Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

Creative Time & The Atlantic Day of Ideas: The Trouble with Diversity: An Argument between Walter Benn Michaels & Katha Pollitt, moderated by Scott Stossel

November 18, 2006

Viewing videos on requires Adobe Flash Player 9 or higher.

Get the Flash plugin from


Copy the embed code below to add this video to your site, blog, or profile.

Walter Benn Michaels believes that if there is one thing Americans agree on, it's the value of diversity. Katha Pollitt agrees, but as she wrote in the November 6, 2006 issue of The Nation, that, though "I wanted to admire The Trouble with Diversity, Walter Benn Michael's much discussed polemic against identity politics and economic inequality...right away, I ran into trouble.... Michaels is agressively, almost proudly obtuse about racism and sexism, which he sees as distractions from class struggle." Though our corporation vie for slots in the Diversity top 50, and our universities brag about minority recruiting, and every month is Somebody's History Month, Walter Benn Michaels argues that our enthusiastic celebration of "difference" masks our neglect of America's vast and growing economic divide. Katha Pollitt will take on some of the issues raised by Walter Benn Michaels. For instance, affirmative action in schools, Michaels contends, has not made them more open, it's just guaranteed that the rich kids come in the appropriate colors.

Michaels takes on the many manifestations of our devotion to diversity, from companies apologizing for slavery, to a college president explaining why there aren't more women math professors, to the codes of conduct in the new "humane corporations." Looking at the books we read, the TV shows we watch, and the lawsuits we bring, Michaels shows that diversity has become everyone's sacred cow precisely because it offers a false vision of social justice, one that conveniently costs us nothing. The Trouble with Diversity urges us to start thinking about real justice, about equality instead of diversity.

This event is co-presented by The Atlantic.










About Walter Benn Michaels

Walter Benn Michaels is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Widely noted as one of the founders of the New Historicism, he is the author of Our America and The Shape of the Signifier and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe and n + 1 among other publications.





About Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt's column, "Subject to Debate," appears every other week in The Nation and is frequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. Pollitt has also written essays for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Harper's, Mirabella, Ms., Glamour, Mother Jones, and The New York Times. She has appeared on NPR's Fresh Air and All Things Considered, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, CNN, Dateline NBC and the BBC.




About Scott Stossel

Scott Stossel, managing editor of The Atlantic, has been associated with the magazine since 1992 when, shortly after graduating from Harvard, he joined the staff and helped to launch The Atlantic Online. In 1996, he moved to The American Prospect where, over the course of seven years, he served as associate editor, executive editor, and culture editor. He rejoined the Atlantic staff in 2002 and oversaw the magazine's 2005 move to Washington from Boston. Along with writing and editing, Scott has taught courses in the American Studies Department at Trinity College.