There is much confusion today between affirmative action, which is under threat by lawsuits in the U.S. Supreme Court, and Diversity, Equity Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA), which is under no such threat, as long as practitioners stay away from race-based quotas and preferences. How can we educate the field about this?
The Supreme Court cases involve allegations by some Asian-American groups that their applicants should be admitted to prestigious colleges like Harvard at a higher rate because other applicants like African-Americans are given a preference. One should bear in mind that Asian-American students are already enrolled in such colleges at a rate far exceeding their presence in the American population, so these cases are not about proportional representation, or a “student body that looks like America.” In some cases, such as the University of California at Berkeley, the undergraduate enrollment is about 48% Asian-American. So these cases involve an extreme form of a desire for merit-based judgments by gate holders.
A young boy, sat at a table full of people he didn’t know. A large family, all helping to make their thanksgiving dinner. Smells and laughter waft through the house. No television to distract from the face-to-face interaction. All the food is scratch made. The kitchen is littered with bits and pieces of dishes and ingredients, a messy labor of love. The smiles and plate passing keep the energy up. The boy is confused, there is no turkey, but a large plate of chitlins, and a ham. There aren’t any scalloped potatoes, but collard greens. As much as Thanksgiving is a universal experience, it differs house to house, culture to culture. This is a short story about how he came to know his neighbors.
Keynote Address for Unidos:
2022 National Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration of the U.S. Dept. of Energy
Thank you for inviting me to join you for Hispanic Heritage Month. And thank you for providing me the opportunity to reflect upon a very important idea: inclusivity.
In 1999, Mayor Ronald Loveridge of my hometown — Riverside, California –- asked me to lead a new city initiative, the Mayor’s Multicultural Forum. He also asked the Forum to begin by drawing up a position statement on diversity. We called the document “Building a More Inclusive Riverside Community.” The City Council adopted the document, making inclusivity a basic city principle.
That was more than two decades ago. Today you constantly hear variations of that idea. Take DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As a diversity consultant, lecturer, and workshop presenter I often use those terms, sometimes without giving them much thought. So when you asked me to speak on the topic of inclusivity, I had to make a decision. Should I give a traditional Hispanic Heritage speech filled with the usual once-a-year truisms about Latino this and Latinx that? Sort of a Hispanic Groundhog Day? I decided no. You deserve something more original.
So I reflected on the connection between the Latino experience and the idea of inclusivity. This led me to an unexpected revisiting of my personal journey. Those reflections helped me reconsider the idea of inclusivity.
I began by taking two words of DEI –- Equity and Inclusion — and recombining them into Equitable Inclusion. Not conditional inclusion, but rather the idea that we all deserve more than just being included. We deserve being included equitably. That’s how you foster true belonging, not superficial accommodation. As I thought about inclusivity, I identified three adjectives that characterize equitable inclusivity, three adjectives that I will explore through a Latino lens, drawing upon my personal journey.
Let’s start with the first word: authentic. In 1933, my father, Carlos Cortés, a Mexican Catholic immigrant from Guadalajara, married Florence Hoffman, the Jewish American daughter of Ukrainian and Austrian immigrants. I was born the next year, 1934, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, a racially segregated, religiously divided community, like much of the United States in those days. I wrote about that experience in my memoir, Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time, referring to my parents’ unique-for-its-time marital combination. This made them an odd couple, so I, too, became an oddity.
I later adapted my memoir into a one-person play, which I perform around the United States. I’m going to present a brief scene from that play. It takes place in the fall of 1949 at the beginning of my sophomore year, when I shifted to another Kansas City high school. __________________________
On the first day of my first class the teacher calls the roll but not my name. I raise my hand.
“Excuse me, sir, you missed me, Carlos Cortés.”
He reviews his list.
“I called your name, Carl.”
“But, sir, my name isn’t Carl. It’s Carlos.”
“That’s not what the school records say.”
So in front of my new classmates I repeat, several times, that my name is Carlos, not Carl. Of course I didn’t win. In fact, the teacher kicks me out of class and sends me to the principal’s office. They call my folks. Dad storms over to school.
Now Dad didn’t lose his temper often, but when he did…whhh. I’m afraid he’s going to be furious with me for getting into trouble on my first day at my new school. But he’s not. In fact, he’s proud of me for standing up for my name, his name, our Mexican name.
