April 9, 2010
America and Ethnicity
Yesterday’s Wall St. Journal had an article by the frequently controversial Dorothy Rabinowitz titled, “What’s Not Happening to American Muslims.” It was prompted by remarks attributed to Tom Hanks in his promotional tour for his epic HBO series, “The Pacific.”
Hanks is reported to have observed that our war with Japan was one of “racism and terror” and “that should remind us of current wars”.
Rabinowitz used the Hanks remark to make some important points about America and how different we are than most of the rest of the world in terms of acceptance of differences, tolerating dissent and respecting minorities. She correctly observes that,
Her theme is not unlike that we raised in a blog last November after the tragedy at Ft. Hood, and which has been documented in poll after poll.
Where Rabinowitz goes further than we did is to seek reasons for Americans’ susceptibility to the view that we are just an admonition away from taking out our anger on minorities here who are related to our enemies abroad. In a hard hitting analysis she refers to the tragedy at Ft. Hood last year,
As one who, in my previous position at the Anti Defamation League, spent years promoting an “anti-bias” curriculum, the A World of Difference program, and its attendant workshops—-I believe she is on to something.
Although exceptionally well-intentioned, many of these programs do indeed promote a “pathological extreme of sensitivity” as part of an effort to further multi-cultural understanding and diversity. The “sensitivity” engendered has a definite downside. Normal interactions are often perceived through the prism of victimhood and otherwise innocuous statements or acts suddenly become suspect and an innocent individual gets labeled as “insensitive,” or worse, “racist.”
I can recall an A World of Difference conference in Boston almost two decades ago at which the keynote speaker was Jane Elliott, a former school teacher who gained national renown for her classroom exercise (which became an ABC network news special) that ostensibly taught her students what the experience of discrimination was like (“Eye of the Storm”). Unfortunately, the message was bound up with the theme that whites are, by definition, racist or at a minimum, culpable beneficiaries of a racist system.
At the time, I found her presentation simplistic, patronizing, and insulting (I actually left the room because I found her message and demeanor so insufferable).In her workshops she described herself as the “resident BITCH for the day—-Being In Total Control Honey.”
Sadly, Elliott’s pernicious theories have infused many “diversity training” programs—she is, after all, considered the “foremother” of diversity training. Here’s a snippet from an interview where she unabashedly sets forth her worldview:
Her theories and outlook have permeated “diversity training” programs whose stock in trade has too often become guilt and looking for boogey men to confirm theories about how America operates. Non-minorities are taught that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege” and should as a result be laden with guilt for having put others down—-intentionally or not. Racism, the participants are told, constantly animates our actions and lurks just below the surface—- it’s often unconscious (we may not even realize that we are animated by bigotry and insensitivity) yet are as guilty as if we were purposeful haters.
Rabinowitz accurately describes this nonsense for what it is—-a skewed unrepresentative distortion of America today. The sooner we shed ourselves of the Jane Elliott-like view of America, the better off we will all be. Hopefully, we will be able to acknowledge where America has come in terms of race and inter-group relations and the real work that we have left before us.
America isn’t perfected, but it surely it is not the dreary place Elliott and her clones would have us believe it is.