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Jewish World Review
August 31, 2006
/ 6 Elul 5766
Sacrificing truth on the altar of diversity
You're a publisher of children's textbooks, and you have a problem. Your
diversity guidelines quotas in all but name require you to include
pictures of disabled children in your elementary and high school texts,
but it isn't easy to find such children who are willing and able to pose
for a photographer. Kids confined to wheelchairs often suffer from
afflictions that affect their appearance, such as cerebral palsy or
muscular dystrophy. How can you meet your quota of disability images if
you don't have disabled models who are suitably photogenic?
Well, you can always do what Houghton Mifflin does. The well-known
textbook publisher keeps a wheelchair on hand as a prop and hires
able-bodied children from a modeling agency to pose in it. It keeps
colorful pairs of crutches on hand, too in case a child model turns
out to be the wrong size for the wheelchair.
Houghton Mifflin's ploy was recently described by reporter Daniel Golden
in a Wall Street Journal story on the lengths to which publishers go to
get images of minorities and the disabled into grade-school textbooks. A
Houghton Mifflin spokesman claimed that able-bodied models are presented
as handicapped only as a last resort. But according to one of the
company's regular photographers, the deception is the norm. At least
three-fourths of the children portrayed as disabled in Houghton Mifflin
textbooks actually aren't, she told Golden. In fact, publishers have to
keep track of all the models they use for such pictures, so that a child
posing as disabled in one chapter isn't shown running or climbing a tree
In the politically correct world of textbook publishing, faked photos of
handicapped kids are just one of the ways in which truth is sacrificed
on the altar of diversity. The cofounder of PhotoEdit Inc., a commercial
archive that specializes in pictures of what it calls "ethnic and
minority people in all walks of life," advises publishers that images of
Chicanos can be passed off as American Indians from the Southwest,
because they "look very similar." Similarly, Golden notes, a textbook
photographer tells clients that since the "facial features" of some
Asians resemble Indians from Mexico, "there are some times where you can
Yet pictures of authentic Hispanics who happen to have blond hair or
blue eyes don't count toward the Hispanic quota "because their
background would not be apparent to readers." In other words, rather
than expose schoolchildren to the fact that "Hispanic" is an artificial
classification that encompasses people of every color, publishers
promote the fiction that all Hispanics look the same and that looks,
not language or lineage, are the essence of Hispanic identity.
Some images are banned from textbooks because they are deemed
stereotypical or offensive. For example, McGraw-Hill's guidelines
specify that Asians not be portrayed wearing glasses or as intellectuals
and that publishers avoid showing Mexican men in ponchos or sombreros.
"One major publisher vetoed a photo of a barefoot child in an African
village," Golden writes, "on the grounds that the lack of footwear
reinforced the stereotype of poverty on that continent." Grinding
poverty is in fact a daily reality for hundreds of millions of Africans.
But when reality conflicts with political correctness, reality gets the
So, on occasion, does historical perspective, as for example when a
McGraw-Hill US history text devoted a profile and photograph to Bessie
Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot but neglected even to
mention Wilbur and Orville Wright. "A company spokesman," the Journal
reports dryly, "said the brothers had been left out inadvertently."
It isn't only when it comes to textbooks that diversity has led to
dishonesty, or even to the manipulation of photos. In 2000, the
University of Wisconsin at Madison featured a group of students cheering
at a football game on the cover of its admissions brochure. One of those
students was Diallo Shabazz, a black senior who hadn't gone to that
game. University officials, desperately wanting their new publication to
reflect a diverse student body, had lifted Diallo's image from somewhere
else and digitally inserted it into the football shot. "Our intentions
were good," Madison's director of university publications said when the
deception was exposed, "but our methods were bad."
But the "good" intentions of the diversity crusaders cannot be separated
from bad methods they resort to, whether those methods involve racial
quotas in admissions and hiring, the assignment of schoolchildren on the
basis of color, or photographic fakery that puts healthy kids in
wheelchairs. By reducing "diversity" to something as shallow and
meaningless as appearance, they reinforce the most dehumanizing
stereotypes of all those that treat people first and foremost as
members of racial, ethnic, or social groups. Far from acknowledging the
genuine complexity and variety of human life, the diversity dogmatists
deny it. Is it any wonder that their methods so often lead to unhappy
and unhealthy results?
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