Nancy Leong reveals how powerful people and institutions use diversity to their own advantage and how the rest of us can respond—and do better.
Why do people accused of racism defend themselves by pointing to their black friends? Why do men accused of sexism inevitably talk about how they love their wife and daughters? Why do colleges and corporations alike photoshop people of color into their websites and promotional materials? And why do companies selling everything from cereal to sneakers go out of their way to include a token woman or person of color in their advertisements?
In this groundbreaking book, Nancy Leong coins the term “identity capitalist” to label the powerful insiders who eke out social and economic value from people of color, women, LGBTQ people, the poor, and other outgroups. Leong deftly uncovers the rules that govern a system in which all Americans must survive: the identity marketplace. She contends that the national preoccupation with diversity has, counterintuitively, allowed identity capitalists to infiltrate the legal system, educational institutions, the workplace, and the media. Using examples from law to literature, from politics to pop culture, Leong takes readers on a journey through the hidden agendas and surprising incentives of various ingroup actors. She also uncovers a dire dilemma for outgroup members: do they play along and let their identity be used by others, or do they protest and risk the wrath of the powerful?
Arming readers with the tools to recognize and mitigate the harms of exploitation, Identity Capitalists reveals what happens when we prioritize diversity over equality.