Remind Me Again–How Is Diversity Our Strength?

In most cases, diversity offers little tangible benefit. It's time to stop pretending that it does.

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America’s air traffic control towers suffer from a stunning lack of diversity—that’s the official position of the Obama Administration’s FAA, which quietly moved to abolish merit-based testing for air traffic controllers two years ago in an attempt to boost the number of women and minorities in the career field. Blacks and Hispanics apparently don’t score as high on the Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT) exam, the test the FAA once used to judge an applicant’s job knowledge. That’s not really a shocker, considering the fact that blacks and Hispanics score lower on every standardized test known to man, including the bar exam, English proficiency tests, the SAT, the ACT and the IQ test. All of the aforementioned tests are racist, you see, because if they weren’t racist all races would achieve identical average scores.

I must say, this new decision makes me feel a lot better about flying. My plane might crash but at least the guys and gals deconflicting airspace will hail from diverse backgrounds. As an occasional airline passenger, I have to say that diversity in the tower is really, really important to me. I mean, really. I lose sleep over it.

The old hiring process was pretty simple—if you earned a degree in air traffic control from an FAA-approved program and scored well on the AT-SAT, you could compete for a slot at the FAA Academy. That process was scrapped in favor of an online biographical questionnaire. Applicants already under consideration were told to begin the application process again. Though they could still get hired, their credentials counted for nothing because that’s not what the FAA was looking for. They wanted compelling life stories.

One recent applicant, Ryan Meryhew, who earned his air traffic controller’s degree and scored a 99.5 on his AT-SAT, would have been a shoo-in under the old system but under the new system he was just another applicant. “It didn’t ask me anything about my college experience, my grades, my scores, (and) my ability for the actual job. It asked me what sports I played in high school. What was my least favorite subject in high school. Nothing related to aviation,” said Meryhew.

For once I want someone to really explain to me what the point of diversity is. Not that I haven’t heard the sales pitch a thousand times—diversity brings different perspectives, diversity makes us well-rounded—but that just isn’t cutting it anymore. I want answers not bromides.

One argument usually made in support of diversity is that it’s a quantity we desperately need in our air traffic control towers—and in our military, police forces, fire departments, boards of directors, etc.—so that they can serve a diverse public. That one might actually have some truth to it though only because certain demographic groups resent white people and don’t want them policing their streets, teaching in their classrooms, etc. Those people are known as black racists, or sometimes brown or yellow racists—and we shouldn’t hesitate to call them that.

But let’s not be afraid to look deeper into the argument that we need a diverse workforce to serve a diverse population. In this formulation, diversity is both the problem and the solution. We need more diversity because diversity. If we weren’t so fabulously diverse, race wouldn’t matter—but because we are, it does.

This kind of circular logic can have odd effects when the demographics of a particular area begin to change. Take Ferguson, Missouri, for example, which was 1% black in 1970 and 67% black in 2010. The racial makeup of the police force lagged behind, which is to be expected because young people are almost always the trailblazers in demographic shifts. In any case, the tragically un-diverse Ferguson PD now needs to adapt itself to the demographics of the community, which will almost certainly mean lowering standards and discriminating against white applicants. It’s their only option if they hope to have a police force diverse enough to serve the diverse population of Ferguson—which isn’t really all that diverse, just black.

Even the military worries that it doesn’t have enough diversity, especially in the most glamorous jobs. Contrary to Hollywood myth, elite military units aren’t filled with tough black dudes from the streets but rather with ordinary-looking white guys like Rob O’Neill and Marcus Luttrell who happen to be mentally tough.

In 2012 journalist Mark Thompson tackled the “problem” of too many white Navy SEALS in Time Magazine: “It’s a fundamental challenge in a democracy with an all-volunteer force: recruits may be drawn from all segments of society, but elite military units…tend to draw from small pools of talent. For the SEALs, that includes athletic young men who are smart and good in the water. For whatever reason, that has led to an overwhelmingly white SEAL force.”

Hmmm…so what are you trying to say, Mr. Thompson? That blacks aren’t smart and they don’t know how to swim, “for whatever reason?” That’s what it sounds like.

But really, who cares what color they are? Thompson attempted to answer that question, trying his best to find a deficiency that only more minority SEALs could meet. “U.S. special operators have long acknowledged they face challenges mixing in with foreign populations because they look so American,” wrote Thompson. This is truly a novel argument for diversity—the SEALs need to get some more color for the sake of camouflage!

I can see where Thompson is going with this. If a SEAL team is operating in Afghanistan or Somalia—or really anywhere outside if Europe, and SEAL teams almost never operate there—a bunch of white guys are going to stick out. Sure, that makes sense. But if camouflage is the goal then we’re going to have to assemble all-Somali teams and all-Afghan teams. On the other hand, a team consisting of a couple of white guys, a couple of black guys, a Mexican, an Eskimo and a Korean will stick out everywhere.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the validity of his premise that looking white means looking American. The United States is (or was) a melting pot and Americans are not a racial or ethnic group. Wouldn’t a diverse group look more American? Yes, I think they would. Thompson comes perilously close to admitting this in the very same article when he quotes from a Navy press release: “Naval Special Warfare is committed to fielding a force that represents the demographics of the nation it serves.” How’s that for a contradiction? The SEALs need to get some diversity so that their demographics resemble those of the nation as a whole, but at the same time they need to quit being so lily white that they stick out as recognizably American.

So there’s your mission, SEALs—look like America but try not to look too American.

The Air Force has similar diversity concerns, especially among its pilots, according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. She has proposed “diversity and inclusion requirements” that sound suspiciously like illegal race and gender quotas. James offered the standard trope for why the service needs more diversity—different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different opinions—before offering this self-defeating argument: “This is not just about how we look. It’s about our readiness and capability to perform in an increasingly uncertain geopolitical environment. To perform, we need top talent. Today we claim the title ‘World’s Greatest Air Force,’ but to remain so, we must learn to be comprehensively inclusive…”

Huh? How can our current Air Force be the “World’s Greatest” if it isn’t diverse in all the places that matter? Clearly, diversity must not be that important. The only way I can square that circle is to conclude that diverse viewpoints aren’t mission essential today but they will be at some later date. If they were mission essential now, our Air Force would be up a creek because it’s way too white and too male, especially among pilots, and we all know that white males are like-minded automatons. That type of lockstep thinking is fine for the time being but that will change. I don’t know how or why it will change but it will—because Secretary James told me so.

Diversity isn’t really a compelling need in most sectors of society. Liberals just tell us that because they hate merit-based hiring. And they’re compulsive liars. Simply hiring the best man (or woman) for the job is anathema to who they are and how they think. It’s time we stopped taking their silly justifications at face value. We need to start asking “why?” What’s the tangible benefit here? It will take courage of course, because to even question diversity hints at bigotry. I, for one, just don’t care anymore.

Benny Huang is a lonely conservative in the very liberal Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He strives to make the world a better place through his writing. He is a veteran.