Those of you who really know me understand that treating people fairly is one of my most important goals. I want a free and fair society, and I strongly oppose those who would judge others based on anything other than individual work ethic and achievement. Unfortunately, I am seeing what I call the New Racism. The New Racism delves into racial scapegoating and once again stereotypes what members of any "racial" group are likely to do- all in the name of fighting racism! Bah.
This is long, so I'll understand if not everyone wants to read it. Peace and justice.
John R. Shirley
Confronting Disguised Racism and Regressive Multiculturalism
Racism is still a challenging issue in the United States. Various approaches to solving “racially” based prejudicial behavior have been tried. I feel some attitudes and strategies in articles assigned for this class are well intentioned but unfortunately ultimately racist, prejudicial, and counterproductive to a truly healthy and well-integrated society.
The 2005 Teachers College Record article “Struggles of Hope: How White Adult Educators Challenge Racism” is a distressing hodgepodge of racist attitudes, incorrect data and apparently well-meaning but poorly considered opinion. Perhaps starting with the most basic terminology is simplest. Manglitz, Johnson-Bailey, and Cervero use the phrase “antiracist”, which automatically stages the emotional tone for this article. Describing an attitude by what it combats instead of what it supports sets a different expectation entirely. Instead of supporting and encouraging positive elements and actions, the reader is to believe that the subjects of this article attack negative ones- and this is just the expectation derived from the first sentence of the article.
When explaining the background of the study, the authors approach the issue of “whiteness”, by which they mean not only attitudes automatically associated with a Euro-American heritage, but privilege inherent in being white. Manglitz, et al, then deride recent dialog that they claim “seek(s) to preserve White advantages through the denial of racial differences, the rhetoric of color blindness, and the myth of social equality and opportunity” (1). They then tie this contentious statement with “the declining wealth of all but the richest Americans” (2). To address “racial differences”, the American Anthropological Association issued a statement in 1998 decrying a “racial” worldview, explaining that dividing people into “races” with separate and distinct characteristics is scientifically incorrect and inherently racist. Anthropological study exists to find and celebrate cultural differences, but the AAA rejects the notion of race. There are no inherent “racial” differences. “Color blindness” will be addressed later, but the claim that only the wealthiest Americans are prospering is easily disprovable.
In the article “Five Trends for Schools”, readers find “the proportion living below poverty generally has declined for all household types nationally since the 1990s…the period between 1980 and 2004 saw a steady increase in the percentage of children who lived with at least one parent who worked full-time year-round” (Lapkoff & Li, 4). These statistics, derived from multiple government sources, quickly show that “Struggles of Hope” cannot be viewed in factual terms, and highlight poor scholarship in general. The main goal of this article is to draw attention to “whiteness”, its claimed inherent advantages, and reject being “color blind”. The sad truth is that many Americans may genuinely now view people as they should be viewed, judged purely on their personal characteristics and achievements, but these apparently well-meaning authors- each holding doctorates- are deliberately re-injecting racism. If readers accept the premises of Manglitz, et al, we cannot view any “white” individual in any ranking position, including academia, without automatically considering they have reached that position partially because they have been privileged by birth- regardless of the fact that the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that minority college enrollment (32%) almost exactly mirrors the percentage of the U.S. minority population (33%).
Terry, a white woman in her 40s, makes racist assumptions when she says, “White people, we have our set of dysfunctions and People of Color have their set of dysfunctions…internalized racial oppression for People of Color and internalized White supremacy for us” (Manglitz, et al, 5). This assumption of any sort of group mentality instead of individual thought, expression, and personal value is the exact sort of idea that those seeking a truly colorblind society have been combating for many years. The racist assumptions of the article authors are again indicated when they do not challenge this quote. Ironically, Manglitz et al, discuss individual responsibility in the next paragraph after this quote, but since the entire point of this article is that “Whiteness” is inherent and oppressive in organizations and our society in general, the single paragraph about individual responsibility is but token acknowledgement.
White privilege is a concept repeatedly mentioned and assumed in this article. I have not seen white privilege, which I understand differently than racism. It is obvious that Manglitz et al, mean that whites have inherent advantages and must consider these advantages when examining their own successes. While I have seen racism, I have:
Attended a college that was over 90% black;
Been told by a variety of government oriented work and school programs that I could easily gain entrance if I were black or female (but had little chance as a white male);
Worked for years in a position where I, as a white, straight male, was the least represented portion of the work force (the most common coworker was a black female in her 20s).
