I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about Lionel Shriver and her objection to the new diversity policy of Random House. Quite a few other more well read people than me also wrote about it, and came to similar conclusions. Shriver has now come out to say that her words had been deliberately misconstrued, and that snippets of her writing should not have been talked about out of the context of the full column. Her problem is not diversity, but diversity quotas. So diversity good, diversity quotas bad.
I get why she is annoyed. It is annoying when people, deliberately or otherwise, don’t get what you are saying. But here’s the thing. I did read the whole column, and it wasn’t really clear that quotas were the issue. She spent a lot of words moaning about a demographic monitoring form. As someone who has had to write demographic monitoring forms I can sympathise – they are not perfect, only a tool to help you begin to understand what a group of people, in this case a work force, may look like. Sometimes they are used to monitor quotas, but most of the time they are just used to get an idea of the kind of people who may make up a group. Having a form does not automatically mean having a quota. And frankly if you want to spend a few hundred words proving how clever you are, diversity monitoring forms are an easy target, because they are never perfect. Ever. She then got so caught up in creating a straw black disabled lesbian to knock down that it wasn’t really at all clear that it was only diversity quotas she objected to, and not diversity in principle. It also was entirely unclear that she’s actually very enthusiastic about diversity in principle.
Five years ago I may have just watched this whole performance pass without comment. As I have said before five years ago people on the left were smugly enjoying a certainty that things were getting better. It was slow progress but we were sure of the ‘progress’ part of that. That was then. Our complacency had lead us into dark times. We urgently need to make the arguments for diversity as a good thing. Lionel Shriver has not done that in this column. At all. Full disclosure here – my day job involves trying to open up the world of mental health research to a broader range of people. It’s slow, hard work. I’ll thought through columns on National news platforms can do damage.
Lionel Shriver is a clever woman with a large platform, and we do not have time for this kind of bullshit. If you get so wrapped up in enjoying saying clever nasty things that you don’t notice you have obscured your own message then frankly who are you to make declarations on ‘standards’ in writing. If you write something provocative that can so easily be used by the anti-PC brigade as support for their (often frankly racist) cause then don’t cry when it provokes a reaction you don’t like. If you can’t communicate clearly that you in fact celebrate writing from all sorts of weird and wonderful corners of humanity then step off the stage and make some room for people who can. It’s time for that black disabled lesbian to shine.