Dad lectures the principal. “My son’s name is Carlos. His father’s name is Carlos. His grandfather’s name was Carlos. His great-grandfather’s name was Carlos. And I’ll be damned if you’re going to call him anything but Carlos.” After that, they didn’t.
Oh, I guess I ought to mention the class where this happened — Spanish.
Of course Dad wanted me to be included and to feel included. But he also demanded that this inclusion be authentic. He insisted that I be included authentically as Carlos, not as Carl.
I now refer to such events as Carl Moments or Being Carled. Carl Moments are situations where people encounter obstacles to authentic inclusivity. When things happen that communicate to you that your inclusivity is conditional. You’re welcome . . . but . . . or if . . . or sort of.
Unlike conditional inclusivity, equitable inclusivity incorporates the idea of personal authenticity. But authenticity can create complications. Sometimes you may be too ethnic; in other cases, not ethnic enough.
In 1968 I became a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside — UCR — and later chair of the Chicano Studies Program. Along the way I developed a reputation as a public speaker on diversity matters, including the Latino experience. Nobody called me Carl, but there was something else.
I happened to be a güero: a light-skinned Latino. Occasionally someone might say: “Oh, you’re trying to pass as white.” No, I’ve never passed as anything. I’ve just lumbered through life with the authentic skin my folks gave me. But sometimes that’s proven to be a problem for others.
Once I was invited to give a luncheon talk at a statewide education conference. The invitation came from an Anglo who had never met me. On the day of the conference I introduced myself to him. His face fell. Caught off guard, he said something that others may have thought, but suppressed. “Uh, we were hoping for someone, uh, a little darker.” With help from Neil Simon’s film, The Goodbye Girl, I had a ready answer. “This year I’m working on younger. Next year I’ll work on darker.”
But conditional inclusivity can also go in other directions. In 1979, my late friend Tomás Rivera became Chancellor of UCR, the first Hispanic chancellor in University of California history. Tomás was not a güero. After his first speech to the UCR academic senate, one professor remarked: “You know, I can understand why Governor Brown put a Chicano in as Chancellor at Riverside — for political reasons — but did he have to –- look so much like a Chicano?” Tomás had been Carled.
Let’s examine these three incidents. In each case somebody had difficulty dealing with individual Latino authenticity. A high school Spanish teacher who deemed my first name too odd for inclusion in the classroom. A conference organizer who considered my skin color too light to fulfill his needs and ethnic stereotypes. A professor who could accept a Chicano Chancellor, but not one who looked too much like a Chicano. That is conditional inclusivity.
I’m sure each of you has experienced personal Carl or Tomás moments, when something happened that communicated the idea that the authentic you didn’t quite merit equitable inclusivity. And being Carled might not involve ethnicity or race. It might involve sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or some disability.
Maybe a Latina whose colleague turns to her and innocently asks, “How do you say that in Spanish?,” forcing her to explain, maybe publicly, that she was not raised speaking Spanish. 62 million Latinos share commonalities, but we aren’t all alike. Our personal authenticities vary.
So let’s move on to the second adjective: additive. Equitable inclusivity must not only be authentic. It should also be additive. That is, inclusion in a way that “they” — whoever “they” are — become recognized not just as having their own special authenticity, but also having the capacity to add through their authenticity. Not just accepted or tolerated or exoticized, but respected for what their specialness adds to the community, to the organization, and to our nation.
When I joined the UCR faculty in 1968, the campus had about 4,500 students, but only around one hundred Chicanos. Many of them did not feel a sense of total belonging on that virtually all-white campus. To help create their own ethnic space, they formed the United Mexican American Students. Later it became known as MEChA.
But the MEChA students soon encountered a very new experience. One of the undergraduate students in my Chicano History class was named Woodrow Díaz. But Woody was not a Chicano; he happened to be Puerto Rican. This was several years before people began talking much about Latinos and Hispanics. Ethnically alone on campus, Woody asked if he could join MEChA.
The MEChA students embraced Woody. They made him an honorary Chicano, but he also remained supremely proud and forthright about his Puerto Rican identity. nd MEChA turned out to be better for it, because Woody added a unique richness, dimension, and perspective through his ethnic authenticity. Woody’s inclusion in MEChA was additive, not just authentic.
