I am not interested in changing who I am to fit inside of a system that was not designed for me. I am not interested in altering my personality, my style, my clothes in order to be afforded the right to anxiously work and achieve…what? [...]
There is a sentiment that I have been seeing circulate around the inter-webs that I want to respond to. It is not a new sentiment, in fact one that has been present for…well, the idea is so old I cannot quite trace its origins. The age of the idea, however, does not take away from …
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way... Weekly Round Up:
Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.
In discussions about "reverse discrimination" the conversation often quickly slides to the subject of affirmative action. Dr. Tatum devotes an entire chapter to the subject, subtitled "I'm in favor of affirmative action except when it comes to my jobs." She notes that many white people wonder "Will I get the job I want or will it go to some 'minority'?" The implication being that the minority that got the job is inherently less qualified and only got it based on color.
Obama acknowledged fears of white people in his A More Perfect Union speech:
"Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch...And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time..."
Particularly in this economy, it's scary to think that one might lose an opportunity because of skin color. But this is a fear that people of color have to deal with every day--and have been for centuries. But two wrongs, don't make a right, so let me try to explain why I don't think affirmative action is a wrong.
Those that don't like affirmative action generally feel that through these policies their whiteness becomes a disadvantage. In fact, white privilege and systemic disparity acts to bolster white folks so much that whiteness can never truly be a disadvantage--affirmative action just makes it so we aren't so way out ahead (see post on so-called 'White victims of racism'). Forty-years of "advantage" cannot begin to reverse the 500 year head-start white people had (see post: Academic Admissions), or erase the economic and psychological mars that oppression has left on >40% of this country. There are still severe inequalities that prevent otherwise-qualified people from coming to the interview with a fair shot. We have a responsibility to rectify the discrimination in the classroom and in the workplace, as well as the historical head start white folks have had.
One problem affirmative action faces is that it gets confused with quotas. Filling quotas and affirmative action are two different things. In my view, quotas are used to fulfill a requirement and then say "there. we're done. we can stop now. we have our token minorities." It is a system totally unrelated to merit or qualifications, which is why a lot of white people freak out about it. These practices are no longer allowed.
Affirmative action, on the other hand, when done well, is goal driven. That means the numbers can be exceeded and the policy acts to aid the company's success as well as that of the employees'. Remember that "seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people." The idea of proactive enrollment is that you decide what qualifications one needs to be successful, including a diverse background with an understanding of multiculturalism, and then you stick to those qualifications. You cast your net wide, advertising the position in Black Enterprise (or whatever applies to your field), and you remember that bringing diversity into the workplace is one of the job qualifications during the interview process. Keep in mind, there are many white people that fulfill this requirement and everyone has the opportunity to gain a background in cultural diversity, but more people of color may have taken advantage of those opportunities (often can hardly help but to!) and so may be more likely to fit the job description.
Allow me to describe a situation where the model I describe might be relevant. Applications for medical school are a tough business. What does it take to get in? It takes top notch grades for sure. Last year's Ohio State class had an undergraduate GPA averaging 3.7. The next biggest thing is the MCAT--OSU's average is a 33. So lets assume anyone with those numbers is fit to be a good doctor. Then what? OSU says you will need clinical and research experience, 'leadership,' 'volunteer service,' and 'extracurricular activities.' What exactly does all that mean? And how much is enough? who knows.
There are thousands of med school applicants with high high GPAs and MCAT scores. So in what activities could an applicant participate to make her application more attractive? Debate team? Orchestra? Baseball? What about becoming a member of a Diversity Roundtable, or the Multicultural Student Union. Attending a diversity retreat. Going to events where you are in the racial minority. These options promote the development of any number of important skills for med school: well-roundedness (so you don't go crazy in your first year), cross-cultural understanding (vital for any doctor who wants to see patients outside her immediate family), relating to different perspectives (collaboration is the new hot trend in the research community), empathy, patience (hello bedside manner!). Maybe a candidate has a 3.7 GPA AND was a member of the biology honors society, phi beta kappa, and graduated magma cum laude. But so what? Those accolades are largely redundant. We already said a 3.7 makes you a good doctor, so stick to that qualification, and accept a student who brings other qualifications in addition. Once we have determined when a student is academically smart enough to become a doctor, lets make another priority be that she is culturally smart enough to be a good doctor. If this were more a part of our rubric, I actually think a lot fewer white people would qualify.
People that grow up in a similar way will think a similar way, will tackle problems in similar ways. This is not a good way to run any organization. We limit ourselves and each other. We have no idea what innovations we are missing by limiting ourselves to work with those like us.
