The case of Professor Gibney at MCTC in Minneapolis illustrates what happens to the teaching of mainstream research on racial oppression when colleges and universities frame their purpose with a business model:
“A white student may feel discomfort when it’s pointed out to him how he has benefited from structural racism, but to compare that discomfort to discrimination is a false equivalency. Hurt feelings hurt, but it is not oppression. But hurt feelings can be bad for business. And a lot of powerful people think colleges should act more like businesses. When they do, students act more like customers. And our likely customers might not be amicable to discussions about structural racism. If the customer is always right, then the majority share of customers is more right than the minority.”
Read more here.
The recently aired HBO documentary, Valentine Road, examined the murder of 15 year old Leticia King by a classmate. She was transitioning from male and had asked out a classmate, who then shot her dead. The clips (available here on Gawker.com) from the documentary show how structures are maintained that define ‘normal’ behavior vs. ‘deviant’ behavior. In one clip, one of her teachers is appalled that she should come out as transgender and she says that she relates with his murderer, saying “I don’t know if I would have taken a gun…” I don’t know??!!
In the second clip, the jurors discuss how much they felt sorry for the murderer, and how his actions were quite reasonable. They even argue that the white supremacist drawings in his notebook were merely the result of random doodling.
The behaviors of these women are exactly what generates the social understanding of what “counts” as normal and what “should be” stigmatized. Their behavior sanctioned the murder (and in the teacher’s case, explicitly sanctioned beating him) of Leticia. Those of us who remain silent, while knowing these norms exists, and believing that we are innocent, are in fact complicit in creating the environment in which such actions can appear justified.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal published an op-ed piece in Politico where he says in part:
We have made tremendous progress, but as long as our society is comprised of imperfect human beings, we will always be striving for a more perfect union. We must not let this constant process prevent us from acknowledging the enormous strides we have already made.
Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.
Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.
There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.
There are several problems with this argument. One is that racial and ethnic identities have become in the modern era important aspects of our sense of self and so cannot be discarded as simply as he suggests. Another problem is that research in cognitive science shows that categorizing people is a fundamental way our minds work, so urging us to simply see sameness is unrealistic. See the recently published Blindspot for an accessible overview of this research. Yet another problem is that his suggestion that we all just think of ourselves as “American” means in practice thinking of ourselves as white. A 2005 study by Devos and Banaji shows that most Americans implicitly associate being American with being white. And since whiteness is the dominant frame that shapes our cultural images and conceptions, assimilation to ‘Americaness’ just means assimilation to whiteness.
A newly released report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University provides further evidence that colleges and universities function to reproduce racial inequality, with the advantages going to whites and the disadvantages going to blacks and hispanics.
Here is a slide show illustrating the report’s main conclusions:
While this is not especially new or surprising, it is important evidence that runs counter to the common narrative of education being a universal democratizing and leveling public good.
One strategy for disrupting the ways colleges and universities reproduce racial inequality as documented in this report is to cultivate a greater degree of diversity literacy, both within the walls of academe and in our communities. Diversity literacy, if taken seriously within academia, would mean recognizing the ways higher ed works as an inequality engine and developing specific strategies for throwing wrenches into the gears of these engines. Diversity literacy is not simply learning to value difference (though it is that); it is also–and more importantly–about recognizing the ways that practices and policies result in unequal opportunities and outcomes across lines of difference.
Frederick Douglass’ classic speech ruminating on the meaning of the 4th of July to the slave
Frederick Douglass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
is worth revisiting as we celebrate this national holiday. Tragically, although our nation no longer abides institutionalized slavery, the lingering effects remain deeply entrenched in our institutions, policies, and practices.
Here’s a key excerpt from the speech: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than. all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
The SCOTUS has ruled in this much-anticipated affirmative action case. In a 7-1 ruling (Justice Kagan recusing herself, and Justice Ginsburg dissenting), the Court ruled that since the lower court did not rigorously apply the strict scrutiny standard, they need to re-examine the case. In particular, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, made it clear that the court could not simply take the word of the university that no other race-neutral admissions policies would achieve its diversity goals. Thus, the Court clarified that universities need to demonstrate that a race-conscious admissions policy in fact achieves the diversity goals and that no alternative race-neutral policy would do so.
This ruling is mixed for on one hand, the Court did not overturn Grutter (permitting race-conscious admissions policies), although both Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas indicated in their concurring opinions that they would overturn Grutter if given the chance; and on the other hand, the opinion appears to make it more difficult for university admissions policies to pass the strict scrutiny standard by requiring more evidence.
Most interestingly, in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg argued that even ostensibly race-neutral policies (such as Texas’ 10% Plan) are not really race-neutral. This is because the 10% Plan, for example, was crafted with Texas’ racially segregated housing in mind. She is arguing that policies that are race-neutral or color-blind in fact are not so neutral because they sustain the status quo in which whites already benefit from having a systematic advantage.