Twenty-five years later, in the winter of 2000, my book, The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity, was published. I was asked to give the plenary address about Latinos and the media at a national conference on Latino youth.
After my talk, a man named Chris Gifford and a woman named Dolly Espinal invited me to join them for lunch. Turns out they were part of the team that was developing a new children’s television series, and they asked me if I would consider joining them as a consultant. I did and ultimately became the Creative/Cultural Advisor of that show, Dora the Explorer, and its sequel, Go, Diego, Go!” For more than twenty years I have been working with the show’s multi-ethnic creative team that includes Hispanics of multiple backgrounds and national heritages. They all add unique perspectives.
As we developed Dora, the idea of inclusivity was central to our thinking. The character of Dora had to be inclusive, a Latina inclusivity role model. So we positioned Dora as an intercultural bridge-builder. When she encounters challenges, she overcomes them by uniting other characters into a team, sometimes involving both animals and people.
We considered making Dora ethnically specific: Mexican or Cuban or Dominican or Puerto Rican. But I argued for a different approach: let’s make her pan-Latino. A proud Latina, but with no specific national-origin identity. Then let individual Latino pre-schoolers of all backgrounds –- and their families — identify with Dora in their own unique ways.
And that’s what happened. In fact, not only Latino kids identified with her. So did kids of other backgrounds. And not just in the United States, but around the world. Dora, a Latina, connected with all kids.
And she drew upon her ethnic authenticity to add to their lives. Consider language. You don’t have to speak Spanish to be authentically Latino. But Spanish is a core element of Hispanic culture. Speaking both Spanish and English is part of Dora’s Latina authenticity.
Because most of the show’s characters are monolingual, either in English or in Spanish, Dora constantly draws on her bilingual skills to build intercultural bridges. And she reaches out to viewers by adding Spanish words to their vocabularies and encouraging them to use those Spanish words to help Dora and her friends overcome challenges. In the process Dora continuously demonstrates the additive value of being bilingual and how this can contribute to greater inclusivity.
Sometimes inclusivity became the central theme of an episode. Take the episode entitled “First Day of School.” Tico and Boots set off for their first day of school. But it’s not just any school. It’s an inclusive dual immersion school using both Spanish and English. So monolingual English-speaking Boots and monolingual Spanish-speaking Tico become more empowered because they are learning each other’s language. In the process they also help each other learn language. Their classroom inclusivity is additive.
Now let’s move on to the third adjective of equitable inclusivity: capacious. As in capacity or capacidad. Beyond simply being authentic or even additive, the idea of capacious inclusivity addresses a deeper, richer dimension: a more inclusive sense of we-ness. Not a we-ness that forces you to surrender your special authenticity in order to be part of it. Rather a we-ness that highlights its diverse parts while at the same time fostering a broader sense of mutual identification. A we-ness in which we all become co-participants in the project of equitable inclusivity. I am both me and a unique part of we.
I am currently engaged in a Latino project that pursues such capacious me-to-we inclusivity. It’s called The Cheech. The Cheech Marin Museum of Chicano Art & Culture, which opened in Riverside in June of this year.
Cheech Marin –- actually Richard Anthony Marin — has had an incredible career: stand-up comic; filmmaker; actor; and much more. But Cheech is also a renowned art collector, specializing in Chicano art. And he is a visionary. Cheech, the Riverside Art Museum, and the City of Riverside have collaborated to create this new museum that features Cheech’s extensive personal collection and also mounts exhibits of other Chicano art.
I was honored by being selected as the Consulting Humanist for The Cheech. In that role I am conducting a series of filmed Conversations at The Cheech. At this point I’m not sure how these conversations will be disseminated, but they may become part of a documentary film on the history of The Cheech. We’ll see.
Two weeks ago Cheech and I had an hour-long filmed conversation. We explored many nooks and crannies of his art collector career and his role in creating The Cheech. We also talked about the wonderful opening special exhibit, featuring the astonishing work of two brothers, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, especially their jaw-dropping two-story lenticular, which sits prominently in view as you enter the museum. You can look at it endlessly, because as you move from place to place, the lenticular’s myriad images change to reveal fascinating surprises.
