All over official Washington, D.C., the big buzzword these days is “Diversity.” Cultural Diversity is not only the latest certified Wonderful Thing, it is Inevitable; and our arbiters of conscience have elevated it to the status of a sacrament.
As a result, Washington office workers are constantly subjected to important events like American Indian Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, etc., etc. Each has its posters, slogans, hall displays, “festivals,” strange food in the cafeteria, and so on. We are bombarded with blather about Gorgeous Mosaics, Rainbow Societies, Toleration, Dignity, and, of course, that most sacred of all buzzwords, Change. Gorgeous Mosaics do have their limits, though. Asking when we’ll see an Anglo-Saxon Heritage Month gets you nothing but a hard stare.
Despite, or maybe because of, the Inevitability and manifest goodness of Diversity, the Establishment tolerates no criticism of it. The Department of Agriculture recently decreed that conformance to “Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights goals and objectives” is a critical element of every USDA bureaucrat’s performance. In plain English, this means that you can get a permanent black mark on your job performance record just for criticizing the current policy of favoritism toward nonwhites, or even for telling an ethnic joke.
This was all well under way during the Bush administration, but things took a decided turn for the worse when the barefoot boy from Hot Springs and his grisly crew took over. Rumor has it that when new Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, the former congressman from Mississippi who later got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, first toured the department’s Washington buildings, he complained of seeing “too many fat, middle-aged white guys.” True or not, the nouveau regime wasted no time implementing an aggressive but undeclared new policy: no new Civil Service jobs or promotions for able-bodied white males. White men whose promotions were not final saw them revoked and given to members of accredited victim groups.
The ban does not extend to patronage appointments, of course, so white Civil Service employees must endure the spectacle of overpaid middle-aged white guys lying through their teeth about white male job prospects and pontificating about the glories of Diversity and Change. Joining in this conspiracy are upper-level Civil Service white guys, frantically toadying in hopes that their own high-paying jobs will not be wiped out as this administration Reinvents Government.
It was in this spirit that the department mounted the “USDA Work Force Diversity Conference: Managing Work Force 2000, Challenges and Opportunities.” It took up two full days at Washington, D.C.’s convention center, a great tomb of a building near the Martin
Luther King main library, a favorite haunt of local derelicts. Incidentally, the panhandlers infesting the city have enthusiastically latched on to the new zeitgeist. One day, walking home from the Metro station, I was accosted by a character who got mad when I wouldn’t give him any money. He followed me for two blocks, calling me a racist. “We been oppressed for centuries!” he screamed. “My grandmother was a slave! I’m entitled to some relaxation!”
The first speaker, a Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, D.B.A., informed us that achieving Diversity means helping out everybody but white males. Moreover, he said, affirmative action, or quotas, is not good enough, because it “assumes conformity.” Dr. Thomas sees a Diverse work place as a jar of jelly beans. “You have red jelly beans. And you have purple and yellow jelly beans. Do you have an appropriate mixture of jelly beans at each level? ”He pointed out that, because red jelly beans are the dominant confections in the jar, many purple and yellow jelly beans have become assimilated, or transformed. They have almost become red, so the diversity in the jar is only “surface” diversity. This is double-plus ungood. Therefore, we must learn to “value” true Diversity, and “create an environment for each jelly bean,” so that it will feel at home and not have an identity crisis. As Dave Barry might say, I’m not making this up.
Just what “creating an environment” means he explained with a new metaphor. A giraffe invites his friend the elephant over to his house, and asks him to make himself at home. The elephant has trouble, and damages the house because he’s too heavy for the stairs, too wide for the doors, and soon. Now, in my own humble opinion, the giraffe ought to put his friend up in a hotel for the night. But no. According to Dr. Thomas, the only moral thing for the giraffe to do is rebuild his entire house to accommodate the elephant. I’m not making this up, either.
The conference moderator then told us that the USDA does not have an “appropriate house,” and that it will have to be rebuilt. It will be up to the department to accommodate itself to different cultures, disabilities, and, ominously, “preferences.” Of course, what this often means in practice is putting people in positions that they are not competent to fill, a policy whose effects are already felt in the Department of Agriculture. Take Dayton Watkins, for instance. A former senior official with the District of Columbia Housing Authority, he was given a job as Acting Administrator of the USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Development Service around the same time his former place of employment was taken over by a federal court due to gross mismanagement.
Then there’s Sharron Longino, USDA’s version of Joycelyn Elders. She worked in a bottom-feeding job as a constituent caseworker for now-former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy when he was a congressman from Mississippi. When he hit it big, she was put in charge of the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), a huge agency responsible for administering over $50 billion in farm and rural housing loans. According to sources there, she hinted that she was an attorney, but it was quickly learned that her highest degree was from a secretarial school. She soon became infamous for Elders-style bombast, earning the nickname “Rocket” for her leisurely pace and limited grasp of finance and administration. She dressed down one field officer because the agency didn’t have enough delinquent loans in his state.
Lunchtime enlightenment was provided by a professional disabled woman named Evelyne Villines, “Member Emeritus of the resident’s Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities,” according to the conference brochure. Her presentation was almost maudlin enough to make a sensitive person lose his ration of vegetarian pasta. She wailed about the injustice of her affliction, polio, and how when she was a child they wouldn’t let her cry in the hospital. She complained that she hadn’t received enough hugs, and pointed out that each of us needs four hugs a day to stay alive, eight for maintenance, and twelve to “grow.” She dredged up every indignity ever inflicted on her by insensitive, rude, and stupid people. “You will never understand the pain I suffered!” she cried. This was one angry woman.