I cringe to think of how long ago we might have had the cure to cancer if we were taking advantage the all brilliant minds that, though historic discrimination, had to struggle through school while they worked part-time to help support their family (it is easy to get into college when you don't have to worry about the next utility bill). Or what about the inventor of an eco-friendly biofuel that couldn't get a job interview because she has a funny name? Or the broker of peace in the Middle East that got teased so much in high school that he didn't have the confidence to apply for college. It happens. And we are screwing ourselves over because of it.
Let's be clear though, our own evangelical and economic benefit is not the primary reason to rectify discriminatory hiring practices, it is only a fringe benefit.
The heart of the matter is recognizing that there is systemic injustice. And with it comes our responsibility to care for others and make sure that we work to right the wrongs that brought us to that place of privilege (you know...'love one another,' 'give the cloak off your back,' 'do justice, and love kindness'). Too many employers stop at the 'cast the net wide' part of creating an open interview process. They figure they will advertise widely and then just choose the best candidate. But this strategy ignores the systematic advantages that white people have to making it through the interview process (or even TO the interview process). Many studies show that when resumes are close or identical in their content, black candidates are more likely to loose out on the job. White folk have the right hair, the right cloths, the right accent. How must it feel to worry whether wearing your hair the way God put in on your head will keep you from getting a job?
Second, those that have benefited for so long from an unjust system owe it to our workplaces, our churches, our sisters and brothers of color, and ourselves to make some sacrifices to reverse wrongs done. We have an imperative to fix the wrong that we benefit from, even if we personally didn't cause it to develop.
Take a look at Acts 6:1-7, with the concept of affirmative action in mind. This is a story about how the church first deals with marginalized members of its community and how it uses affirmative action to remedy the situation. A minority group of Jews were complaining that their widows weren't getting their fair share of the food distributions. And what did the Apostles do about it? They promoted seven (fully qualified: "full of the Spirit and wisdom") Greek leaders to make sure rations were distributed fairly, not only to the Greek widows, but to everyone in the community. The apostles gave full support to this 'equal employment opportunity' by laying hands on them and blessing them. Notice that, after it was brought to their attention, the Apostles recognized and acknowledged that an injustice was occurring. They didn't dismiss the complaint, or claim that the Hellenistic Jews were just trying gain an unfair advantage. They didn't blame the victim, or claim it was a "Greek problem" to be solved by the Greek community. They stepped up a fixed the situation. And what happened? "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith"
I don't know how to right the centuries of racial wrongs that have compounded themselves. I don't know if the methods discussed here even come close-- at best they are indirect solutions that don't guarantee immediate equality. But it might help, and for now, it is all the law allows. And we have do something.
To close, Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates some good points in this article Black Privilege for The Atlantic:
There are some legitimate criticisms of Affirmative Action. I think this is one of the dumbest: the underlying premise is that society is generally fair, and no one receives a leg up ever, except black people. Or it assumes that such advantages exist, but negritude, in the nation of white leagues, black codes, and red lines, imparts the sort of boost heretofore unwitnessed.
But the history of America, itself, is, in no small measure, the history of an Affirmative Action program for white people. Mitt Romney was born in a Detroit neighborhood where the deed read:
"Said lots shall not be sold or leased to or occupied by any person or persons other than of the Caucasian race. But this shall not be interpreted to exclude occupancy by persons other than of the Caucasian race when such occupancy is incidental to their employment on the premises."
In other words, the neighborhood, like virtually every nice neighborhood in Detroit, and many throughout the country, was a giant set-aside for white people who didn't want to compete with blacks. But no one feels that Mitt Romney achievements--or the achievements of white people in general--are tainted by red-lining. No one says, "Would Mitt Romney have succeeded without race preferences?" ...I've talked repeatedly about my concerns with race-based Affirmative Action. But none of those concerns involve ill-gotten goods. Who is the successful human who can claim that they have never, not once, been advantaged by society? And who, with honesty and intelligence, would seriously claim that, among those advantages, black privilege is king?
After the Charlottesville riot on Saturday, I wrestled with the idea of writing a piece that would convincingly urge my Christian brothers and sisters to respond. I first contemplated the idea of speaking to the need for the Church to condemn the protest and violence of white nationalism, but it felt somewhat shallow. […] Continue reading What More Can I Say? On Charlottesville and White Supremacy
Where I live in B.C., the smoky haze is finally clearing, and I can actually see some blue sky this morning! Yet as a province we’re still in a state of emergency due to wildfires continuing to rage out of... Read More ›
What else is there to say? Have we not convinced you?Were you surprised at the images and videos this weekend?Did you think we were exaggerating when we said the nation's demons were being released?"I can't believe this is happening"Aren't you persuade...
