Alan Klein (Alan@klein.net)
Tue, 18 Apr 2000 11:24:26 -0400
Thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking posting. I resonate with
your concern that we not allow others to frame the assumptions behind a
discussion/argument, but rather do this mutually.
In this case, however, I am not sure what all the fuss is about. The
question, "Is the student body multicultural?", simply asks for demographic
information (or at least a summary thereof); information that would be
available, for example, through a census. It makes no attempt to place a
value judgment or a hierarchy on the information.
It seems it would have been very easy for Scott or Mimsy to reply (I am
making these numbers up), "We have about an equal mix of male and female
students and staff. About 90% of the student body is white, as is all of the
staff at this time. Most of the rest of the 10% is Asian. We really don't
know about religious affiliation, but there seems to be a mixture. The
percentage of Jewish students and staff is probably a little above that of
the local population. We don't formally track our students (or staff's)
sexual orientation, but there are a few openly gay and lesbian students and
one staff member. Socio-economic class is always hard to tell, since we
don't ask such questions, but we know that our student body runs the gamut
from folks who scrimp and save just to make our (low) tuition payments to
those who are pretty well off. Most seem solidly middle-class." This could
have been accompanied by a statement such as the one you make in terms of
the most important criteria being that people come who want to come.
Multiculturalism, for me, is simply a fact; it is either there or not. When
I do a "diversity" workshop, as I did the other day, with a team of 25
workers from a major high-tech manufacturing company who are all white, all
male, almost all Protestant, and who's average tenure with the company was
31.5 years I feel on safe ground to say that there was not much
multiculturalism within that group. Nothing wrong with that. It was just a
fact. My tack with them was to look at themselves as individuals and to look
at the similarities and differences they embodied. We talked about how they
handle those differences and looked at effective ways to take advantage of
them and to lessen the complexities of doing so.
It is easy for me (a white, middle-class, straight, guy whose mental and
physical capabilities are in fairly good order) to say (as you did),
"(these) alleged generalized differences between individuals based on their
color, religion and presumed ancestry...(are an) arcane and increasingly
obsolete manner in which to generalize traits between people! - color is
increasingly not related to the nationality (-ies) and family culture;
religion is increasingly not related to any generalized cultural traits
whatsoever, and the entire arrangement only serves to reinforce prejudices."
The experience of those who are not of the majority/power groups in this
society is too ubiquitous to ignore, however. race, gender, sexual
orientation, and religion are still ways in which people are routinely
treated unfairly, i.e., they are not treated according to "the actual
differences between individuals", as you and I both advocate. To ignore this
is to blind ourselves to the realities of the lives of all to many people.
----- Original Message -----
> Hi - Joe from Fairhaven School in Maryland
> I would probably had gotten defensive if I were asked the question "Is the
> student body multicultural?" because that is an inherently attacking
> question. Attacks compel people to defend. I believe whether Scott
> appeared evasive or defensive is largely immaterial as the questioner made
> no attempt to disguise the attacking nature of the question.
> That particular question is completely predicated on an item of
> wisdom that there is a hierarchy of multiculturalism that is based not on
> the actual differences between individuals, but between the alleged
> generalized differences between individuals based on their color, religion
> and presumed ancestry. An arcane and increasingly obsolete manner in
> to generalize traits between people! - color is increasingly not related
> the nationality (-ies) and family culture; religion is increasingly not
> related to any generalized cultural traits whatsoever, and the entire
> arrangement only serves to reinforce prejudices.
> The true multiculturalism is a group of people who, for example, have
> disparate opinions of the definition of the word "multiculturalism".
> Getting a bunch of people of different colors who all think
> means having a bunch of people of different colors is homogeneity in the
> most non-superficial sense. Differences in the actual content of people's
> character cut across all supposed categories of race and creed,
> the degree of true diversity.
> In any case, the various opinions of what constitutes multiculturalism
> should take a back seat at our schools to the obvious sole criterion of
> should be on the rolls - the folks that want to be there the most.
> Removing obstacles, financial and otherwise, is an entirely different and
> unrelated subject. They should be though of in two distinct steps: 1) You
> market the school loudly, getting the word out to as many people as
> possible, using the best judgment you can as humans to decide where and
> to market, then 2)you do what Alan said, which is sit back and wait for
> ones who really want it to come.
> Back to the question - it's a trap: only someone who advocates that mere
> visible and religious diversity define multiculturalism would ask it, so
> answer yes or no based on the questioner's interpretation is to tacitly
> endorse that view. To answer yes or no based on a literal definition of
> multiculturalism (as I think Scott did) looks like one is evading the
> question. Any question one cannot answer without either capitulating or
> appearing esoteric is a manipulation and therefore an attack.
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