I specifically asked Cheech about his personal vision. Whom does he hope visits the museum? His response was simple, elegant, and profound: everybody. He wants everybody to embrace Chicano art. He wants The Cheech to be a capaciously inclusive institution, in which people of all backgrounds immerse themselves in the specialness of Chicano art and become enriched because of it.
Cheech wants people to recognize that Chicano art is unique. but also adds to the broader world of Latino art. Symbolic of that vision is a section called Sala José Medina, named in honor of Riverside’s current state legislator. A former graduate student of mine, José has been a major force behind The Cheech as well as authoring the bill by which California became the very first state to establish an ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation. José is a Panamanian American.
But Cheech also wants Chicano and Latino art to be viewed as central to American art, both art of the United States and art of the Americas. Art that is part of an expanding, more capacious vision of our nation. Art that is authentic, adds to the American story, and can bring diverse people together through a capacious reconceptualization of what it means to be an American.
Through capacious inclusivity, Chicano art and Latino art can become everybody’s art. Not through surface enjoyment or the tawdry process of cultural appropriation, but rather through mutual respect, mutual enrichment, and mutual identification. Art that broadens our understanding of commonalities and differences not as antagonists, but as continuously interacting contributors to a more equitably inclusive United States of America.
So thank you for accompanying me on my personal journey of reflection. The rest is up to you. All of you. Here’s our common challenge: can we make equitable inclusivity a guiding vision for our nation’s future? You can all play a part.
You can play a part by being proud and forthright about your special authenticities and by supporting the authenticities of others.
You can play a part by treating uniqueness as additive and by providing opportunities for others to draw upon their uniqueness to enrich our workplaces, our communities, and our nation.
You can play a part by expanding your personal capaciousness, by recognizing difference as an essential part of a vibrant whole, and by embracing otherness as part of the we-ness of a more equitably inclusive America.
I’m not suggesting that those things will solve all of the world’s problems. But maybe, together, we can move the inclusivity needle further away from being conditional and more toward being equitable. Maybe we can reduce the number of Carl and Tomás moments and build upon such models as Woody, Dora, and Cheech. That’s our challenge. That’s my hope.
And I also hope I’ll have the opportunity of meeting some of you in person one of these days. If that happens, feel free to call me whatever: Mr. Cortés, Dr. Cortés, or just plain old Carlos. They all work for me. Just one request. Please don’t call me Carl.
Photo: From left, Rev. John Edwards, Jr., Diane Nash, John Edwards, III
When I got the news that President Biden recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civil rights icon Diane Nash, I called an elated John Edwards, III, publisher of the Chattanooga News Chronicle having recalled a chat I had with him a while ago about his memories of and experiences with Nash.
Said Edwards, whose dad was an influential pastor and civil rights leader in Tennessee, and whose church was bombed by racists, “I was only 12 years old when I got the approval from my father to take part in the sit-ins. Dad dropped me off at the church early each morning where I sat on the front row and took my marching orders from John Lewis and Diane Nash. I was so enamored with those two Fisk University students and the courage they embodied.” Continue reading Civil Rights Icon Diane Nash….What else don’t we know? – by Terry Howard→
In April 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report. The report was probably prompted by several year’s ago Canadian report on First Peoples boarding schools, and by the appointment of the first Native American Secretary of the Interior. The Canadian report was issues by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in 2015.
The U.S. report has much interesting information on cultural eradication. Native American children were forced from their families and into schools that were little better than prisons, beginning in the early years of the American Republic. Esteemed Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin expressed anti-Indian beliefs. Interestingly, these sentiments were sometimes expressed in confidential memos to Congress, as if it was known even then that the actions were morally reprehensible.
This piece explores another African American bit of history. It is about John Lewis and James Zwerg.
Like many, I would love to have been a proverbial “fly on the wall,” listening intently to candid conversations between those two men. Of course, we –well, most of us anyway – know about the late congressman John Lewis. But James Zwerg?
There is much discussion in the United States of what race is, how it can be and is used for good and ill, and how it can be used permissibly from a legal perspective of “environmental justice” and “race neutrality” as a political initiative. These discussions can become quite heated. This article is an attempt to “disambiguate” the discussion, as the post-modern literary critics say.
