That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
December 21, 2001


"Diversity" on the road to uniformity
It's fascinating to watch Them work



Around this time every year, TV networks begin featuring brief segments before a show begins in which one of their stars expresses "holiday" wishes to someone or other. This year, UPN is featuring Shiri Appleby, the star of its successful science-fiction drama "Roswell," thanking America's military personnel for protecting "our freedom and our diversity."

It was a stretch ever to say that the crimes of September 11 were attacks on Americans' freedom in the first place. First of all, there wasn't nearly as much of it to attack as is generally supposed. That aside, the terrorists had no intention of taking over the country and ruling us with an iron hand, of making Tom Cruise grow an unkempt beard and Britney Spears wear a burka; the purpose of the crimes was to make the U.S. government take some action, not to overthrow it.

But an attack on "our diversity"? How would that work? It was silly enough to imagine Osama bin Laden telling his followers, "Those Americans just have too much freedom. Let's blow up something." But now we are supposed to imagine him telling them, "There are too many Mexicans in the United States, and too many Africans, and too many Orientals — and too many Muslims! Let's blow up something. And let's keep blowing up stuff until the minorities in the United States are so small they have no power!"

"Diversity" is starting to occupy some pretty odd citadels. Will we live to hear the word slipped into the Pledge of Allegiance somewhere? (Perhaps "to the diverse republic"? or "one diverse nation"? or maybe "with liberty and diversity for all"?) Will children start coming home one day telling their parents about how the Pilgrims (rehabilitated) came to these shores in search of religious diversity? so that they could rub shoulders with their red brothers and join them in singing a few hymns to the Gitchi Manitou?

When I was in grade school in Indiana, we used to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, generally by cutting out silhouettes of the two and pasting them face to face on construction paper. My grandmother (who was born and grew up in Baltimore) more than once said to me — in the kitchen out of the hearing of my Hoosier grandfather and with her voice lowered — "There are a lot of people in Maryland who don't think very highly of Abraham Lincoln." In saying that, she was telling me three things:

• There was something about Lincoln I wasn't learning in the Indiana school system.

• A view that I thought was universal was not yet so.

• And one could not speak of these things in Indiana.

Implicit in the second, though I did not realize it then, was the fact that entire cultures can be transformed. And implicit in the third is that it is dangerous to discuss, and a fortiori to oppose, that transformation.

Dangerous or not, it is interesting to observe the transformation of a culture.

© 2001 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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