Mrs. Villines described how, during the Disabled March on Washington, she had walked with her son on the Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial, where the marchers were bivouacked, and how man of them crowded around and “kissed my hand in gratitude for my testimony” before Congress in support of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Then, she told us (so help me), her son laid aside her crutches, took her in his arms, and carried her up the steps of the Memorial to the Great Emancipator, telling her, “God gave me to you so I could do this for you tonight.” She exited to a standing ovation, through which I sat astonished, like Miss Manners at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Next were “workshops” with titles like “Growing Diversity in the Work Force,” “Diversity in the Workplace: Who Benefits? WhoChanges?” “Cross-Gender Communication,” etc. I got to go to one entitled “Developing and Managing a Culturally Diverse Work Force: Tools for Achieving Diversity.” This purported to provide “Tools, strategies, and models for assessing, developing, managing, and monitoring an organization to achieve a healthy, culturally diverse work force.” In reality, it did nothing of the kind.
The “Growing Diversity” workshop was led by a Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, who is a professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine and the director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. His doctorate is in “Medical Sociology,” whatever that is. In a nutshell, Dr. Hayes-Bautista’s message was: we’re taking over, so get used to it. He announced triumphantly that Anglos in California would be a minority by the year 2000, and spoke of the new “Emergent Majority” for whose domination we must prepare. Preparation means “developing and maintaining Diversity” through“ recruitment, retention, professional development, and succession planning.” Translated, this means that employers must go out, find, and recruit enough employees belonging to the right ethnic groups, do whatever it takes to make them like their jobs, and refrain from firing them for whatever reason. They must give these employees whatever training and education they require to actually do their work, promote them whether they are any good or not, and make room for them at the top so that they can assume their rightful places there. Good work habits must, of course, be “elicited, not coerced.”
The good doctor did not, as promised, tell us how to accomplish all this. Instead, he spent his time attacking critics of multiculturalism. He projected a slide of a National Review cover published after the L.A. riots, with a photo of a man, possibly Hispanic, walking away from a burning store with a huge case of Coca-Cola. The headline said “How to Get a Week’s Groceries Absolutely Free, Plus $600 Million in Federal Aid.” This, he pointed out, was typical of the intolerant majority attitude. For example, the fellow in the picture was not carrying any nutritious food at all, only soft drinks. “I hope this gentleman got his week’s worth of groceries,” he said.
The descent into silliness accelerated the next morning with a presentation by a Mr. David Crocker, who runs a firm that, in the lilting language of the conference brochure, “specializes in the design, development, and presentation of lectures, seminars, and training programs to enhance executive, management, and organizational effectiveness.” Like the others, Mr. Crocker railed about bad attitudes on the part of white people, using as a rather perplexing illustration a news story about “two men robbing a store.” They must be white, he pointed out, because if they were black, the news media would say “two black men.”
Hiring people by ethnic group according to the makeup of the local population is not good enough, he informed us. “I measure my people by Diversity!” he declaimed, and told us that one must scour the country, if necessary, perhaps even relocate, to relieve the lily-whiteness of one’s workplace. “Can’t find no black people in Minneapolis?” he roared. “Gotta go to a black university!” He enlivened his tirade with bewildering predictions about how the “chain of command” is obsolete and will be replaced by a “spider web.”
But the best was yet to come. Our lunchtime speaker was to be David Pearce Snyder, the “Life-Styles Editor” of The Futurist magazine. Mr. Snyder, a bearded, excitable man, was in triumphalist ecstasies about the coming Information Age. According to him, the new Information Highway will Revolutionize Society, and “a Cornucopia of the Benefits of Technology is going to Sweep Down On Us.” As we pecked at our tiny portions of broiled fish and shredded zucchini, Mr. Snyder regaled us with his vision of America’s imminent metamorphosis into Utopia. He told us that the problems of poverty, high crime, societal upheaval, and so on, are the result of the “transition to an infomated society.” It is this transition that is responsible for the rise of the neo-Nazis in Europe, the National Front in Britain, and, of course, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. This “transformation process” will climax in the flowering of a new age. A restructured economy will provide custom-tailored goods to everyone, and dramatically increase our standard of living. The “infomated” society will custom-tailor a place for everyone, of whatever race, culture, or disability. Of course, this means that America will thrive on Diversity.
Mr. Snyder became increasingly energetic. He waved his arms. He made little fists. Hierarchical companies and organizations will be Reinvented as collections of teams, he told us. USDA’s job, he said, will be to use the Information Highway to Retool Government and Reinvent Agriculture. “Let’s turn agriculture into the first sector of the economy that’s completely infomated!” he exhorted. In our holy quest for the next higher plane of existence. Diversity will be invaluable, according to Mr. Snyder. It “gives a yeasty tension” to society. It is the “key to exceptionality.” It gives us our moral standing and leadership in the world. Because of it, in fact, “we are the world!”
Sure, he admitted, the transition will be difficult. So, he said, the Revolution must have the power to “break legs.” Besides, he proclaimed, “the Founding Fathers never said it would be easy to be the World’s Greatest Society.” He wound up by evoking the travails of the Pioneers, and quoting “our greatest Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin [Benjamin Franklin?]: ‘Given the difficulty, it is worth the candle!'” before subsiding to thunderous applause.
There was more, but I didn’t stick around to see it. Instead I staggered outside, half expecting to exit into a Martian landscape with purple sky and chartreuse clouds, but finding instead the same old decrepit D.C. downtown, winos and all. That night I started updating my resume, which now begins David Wright-Lopez.
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