Walter Benn Michaels is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This essay is adapted from the introduction to his new book, The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, being published in early October by Metropolitan Books.
“The rich are different from you and me” is a famous remark supposedly made by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway, although what made it famous -- or at least made Hemingway famously repeat it -- was not the remark itself but Hemingway's reply: “Yes, they have more money.” In other words, to Hemingway, the rich really aren't very different from you and me. Fitzgerald's mistake, he thought, was that he mythologized or sentimentalized the rich, treating them as if they were a different kind of person instead of the same kind of person with more money. It was as if, according to Fitzgerald, what made rich people different was not what they had -- their money -- but what they were, “a special glamorous race.”