Repertoire of Happy Talk

The broader point is that racialized zip codes are the output of Jim Crow policies and the input of New Jim Code practices. Without them, entities would be unable to navigate the antidiscriminatory ethos of civil rights legislation, and companies like Diversity Inc. would have a much harder time predicting Blackness as part of what they sell to firms and organizations.

The emergence of companies like Diversity Inc., which create racial– ethnic data to be sold to others, also invites questions about possible negative consequences in terms of privacy, surveillance, and discrimination. The fact that there is no democratic oversight of this process is worrisome. The public is just supposed to trust that these tools will not be used to create a Muslim database that uses Arab names as a proxy for direct profiling. Racial fixes, in this way, are duplicitous and multiplicitous, two-faced and wide-ranging. We find them well beyond the realm of policing and prisons, in the seemingly more benign arenas of work and school. Here racial fixes often come wrapped in the language of diversity – celebrated as a self-evident good, a recognition of one’s individuality or identity, touted on university websites and employee trainings, a cheery antidote for those suffering from racial queasiness. For this reason, in social justice circles “diversity” is often mocked as a feel-good panacea, a poor proxy for more substantive transformations of the racial status quo, cosmetic and episodic gestures … without lasting movement.

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Diversity mission statements are part of a larger repertoire of “happy talk,” which involves a willingness to acknowledge and even revel in cultural difference without seriously challenging the ongoing structural inequality.22 It is the difference between international food fairs held by many schools and the racialized tracking systems that shape the day-to-day experiences and opportunities of students at those same institutions. “Eating the other,” to borrow bell hooks’ classic formulation, is not a sign of cultural recognition, nor does it

challenge oppressive systems. On Columbus Day, as I sat in a local café working on this book, I overheard a group of White men clad in power suits, bankers in town for a meeting if I had to guess, as their conversation moved seamlessly from stock market trends to mocking Indigenous People’s Day and to their favorite places for getting ethnic food. The pleasure of devouring difference – literally, through food, and figuratively, through music, travel, sex, and more – masks power differentials and dampens the prospects for concrete political action that might lead to a more lasting social transformation.23 It exemplifies a kind of racial fix(ation) in which those feasting at the table of cultural diversity assume that their own pleasure is shared with those who are being consumed.

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