On Monday, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza came to Northwestern to speak on a controversial topic: diversity. His speech had its supporters and detractors- perhaps the harshest words spoken against it were from ASG president Ani Ajith, who told The Daily it was “hate speech”, “bigotry,” and “pseudo-intellectual babble.”
The Chronicle talked with D’Souza for about 15 minutes before his speech in Tech, attempting to see what his ideology is all about. So is what D’Souza says “bigotry” or “pseudo-intellectual” after all?
Up to you to decide. Read on!
A lot of people at Northwestern, including the Department of African American Studies’ Facebook page, have called you “anti-diversity.” Do you consider yourself anti-diversity?
No. I’m not anti-diversity. I’m obviously an embodiment of diversity. Diversity is simply a fact of American life, of campus life. There’s the fact of diversity, and there’s the ideology of diversity. And the Left would like you to believe the two are the same. But the ideology of diversity is only one way of responding to the fact of diversity. And it’s a highly slanted, biased, and I think wrongheaded way of doing it. And so I’m a critique of that kind of diversity.
What’s wrong with it?
It’s wrong for two reasons. The first one is that it is constantly based upon ducking the truth. This is why it has to invent political correctness. Because if it actually could be truthful, it would implode. All its premises would collapse and it would be forced to face the reality of what it’s actually doing. The second reason that it doesn’t work is that it betrays the ideals of liberal education.
What I mean by that is that colleges talk about equal opportunity, but they blatantly practice racial preferences. Colleges talk about inclusion, but they’re ideologically exclusive. Colleges talk about single community, but there is notable ethnic and racial separatism on campus. Colleges talk about free speech, but the college campus is one of the unfreest places in America. And finally, colleges talk about merit but the merit ideal is often set aside when other considerations come to the forefront. In many ways, colleges, particularly selective ones like Northwestern, are undermining their own precepts.
What about Northwestern’s diversity requirement? Regardless of diversity’s ‘ideology,’ will it ameliorate race relations on campus?
Well, it seems questionable right? In other words, by and large, we have courses in a college, but they’re not aimed at producing any determined course of action. No one thinks that if you take a course in astronomy, your sense of wonder is going be greater and as a result you’re going to be a better human being on campus. No one thinks that if you major in political science, you’re going to be better at settling disputes with your roommate. In other words, the purpose of the curriculum is to intellectually prepare you to enter the world of ideas as a citizen in that world. So this seems to be a kind of debasement of that.
The goal is clearly somewhat propagandistic. To get people to salute the mantras of diversity. How do we do that? We force them to study something, we pick the books and so on. Now people might say “well we’re not doing that! We’re not trying to get people to think a certain way!” Well, if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be having this requirement would you. Again, be truthful. If you want to indoctrinate, say so. If you don’t want to indoctrinate, you should think twice about what you’re doing.
What has been your experience, as a minority conservative?
My experience as a minority has clearly shown me the extreme scarcity of racism, even in the most conservative right-wing precincts of American life. If I were to tell people, I’m thinking of becoming a conservative, I’m thinking about joining the party of Jesse Helms, and Strom Thurmond, and Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, I’m thinking of hanging out with a whole bunch of Southerners and Evangelical Christians, they would tell me, Oh Dinesh, watch out! The racial epithets are gonna fly and if they don’t fly when you’re in the room, they’re gonna fly the moment you leave the room. And my actual experience over 30 years has shown me that racism in America is everywhere talked about and in reality quite hard to find.
But isn’t racism still a barrier to opportunity? Has it not moved from overt to covert racism, morphing into ‘white privilege’?
There is an element of truth in this. But the actual significance is very different than what people think. The conventional view is that racism has gone underground, and is therefore more subtle, maybe more devious, more embedded in institutions. But in reality there are two types of discrimination. There is irrational discrimination based on prejudice, and rational discrimination based on conclusions. Conclusions are the fact that groups do differ. And when groups differ, you treat them differently. Men are stronger than women and therefore men don’t play against women at Wimbledon. We have what used to be called in race relations separate but equal. But it’s okay because there are real differences between men and women, that are not the same as the differences between races, or between blacks and whites.
The point I’m trying to make is that the second type of discrimination is much harder to eradicate, because it’s based on facts. It’s not based on prejudice or misjudgment or folly, it’s really based on looking at the world and seeing that groups do differ. So I think that that is actually probably the more difficult type of racism or discrimination to eradicate. And it can only be eradicated through performance. You know, if you have an opinion about a group: let’s say people think “all Indians are poor. India is the begging bowl of the world.” Which used to be the Indian stereotype. And it was largely true- India was actually desperately poor. But the way this was refuted was not to say don’t be so insensitive, and stop saying that about my country and so on, but rather it was about India start having higher growth rates and become an emerging market. And when people start to see that India is coming up in the world, the stereotype moves from “Indians are poor” to “Indians are smart.” So stereotypes can change.
What has been your rowdiest campus experience?
In the 90s, I was giving a speech at Tufts University, in the heyday of political correctness. A large group of African-Americans came to my talk and they were naked from the waist up, and they were in chains – they had chained themselves to each other. And they had come as slaves. They came and sat in the front 3 rows, and then they chained themselves to their seats. And as I began to speak they would rattle their chains. So it was a little unnerving to me, I was so much younger, not quite sure how to handle it. I was kind of in a small room of 80 or something. A lot of people showed up so we had to move lecture, and these poor guys were chained to their seats. One guy was like “where’s the key?” and stuff like that. [Laughs.] So I was saved by having to relocate to a larger room. But that was an example of a somewhat unnerving experience.
About the various ethnic and gender studies departments on campuses like Northwestern’s- do you think they contribute positively to the debate on racism in American society?
The danger of these ethnic studies departments is that they become little ideological centers of ethnic resentment – and also of group pride. Now group pride is a legitimate goal, but it should be reserved for things like St Patrick’s day. Its point is not to affirm itself in the curriculum.
What about Northwestern’s Cinco de Mayo controversy?
Well, is it culturally insensitive to have a party and drink too much on Christmas? Or to, you know, go dress up as a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day? There’s a kind of a grim humorlessness to this whole thing that I find repulsive. And the other thing is, I don’t like the whole ethnic butt-kissing thing.
I mean the Cinco de Mayo thing – OK well, the Mexicans are celebrating how they gloriously beat a bunch of French guys. Well, you’re French*! You might [be offended].
My point being simply this: OK fine, if you want to look at it that way- that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you get to carry the day. And that’s the point, is that these guys, they don’t want to have just a point of view, they want everybody else to genuflect. That’s why I think the correct approach to all this is actually not to genuflect, and to thumb your nose and deride. You’re deriding things not because you’re mean, but because you’re deriding things in the wider ambit of open discussion and having real debate.
Do you believe that some races are genetically “superior”?
No. I believe that the reason for racial differences in achievement, whether economic achievement or academic performance, is due to differences of history, culture, and more specifically behavior. So, for example, I think one of the reasons that Asian-Americans do better on the average is that they just study a lot harder. And I think there’s a lot of evidence to back that up – both anecdotal and systemic. Then you have to look at more complex factors, like family structure or illegitimacy rates, which are related. Obviously if you have two parents in the home, it’s much easier to supervise homework than if you have one. So those sorts of factors then come into play as well. And I think that that is a phenomenon that needs to be studied more. What is the impact of family structure, for example, on homework habits and academic performance of young children of different ages? There’s been a little bit of work done on this but not enough.
[*Interviewer is a French citizen.]
Photo by Mark Taylor.