Recent scholarship has thoughtfully considered the negative effect of the diversity rationale on minority identity when that identity is traded-on by white institutions seeking to maximize the social and economic benefits that diversity brings. In contrast, not much has been said about the impact of the diversity rationale on white identity. While it may be true that majority-white institutions of higher education benefit from diversity more than people of color, by, for example, using token images of minorities to market themselves as progressive places, the impact of diversity on white identity formation remains under-theorized. Consideration of the impact of diversity on white identity formation is particularly timely, given the Supreme Court’s forthcoming opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Unlike landmark cases like Brown v. Board, which broke with old narratives about the legitimacy of subordinating Blacks, diversity, as upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger, failed to advance the new narrative. Rather, it returned to the old story, a story about using black and brown bodies for white purposes on white terms, a story about the expendability of those bodies once they were no longer needed, as illustrated by Abigail Fisher’s Supreme Court challenge to the diversity rationale. Moreover, by reinforcing the transparency of white racial identity, as well as emphasizing innocent white racial identity and hyper-individualism, the diversity rationale stunts the development of anti-racist white identity.
Ultimately, the diversity rationale reaffirms notions of racial superiority among Whites. The rationale also cultivates white identities grounded in entitlement and victimhood relative to people of color. This identity formation not only perpetuates racial subordination of people of color when it leads to the elimination of affirmative action programs, but also distracts Whites from addressing the ways in which their own presence at elite institutions of higher education is genuinely undermined, especially in the case of working-class Whites who are consistently underrepresented at the institutions. Given this reality, institutions of higher education committed to the diversity rationale must account for this phenomenon through a more honest and substantive deployment of the rationale pre- and post-admissions.