There are various uses of race:
1. To Define Protected Classes
As a statement on protected classes, as in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. This includes all public schools, almost all colleges and universities, all public transit providers, most police departments, and a great many other infrastructure entities. “Protected” means the particular focus of nondiscrimination laws. However, all races and national origins are covered by federal civil rights laws.
2. To Indicate or Screen
As an “indicator,” that is, helping to identify where issues of particular groups need addressing. Examples include use in Environmental Justice Screens and Geographic Information System (GIS) overlays used by some states such as California, and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These are visual representations of data.
3. To Analyze Survey Results
For statistical analysis purposes, like in a survey where at the end it asks you your race. Providing this information is voluntary on your part.
4. To Identify Oneself as Belonging to a Particular Group.
For individual self-identification. A person is free to identify in any way they choose, but when such identification comes to public attention, the person may be criticized if the group chosen appears “wrong” or inappropriate or chosen for a craven reason. An example is the criticism of Senator Elizabeth Warren for once stating on an application form that she was Native American. She was heavily criticized, in part because some critics thought she had entered this information in order to obtain an advantage in a hiring process. In defense, she noted that she does have Native American ancestors. Some of the critics felt that she was not sufficiently Native American. The issue of Native American identity is particularly fraught, because each tribe decides its own membership criteria, although at some points in the past the U.S. Government has encouraged use of “blood quanta” or percent of Nation American “blood,” close to what we might today call DNA or genetic markers. This also resonates with determinations of Blackness by racist governments in the past, where the “one drop rule” sometimes applied. This meant that if a person had even one Black ancestor, they were considered Black for discrimination and exclusion purposes. Today, with an increasing number and percent of people being multi-racial, the choice of an identifier has become more rather than less difficult.
5. To Act as a Part of Intersectionality
Many people are not one “thing.” There are issues of intersectionality, where a person belongs to various groups, and can suffer increased adverse effect from that belonging. Examples include being a Black non-binary person with a disability.
6. To Engage in Traditional Naming Conventions
The use of “old-fashioned” words can appear in the names of some traditional organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the NAACP/Legal Defense Fund. The groups maintain these names for traditional and historical reasons. Other names are misnomers, such as the Nation of Islam, which is not Islamic, but is rather a separatist African-American group.
7. To Show what a Group is Interested in
Use of racialized terms can be used as an indicator of the primary interest of an organization, as in Black Students Unions in colleges and universities. Even this is subject to controversy as some such groups seek university recognition as an official organization on campus. But university regulations usually require that officially recognized groups be nondiscriminatory. So what happens when a white person wants to join the Black Student Union? This can result in difficulties and controversies on campus if that person is denied membership.
8. To Fulfill the Constitutional Requirement for a Census
For Census purposes, information on race, self-identified, is used to gain information about groups within an entire population. For example, such information was formerly used in Voting Rights Act cases, to help determine majority-minority congressional districts and for pre-clearance purposes of state redistricting plans, until these elements were struck down by the Supreme Court. Previously, a state had to obtain the permission of the Department of Justice before institution changes in congressional districts.
9. To Focus Services and Benefits
Race is used to help provide focused services and benefits to a particular demographic group. If the particular group is designated by race, and governments are providing the service, then the method may have to go through the process of strict scrutiny as described below.
10. To Provide Medical and Health Services
Race is used in medical studies, for research, treatment, and to show disparities. The first is controversial because of tragedies like the Tuskegee Study, where African-American men were left untreated for syphilis, and the second because of debates about the efficacy of certain medicines disaggregated by the race of the patient. It has been shown that certain blood types are more prevalent among certain races, and that some genetic disorders appear more commonly among certain racial/ethnic/religious groups, such as Tay-Sachs Disease among Ashkenazi Jews. But see the discussion below of the controversy surrounding whether Jews are a racial/ethnic group. The third area is less controversial, because of well-known diseases like sickle cell, which appears among African-Americans at a much higher rate than among other races. There are many other health disparities that affect people of color more adversely than whites. Some are not related to income or wealth, such as infant and mother mortality among African-American women, which has low correlation with economic class.
