Carlos E. Cortés is a retired history professor who has been a diversity speaker, educator, trainer, and consultant for forty-five years. His books include: The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity (2000); his memoir, Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time (2012); and a book of poetry, Fourth Quarter: Reflections of a Cranky Old Man (2016), which received honorable mention for the best book of poetry in the 2017 International Latino Book Awards. He also edited the four-volume Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia (2013).
A year ago, who would have predicted that Critical Race Theory (CRT) would have become a 2021 national buzz word?A buzz word for those attacking it.A buzz word for those defending it.Probably with relatively few of those attackers and defenders actually having read much of it.
I have, but it’s not easy going.Lots of ideas.Lots of jargon.Lots of obscurantist legal analysis.But if you stick with it, CRT can be very thought-provoking.
CRT is based on a simple premise: the law is not neutral.As a result, institutions and systems that arise from the law will not be neutral. When Mark Twain asked a friend to explain his position on a controversial issue, the friend answered, “I’m neutral.”To which Twain responded, “Then whom are you neutral against?”
Historians devote their lives to predicting the past.So when called upon to predict the future of cultural expression, as the editor did for this issue, I had to distance myself from my disciplinary comfort zone.
Not for the first time.Two decades ago I had to do this when completingmy book, The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity (Teachers College Press, 2000).In that book I focused on the traditional mass media: magazines; newspapers; film; television; and radio.It was the first book (and maybe still only) to examine how the media have treated the theme of diversity, not the depiction of specific diverse groups.In other words, how have media provided an informal public multicultural education, for better and for worse?
The theme for this month’s edition: what gender related issues should be addressed and how can they evolve productively?Let’s up the ante.What gender related issues must be addressed?Here’s one: transgender women in sports.
Oh that all equity conflicts could be resolved simply by mouthing diversity clichés.Not this one.With regard to this perplexing issue, two pro-diversity camps have gone to war.Probable allies on most equity concerns, these two camps have dug in their heels, often engaging in hyper-accusatory rhetoric in what has become known as the TERF wars.
Hate speech may be the thorniest point of contention between diversity advocates and free speech absolutists.Of course most people oppose hate and detest hate speech.But what should we do about it?That’s where disagreements begin.
Let’s look at hate speech from four perspectives.Legal: what does the U.S. Constitution say about hate speech?Behavioral: is hate speech merely speech?Aspirational: ideally, what would we want when it comes to hate speech?Operational: how might government hate speech restraints work in practice?
2020 turned into a momentous year for diversity training.The COVID-19 pandemic forced many diversity trainers, myself included, to re-invent themselves by adapting their workshops into an online format.The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd thrust anti-racism into the center of diversity training, challenging those presenters who had generally soft-pedaled the issue.President Donald Trump’s September 22 executive order, “Race and Sex Stereotyping,” caused government agencies and contractors, including some higher education institutions, to suspend or mute their diversity training.
The May, 2020, Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd launched thousands of anti-racism proclamations.Millions took part in that performative aftermath.Include me among those millions.
Like many people, I wear multiple hats.One is chairing the Mayor’s Multicultural Forum in Riverside, California.My half-century hometown is a sizable (330,000-person) city, whose steady but not explosive growth has enabled it to maintain a community feeling.My wife and I continually encounter people we know when we go to a restaurant or take our daily two-mile walks around a nearby lake loaded with noisy ducks, geese, and egrets.
It has become a truism that COVID-19 has widened the gap between America’s haves and have nots.As the wealthy add to their corpus, the poor struggle to survive.But beneath this master plot lie millions of disparity narratives, stories that repeat themselves over and over.
So it is with the narrative of English Language Learners (ELLs), educationese for kindergarten-twelfth-grade students who live in homes where English is not the primary language.Their parents may speak little or no English.Add the fact that many of these students — maybe most of them – come from working class families and are students of color.The absence of privilege triple whammy.
Education, particularly higher education, has become ground zero for the clash of inclusive diversity and robust speech.Many administrators and professors proclaim their support of both.So do I.Yes, they can co-exist.But there will be clashes, inevitably.Which means decisions, tough decisions, will have to be made.
In the wake of the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd, those decisions became more complex and more contentious.College leaders throughout the country proclaimed their horror about that Minneapolis event and vowed that their campuses would not only continue to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, but would also assert leadership in anti-racism.
Such anti-racist proclamations are needed.But what does that mean when it comes to action?What should college leaders do if members of their campus communities use their robust speech to express anti-equity ideas, particularly ones that are deemed to be racist?
For the past two years I have been writing a series of columns about the complicated intersection of inclusive diversity and robust speech. Although my last column appeared just two months ago, in some respects it seems like ancient history.Maybe it is.
Because on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, a Minneapolis Police Officer named Derek Chauvin jammed his knee against the neck of George Floyd, an African American man, for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, until Floyd was dead.Those 526 excruciating seconds, recorded and widely disseminated, may have changed the course of U.S. history.That incident has certainly changed the way that we are currently talking about race in particular and about diversity in general.