There are few better demonstrations of the way mood-shifting catch phrases can take the place of actual thinking. The most basic and obviously legitimate premise of her comment is that students should be exposed to a wide range of perspectives. She suggested a change in the reading list because she took it for granted that people who are male, dead, and white generally have the same outlook on life. This is like saying, “We need to be careful not to limit the students’ reading to the works of people with hair,” or “You may want to expose the students to some different perspectives, as I notice most of the authors you’ve studied are all bipeds and citizens of sovereign nations.” It's hard to criticize this as an argument, because it's not really an argument. The notion that “dead white men” is a legitimate label for a particular school of thought is not anything. It’s a contentless statement.
Consider this scenario: An optimistic humanist, a devout Christian, and a nihilistic atheist all publish books, each arguing for a certain view of life and how it should be lived. After their books are on the market, they all happen to die in the same plane crash. Given that each of their works goes on to have a wide influence in the following years, they are all read in the course of a literature or philosophy class. It would then be complete nonsense to say that the curriculum of the class needs to be diversified because the works of “dead white men” are too prevalent—as if their status of being white and dead somehow reverses the radical, irreconcilable differences in their thinking into a consistent, monolithic philosophy—a philosophy which is, of course, exclusionary (a word which must be intoned with the proper balance of hurt feelings and indignation) to some or all marginalized groups.
What’s so disturbing about this is that it doesn’t matter. The emptiness of the consultant's statement doesn't diminish her professional status. Thinking is not a priority for educators who are supposed to be in the business of thinking. Philosophy has devolved into fashion. Philosophy of education in this case, but the same principle is at work in the way many people think about a range of important issues.
I don’t mean to brag, but when I was in high school I had a killer mullet. It’s not something I thought about. It was not a hair decision made after much contemplation. I saw other kids with mullets who had seen a lot of celebrities with mullets and we all just rode the wave. The irony in people asking “What were we thinking?” when reminiscing about the fashion trends of past decades is that we weren’t thinking. Fashion doesn’t involve thinking; it’s largely driven by certain feelings and impressions made by a group on the mind of an individual.
There’s nothing wrong with this as it applies to fashion, because fashion is not a matter of right or wrong (with the exception of skinny jeans which are very wrong). But when it comes to issues in which questions of right and wrong are of the utmost importance like education, politics, and religion, a great many people hold their beliefs just as I used to wear my mullet, not as the result of a thorough process of thought and discernment, but from a nebulous sense that this is the kind of thing cool people do.
It’s clear to me that the consultant’s belief in the stifling influence of dead white men has come about in the same way as did my affinity for mullets. But the really troubling thing is that the beliefs of those with immensely more power, money, and influence have come about in the same way. If only we could laugh them off like bad fashions of the past.