11. To Conduct Modern DNA Testing for Individuals
Today it is very popular for people to test themselves for their genetic makeup, such as “23 and Me.” A cheek swab is sent into a lab, which purports to report back to the person what race and ethnicity they are, sometimes with startling and incorrect specificity, such as showing origins in a particular tribe in Africa. In these self-administered DNA tests, the results come back showing what percent a person is of various “races.” Many of these tests are not scientifically verified, since there are no academically accepted markers of race.
12. To Target Outreach and Recruiting in Employment
Some organizations go to specific places and organizations seeking to diversity their employment profile. For example, organizations can recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) without incurring legal jeopardy.
13. To Conduct Affirmative Action in Higher Education Admissions
As one factor among many, race and ethnicity can be used in higher education affirmative action admissions programs. This is currently being challenged in the US Supreme Court, primarily by some Asian-American groups, which feel that their children should be more highly represented at prestigious colleges such as Harvard.
14, To Prove Disparate Impact Discrimination
Race is used as one element to show disparate impact discrimination. Disparate impact is disproportionate adverse effects on one protected class even when the nominal rules are neutral. It is distinct from intentional discrimination, where treating certain racial and ethnic groups badly is done on purpose, due to hate, bias, and prejudice.
15. To Settle Legal Claims
Race sometimes appears as an element of a settlement agreement or court order following a trial where alleged discrimination against a class of people is the issue, as in the old employment cases in some fire and police departments, where some settlements or court orders required an African-American to be hired for every white hired, after proof was offered of intentional race discrimination. The allegations, as proven in court, were that the fire and police departments consciously did not hire African-Americans.
16. To Carry Out Illegal and/or Invidious Discrimination
Race was used as a means for showing and carrying out bias, as in Jim Crow laws and de jure (by law) segregation. These are illegal on their face. Jim Crow laws were in primarily Southern states between the end of slavery in 1865 and the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, to separate Blacks from Whites and deny goods, services, and rights to Blacks. De jure segregation was providing separate facilities to Blacks and whites, such as schools, on the basis of race. This was found to be illegal in the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. However, it suffered from lack of implementation in many places primarily in the South, until the 1970’s. Today, resegregation of schools is occurring, not by law, but by implementation of poor policy, as in allowing charter schools to pick their own curricula, locations, and students.
17. To Create Economic Opportunities for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises
Race is used as an absolute filter or preference or exclusionary factor in such programs to establish eligibility. An example is disadvantaged business enterprise programs (DBE), sometimes called Minority Business Enterprise, where an owner being African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, or Native American constitutes an eligibility factor and a presumptive factor that a business controlled by such individuals is eligible for contractual set-asides. These programs were established to provide more economic development to minority-owned businesses, which weren’t getting government contracts. However, even with these, there is a knock-out factor requiring less than a certain net worth of the company. That is to say, a high economic status would make such a business ineligible, even if controlled by a presumptively disadvantaged person.
18. To Fulfill Constitutional Tests
Of the various categories listed above, only the filtering and preference factors are Constitutionally suspect and subject to strict scrutiny. Strict scrutiny is a Constitutional test requiring a showing of compelling government interest, a history of discrimination, a narrowly tailored remedy, and attempts to fulfill the governmental interest without racially-based measures. This is because race is considered an invidious category under the Constitution, which has assumptions for the desirability of non-race based criteria for governmental interventions. Strict scrutiny is the highest standard for examining government programs. The burden is on the program provider to justify the use of race-based criteria. Certain exclusions can also be illegal on their face, such as holding diversity training only for whites, or math classes only for Blacks.
19. To Address the Social Construction of Race
Note that “race” is not an absolute, since academics often refer to it as “socially constructed.” That is to say, people invent the concept of race. There is no a priori concept of race floating around in the universe, like gravity or entropy or the speed of light. There also are groups that may or may not be considered a “race,” such as Jews, where there is a long and protracted debate on the subject, confused recently by an Executive Order issued under Donald Trump, which moved the needle of government considerations toward considering Jews a race. However, Jews are of every race, color, and nationality. The issue is today still very controversial, as when the comedian Whoopi Goldberg recently was criticized strongly for saying Jews are not a race. One of the criticism of her statement was the idea that the Nazis in the Holocaust did consider Jews a race. One might think it absurd to use the views of mass genocidal murderers to identify oneself. Nevertheless, the effect of racial identification is often felt on innocent people due to its use by hateful enemies. We often have no choice but to be identified by our enemies.
