The hard version was on display last week when Brooklyn's new borough president, Marty Markowitz, announced that diversity required "taking down the old white guys." So he removed a portrait of George Washington from his office. Earth to Markowitz: Trashing George Washington is not the answer. Just add portraits of heroes and achievers from minority cultures.
Removing two white guys from a famous image is not quite in the same class as removing the father of the nation on grounds he is overly white. But the equality of imagery in the proposed bronze statue (one white, one black, one Hispanic) distorted the reality of what was essentially a display of heroism by multiculturalism's villain class, white males. An estimated 319 of the 343 firefighters who gave their lives at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 were non-Hispanic whites.
Inclusiveness is good in general but wretched when it means altering historical reality to impose proper quotas on past events. Retro-quotas are an old story in schools, textbooks and the art world. Museums are under pressure to produce "gender-fair" exhibits with half the works by women, even in shows about eras in which virtually all painters were men. Out of concern for the self-esteem of minority students, history texts routinely do the same false balancing act, mugging the truth so all cultures end up with at least as much achievement as the West, preferably more.
Along the way, a level of comfort with dishonesty has been reached. This helps explain why tinkering with the Sept. 11 flag-planting seemed like a small or nonexistent issue to backers of the diversity movement, including the media. The model of the statue, presented on Dec. 21, drew virtually no press attention until conservative commentators discovered it three weeks later.
But it's worth taking seriously. Doctoring images and removing or adding people for political purposes is what backward and repressive societies do. Part of the amusement of watching the Soviet empire was seeing officials being airbrushed out of old photos taken during parades in front of Lenin's tomb. Reality was unimportant. Images were at the mercy of politics. Do we want our images to go that way too?