An unexpected lesson in diversity from America’s top selling book

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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America’s top selling non-fiction book has much to teach about Wall Street malfeasance, but it also offers an intriguing perspective on diversity.

The hero of Michael Lewis’ “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” is Brad Katsuyama, a Canadian-born investment banker for the Royal Bank Canada who transfers to RBC’s New York office. When he gets to the United States, the book explains, Katsuyama not only ultimately uncovers how high frequency trading is corrupting the stock market, he also becomes aware of his minority status for the first time in his life.

“In the United States, Brad also noticed, he was expected to accept distinctions between himself and others that he’d simply ignored in Canada,” Lewis writes. “Growing up, he’d been one of the very few Asian kids in a white suburb of Toronto. During World War II, his Japanese Canadian grandparents had been interned in prison camps in western Canada. Brad never mentioned this or anything else having to do with race to his friends, and they ended up thinking of him almost as a person who did not have a racial identity.”

“His genuine lack of interest in the subject became an issue only after he arrived in New York,” Lewis continues. “Worried that it needed to do more to promote diversity, RBC invited Brad along with a bunch of other nonwhite people to a meeting to discuss the issue. Going around the table, people took turns responding to a request to ‘talk about your experience of being a minority at RBC.’ When Brad’s turn came he said, ‘To be honest, the only time I’ve ever felt like a minority is this exact moment. If you really want to encourage diversity you shouldn’t make people feel like a minority.’ Then he left. The group continued to meet without him.”

As someone who doesn’t have a grand summation for what this might tell us about the role of race in America today might write, there’s some food for thought.

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Jamie Weinstein