20. To Differentiate Issues of Color
There also are issues of color, which are sometimes race-related, and sometimes not. For example, many older people from India consider themselves Aryan, even though their skin may appear to be non-white. The concept of “Aryan” is an ancient one that was brought to the fore by the Nazis. Aryans were considered the archetypal “white” people. There also are people who look “white,” but who identify as Black. Once in awhile, such identifications present controversies, as in the woman in Spokane, Washington, who identified as Black and was active in the local NAACP chapter, but whose family was clearly and historically white. She was the biological offspring of this family, and not adopted.
21. To Identify as Multi-Racial and being Forced to Identify
There are also multi-racial people. There used to be a tradition for some people in the US to “pass” as white, in order to obtain the privileges of the dominant group. In the 1920’s in Virginia, the First Peoples of Virginia were forced to identify on a State census as white or Black. Many chose white because of the perceived (and real) privilege accruing to whites in Virginia at that time. This had negative downstream consequences because it meant that there were no federally recognized tribes in Virginia until about 15 years ago.
22. To Distinguish Caste from Race
Yet another related category is caste, recently made popular for discussion in the US in Isabelle Wilkerson’s best selling book. Caste has elements of socioeconomics and class, as well as race, in Wilkerson’s analysis. The concept and use of caste originated in India, where it is today nominally illegal but continues to exist, be practiced, and have adverse effects on “low caste” people. In India and the UK, caste is not related to race, though there are indigenous people in India who suffer from both race and caste discrimination.
23. To Accomplish Bad Goals without using Racial Words
There are also proxy measures for race, such as factors used in voter suppression in some states, and “dog whistles,” where a person or group does not refer to race explicitly, but uses terms widely known to be disparaging, such as “welfare queen.”
This list and discussion have shown that there are many ways that race as a word, term, and concept is used in the United States. Some are legal, some illegal, some serve good purposes, some are neutral, and some serve bad purposes. If we are careful, we can at least have discussions based on common understandings. This might help to lower the emotional tone of discussions involving race. While this discussion is not meant to be exhaustive because the topic is essentially endless and changing daily, it points out some complexities in discussing race from a public policy perspective. It will help us in our work and life in society if we are clear about what we mean.
The debate over Black History Month is not new, but it intensified when the Oscar nominees were all Caucasian and earned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Provoked an outcry, it raised questions about the existence of Black Entertainment Television awards (BET) and whether it hurt rather than helped African Americans in Hollywood.
“Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard, ” said actress Stacey Dash in Variety. .
The controversy also involves Black History Month. My conversations with friends showed considerable ambivalence. Some felt that limiting the recognition of African Americans to one month was not helpful. Recognition and respect should be awarded throughout the year. Further, they felt that Black History should be seen as American History. Luronda Jennings, a member of Chattanooga’s Lean In – Women GroundBreakers, expressed her views. “Although Black History awareness is extremely valuable, I feel that once the entire human race respects and embraces American history and the uniqueness of all individuals, we will begin to move forward with positive change.” Another member of the group, Tina Player, shared similar thoughts, “Black should be recognized every day and not focused on one month of the year. We as a people are important and each of us has a story to tell.”
Hopes for a time when Black History Month will be obsolete were joined by a down-to-earth perspective. Voicing concern that young people learn little about Black History in school, they were reluctant to reject events marking Black History Month. Too few youngsters know about prominent African Americans beyond The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If there was no Black History Month, would there would be any recognition at all? Current censorship of race-related history suggest that instead of becoming more comfortable together as some claim, we’ll enter a culture war. Casting us adrift from our culturally diverse roots to achieve a more perfect union has never worked.. I have always said that attempts to “Homogenize NOT Harmonize” only alienates and creates more discomfort and conflict, not less. Perhaps the best solution is to use the tools of Black History Month to advocate for more visibility and equity.
On Monday the nation will pause to observe the annual holiday honoring the life and legacy of iconic civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet too many Millennials and members of their younger cohort, Generation Z, consider civil rights history as ancient history at the dawn of a new millennium.
However, there are profound and poignant lessons which today’s young people need to learn. The most important lesson is how to make major changes in society through the type of peaceful means championed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights leaders of the time.