has been what at least looks like the beginning of a new interest in the problem of economic inequality. Various newspapers have run series noticing the growth of inequality and the decline of class mobility; it turns out, for example, that the Gatsby-style American Dream -- poor boy makes good, buys beautiful, beautiful shirts -- now has a better chance of coming true in Sweden than it does in America, and as good a chance of coming true in western Europe which is to say, not very good as it does here.

People have begun to notice also that the intensity of interest in the race of students in our universities has coincided with more or less complete indifference to their wealth. We're getting to the point where there are more black people than poor people in elite universities even though there are still precious few black people.

And Hurricane Katrina -- with its televised images of the people left to fend for themselves in a drowning New Orleans -- provided both a reminder that there still are poor people in America and a vision of little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society the consequences of that poverty can be. At the same time, however, the understanding of these issues has proven to be more a symptom of the problem than a diagnosis. In the Class Matters series in The New York Times, for example, the differences that mattered most turned out to be the little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society between the rich and the really rich and between the old rich and the new rich.

Indeed, at one point, the Times started treating class not as an issue to be addressed in addition to race but as little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society a version of race, as if the rich and poor really were different races and so as if the occasional marriage between them were a kind of interracial marriage. But classes are not like races and cultures, and treating them as if they were -- different but equal -- is one of our strategies for managing inequality rather than minimizing or eliminating it.

White is not better than black, but rich is definitely better than poor. Poor people are an endangered species in elite universities not because the universities put quotas on them as they did with Jews in the old days and not even because they can't afford to go to them Harvard will lend you or even give you the money you need to go there but because they can't get into them.

And the kinds of solutions that might actually make a difference -- financing every school district equally, abolishing private schools, making high-quality child care available to every family -- are treated as if they were positively un-American.

But nobody doubts that George Bush cares about Condoleezza Rice, who is very much a black person and who is fond of pointing out that she's been black since birth. And there are, of course, lots of other black people -- like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell and Janice Rogers Brown and, at least once little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society a time, Colin Powell -- for whom George Bush almost certainly has warm feelings.

But what American liberals want is for our conservatives to be racists. We want a fictional George Bush who doesn't care about black people rather than the George Bush we've actually got, one who doesn't care about poor people.

Although that's not quite the right way to put it. First because, for all I know, George Bush does care about poor people; at least he cares as much about poor people as anyone else does. What he doesn't care about -- and what Bill Clinton, judging by his eight years in office, didn't much care about, and what John Kerry, judging from little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society presidential campaign, doesn't much care about, and what we on the so called left, judging by our willingness to accept Kerry as the alternative to Bush, don't care about either -- is taking any steps to get them to stop being poor.

We would much rather get rid of racism than get rid of poverty. And we would much rather celebrate cultural diversity than seek to establish economic equality. Indeed, diversity has become virtually a sacred concept in American life today.

No one's really against it; people tend instead to differ only in their degrees of enthusiasm for it and their ingenuity in pursuing it. Microsoft, for example, is very ingenious indeed. What if the diversity of thought is about your sales plan? Are you supposed to reach agreement but that would eliminate diversity or celebrate disagreement but that would eliminate the sales plan? But it's not all about the benjamins. And there's no money for the Asians, Indians, blacks, and women whose history gets honored.

In fact, the closest thing we have to a holiday that addresses economic inequality instead of little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society is Labor Day, which is a product not of the multicultural cheerleading at the end of the 20th century but of the labor unrest at the end of the 19th. The union workers who took a day off to protest President Grover Cleveland's deployment of 12,000 troops to break the Pullman strike weren't campaigning to have their otherness respected. Obviously, it didn't work out that way, either for labor which is weaker than it's ever been or for Labor Day which mainly marks the end of summer.

You get bigger crowds, a lot livelier party and a much stronger sense of solidarity for Gay Pride Day. But Gay Pride Day isn't about economic equality, and celebrating diversity shouldn't be an acceptable alternative to seeking economic equality. In an ideal universe we wouldn't be celebrating diversity at all -- we wouldn't even be encouraging it -- because in an ideal universe the question of who you little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society to sleep with would be a matter of concern only to you and to your loved or unloved ones.

As would your skin color; some people might like it, some people might not, but it would have no political significance whatsoever.

Diversity of skin color is something we should happily take for granted, the way we do diversity of hair color. No issue of social little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society hangs on appreciating hair color diversity; no issue of social justice hangs on appreciating racial or cultural diversity. If you're worried about the growing economic inequality in American life, if you suspect that there may be something unjust as well as unpleasant in the spectacle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, no cause is less worth supporting, no battles are less worth fighting, than the ones we fight for diversity.

It's not just the numbers that wouldn't fly; it's the whole concept.

Long's proposal never became law, but it was popular and debated with some seriousness. Today, such a restriction would seem as outrageous and unnatural as interracial -- not to mention gay -- marriage would have seemed then.

But we don't need to purchase our progress in civil rights at the expense of a commitment to economic justice.

More little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society still, we should not allow -- or we should not continue to allow -- the phantasm of respect for difference to take the place of that commitment to economic justice. And yet, it is the thing we have become most committed to talking about.

From little jimmy and the discrimination and racism in society standpoint of a left politics, this is a profound mistake since what it means is that the political left -- increasingly invested in the celebration of diversity and the redress of historical grievance -- has converted itself into the accomplice rather than the opponent of the right.

Diversity has become the left's way of doing neoliberalism, and antiracism has become the left's contribution to enhancing market efficiency. The old Socialist leader Eugene Debs used to be criticized for being unwilling to interest himself in any social reform that didn't involve attacking economic inequality. The situation now is almost exactly the opposite; the left today obsessively interests itself in issues that have nothing to do with economic inequality.

And, not content with pretending that our real problem is cultural difference rather than economic difference, we have also started to treat economic difference as if it were cultural difference. The trick, in other words, is to stop thinking of poverty as a disadvantage, and once you stop thinking of it as a disadvantage then, of course, you no longer need to worry about getting rid of it.