Does Identity Politics Need More Identities?

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that “seeks to build interfaith cooperation on campus,” has a provocative article on Inside Higher Ed May 20, “The New Campus Culture Wars,” arguing that the campus rage for inclusion, multiculturalism, and diversity has been too narrow.
“Muslim students waking up to chalk drawings mocking the Prophet Muhammad on their college quads,” he writes, “are probably likely wondering why their identity is not a cherished part of the college ethos of inclusiveness.”
When there is a racially demeaning event on a college campus… higher education responds like it’s a five-alarm fire. Administrators organize town hall meetings to discuss the threats to inclusiveness, Presidents send out e-mails to the whole campus calling for racial sensitivity. Faculty committees are formed to submit recommendations on how to make minority students feel welcome. The incident is used, appropriately, as a teachable moment, an opportunity to affirm and expand the university as an inclusive learning environment.
If there was any alarm raised by higher education in response to the chalking Muhammad incidents, it’s been hard to hear.
The issue, Patel insists, is about far more than Muslim sensitivities. “What the race-class-gender-ethnicity-sexuality movement of the 1990s missed was religion.”


The argument — that if religion had not been “missed” by the multiculturalist diversiphiles, it would (and should) have been treated just like race and ethnicity — thus is the obverse of a more familiar argument that I quoted in a blog post on the Separation Of Race And State:
Or consider the current mantra of “diversity.” Harvard law professor [and now Boalt Hall law school dean] Christopher Edley — former White House aide, co-author of President Clinton’s “mend it, don’t end it” review of affirmative action policies, advisor to Clinton’s race commission, fervent advocate of racial preferences (he described Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White as “a crime against humanity”), and advisor to the 2000 Gore campaign — has written that “our rich religious diversity” provides a model for racial diversity. “We are fairly united as one of the most religious nations on earth,” Edley wrote, “but we worship differently, celebrate that fact, and recognize that religious differences should play only a limited role in our social and economic lives. Perhaps a model along these lines is what is needed in race.” (Edley, “Why Talk About Race?” Washington Post OpEd, 7 December 1997, p. C1.)
Indeed it is, I added,
but this “model” suggests a conclusion that Edley and other preferentialists will not like. If ethnic and racial groups are now analogous to religious sects, why should it be permissible for the state to grant preferences to the former when it is clearly prohibited from doing so to the latter?
Why indeed. And those who want to add religion to the ever-growing list of groups and identities to be swaddled by the politically correct arms of inclusiveness also need to answer forthrightly the question that Patel studiously avoided here: if Muslims or Missouri-Synod Lutherans are “underrepresented,” must they also be given the same sort of admissions preferences offered to other “underrepresented” groups? If not, why not? Surely no principle that allows for (or even demands) preferential treatment of, say, Mexican-Americans could coherently proscribe preferences for Muslims.
The only way for peace ever to break out in “The New Campus Culture Wars” over religion is by reviving what Gunnar Myrdal called “the American creed” — treating every individual without regard to race, creed, or color — not by including yet more identities to the privileged, overcrowded reservation where favored groups receive preferential treatment.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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