Furthermore, I grew up in a household in the Deep South (Alabama), where my father worked a state government blue-collar job with at least 50% black coworkers who made similar wages. I have at times been the victim of racism, as I am certain most Americans will be during the course of their lives, and I have seen the power of “having connections”- by which I mean knowing someone who knows a hiring manager- but I have never seen white privilege in my thirty-six years of life. I do not deny that being “white” could possibly serve my advantage if dealing with a potential employer or authority figure who was also white, but this is equally true of Latinos, Asians, blacks, and any other group including the Masons, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the area.
Much of the latter half of “Struggles of Hope” repeatedly talks about the importance of color, about realizing one is white, and about how that whiteness affects our lives deeply. As someone who actually stopped seeing color as significant many years ago, and who indeed supports a society based on individual achievement, the authors’ continual deriding of those who preach a colorblind society is offensive and saddening. The section title on page seven is “Always undoing racism”, but that is not what this article is about. I understand that black people started with a disadvantage in our society, with the U.S. system of slavery based on color as the easiest and quickest method of discrimination. Instead of working to continually make the United States a place where people are judged solely on who they are, Manglitz et al, are creating the New Racism, while claiming to be combating racism. It is difficult to fully express my sadness at this.
After their claims, Manglitz et al, make no significant suggestions for those who wish to actively combat racism. They mention God, and talk a lot about dialog, but the main point they appear to want accepted is just that being white automatically confers privilege, whites should feel guilty because they could not choose their parents, and racism and racist systems should be confronted whenever seen. I agree with confronting racism, which is why I cannot agree with most of this article.
Kathy Hytten writes extensively about multiculturalism in her article “The Promise of Cultural Studies of Education”. Hytten seems to genuinely care about the subject matter, but she makes a variety of incorrect statements while listing some thoughtful points. She says of ‘critical literacy’ “students are taught the relations among literacy, culture and power and shown how culture works to shape individuals’ understanding of knowledge and the world around them”(16). Rendered objectively true, with my additions in italics, the sentence reads “students are taught the teachers’ ideas of relations…and shown how their teachers believe culture works to shape individuals…” Some bias cannot help but be present in any social science. Hytten appears cognizant of inherent bias in the status quo of education when she writes of “the unavoidably political nature of knowledge, schooling” , but seems to believe “social reconstruction” will automatically be positive (16).
Introducing multiculturalism into schools is a worthy goal, but progressive educators seem to hold some contradictory viewpoints. It is impossible to be truly against oppression of any sex, occupation, religion, or culture and yet believe “all peoples’ lives and experiences are validated and legitimated”(Hytten, 17). Should we share the Yanomamo Indians’ viewpoint that ambushing enemies, gang raping their women, and snorting prodigious amounts of jungle drugs are the high points in life? Do we want to “legitimize” mutilation of young girls because a few African societies practice FGM ? Should we validate the racist/classist assumptions held by many societies? It is astounding to me that some U.S. educators are beginning with goals of social justice and equality that they have gained from the best ideals of our culture and yet seek to introduce elements that strongly contradict the ideals they espouse.
There is an American culture. Those of us who are deeply committed to a just society must work to continue to eradicate pointless prejudice while refusing to blindly accept and legitimize immoral viewpoints in the name of multiculturalism. American educators have helped to create possibly the most equal and just society ever to exist, and while we must continually be vigilant to combat assumptions based on color or class, we must not regress our progress towards a society that rewards individual achievement regardless of factors such as religion, sex, age, or the shade of our skin. Carefully examining common assumptions of multiculturalism can help achieve this goal.
Hytten, K. (1999). The Promise of Cultural Studies of Education. In J. Noel (Ed.),
Multicultural Education (2nd ed., pp. 13-18). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lapkoff, S. & Li, R. M. (2007). Five Trends for Schools. Educational Leadership, 64
Manglitz, E., Johnson-Bailey, J. & Cervero, R. (2005). Struggles of Hope: How White
Adult Educators Challenge Racism. Teachers College Record, 107 (6).
Statement on Race (1998). American Anthropological Society. Retrieved 23 January
2008 from http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm
Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities. National Center for
Education Statistics. Retrieved 23 January 2008 from