What does it mean to be completely and wonderfully made? What does it mean to be so deeply and intricately designed and known by our creator that wherever we go, whatever we do, whether we make our bed in heaven or the earth below, that God sees us, responds to us, loves us? These ideas … Continue reading What Happened to Us? A Sermon on Sin and Trauma
With few exceptions, everyone wants to know where they come from, i.e., their heritage. This is especially true of those of us who are children of immigrants in the United States. During this past year in Switzerland, I have been steeped in discovering my own ancestral roots. From the Alpine foothills near Schwartzenburg and the Gürbetal Valley near Wattenwil, the Wengers, the Hersheys and the Horsts were pushed into the deep crevices of the Emmental Valley. Constantly pursued by Bernese Authorities, they moved on to the Palatinate in Germany, and finally settled in the USA after years of uncertainty. The Clemmers (Clymer, Kleiner, Klymer) came from the region of Zürich.
|The Hohgant Ridge near where the Emme River begins.|
I travelled the Emmental (Emme River Valley) both literally and in my readings from the beginnings of the Emme River near Kemmeriboden-Bad under the majestic Hohgant Ridge, to Burgdorf with its majestic fortress on a hill overlooking the Emme River. The whole area at one time was riddled with Anabaptists. Our travels included the castle in Trachselwald were my forbearers were held in prison, and the Anabaptist Hideout where the Frankhauser family concealed Anabaptists in a hidden chamber in their barn while Bernese “Anabaptist hunters” pursued them.
I discovered that one part of my family had been Anabaptist since 1591, making me a tenth generation Anabaptist. That same family came to the USA in 1731, and eight generations of that family still live in the original house in Lancaster County. My Clemmer relative supposedly arrived in the USA in 1730 in the same wave of Anabaptist immigrants, making me an eighth generation Anabaptist in the USA.
All of this family history has made me feel rooted, understanding where I’ve come from, and some of the idiosyncrasies of my cultural make up. There are times here in Switzerland when I meet someone, walk a certain road, or hear a piece of music that makes me feel an uncannily nostalgic bred-in-the-bone affinity to Switzerland.
In the middle of this journey to find my roots, I received a message from the director of the Latino Student Alliance at Eastern Mennonite University. They wanted to invite me to be the keynote speaker for the kickoff of their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. I was delighted to accept, while protesting that I am not Latino. “You are an honorary Latino,” was the response from the planning committee.
|Lago Atitlán in Guatemala|
Indeed, I have lived, worked, studied and related to Latinos more than eight years in the countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. I taught Spanish full- and part-time for over 30 years at two institutions in the USA. I served on Mennonite Central Committee’s East Coast board of directors for six years. During that stint with MCC, I caucused with the Latino representatives, sometimes translating, often serving as a liaison. We shared our stories with each other, laughed and worked together for a cause that transcended our heritages. They fully accepted me into their circle as one of them.
To say that I was not affected or influenced by my exposure to the Latino cultural heritage is to ignore reality. Once while attending a party of mostly Latinos, a non-Spanish speaking participant friend of mine remarked after the party: “You seem to have a different personality when you speak Spanish.” This was a totally new and intriguing thought to me.
Do I have two distinct personalities that weave in and out of the cultural situations in which I find myself? One Latino and one Swiss-American? If this is so, am I schizophrenic?
I would rather believe that I have learned to meld the two heritages together into a hybrid personality that functions in whatever particular culture I am in. This melding does not make me two-faced, or a doppelganger, but rather an example of what has potential to be an emerging culture in the USA.
As evidenced by many posts on the recent MCUSA Convention in Orlando, there are still numerous cultural divides that separate rather than meld together. An example of this comes from a Latina friend of mine who is the most acculturated Latina Mennonite I know. She wrote on Facebook while on her way to the Convention: “The white people in this shuttle have identified each other as Mennonite, and have left me out of this conversation. So therefore, I think they think I'm here on some other business.” The Swiss, German, Dutch, Russian-American heritage white card left my Latina friend excluded. I have heard many similar stories.
Our church has much to learn about the melding of heritages, and our racially divided country even more. My hope is that my church can become an example, a witness, to the power of the Gospel to meld cultural heritages. Even though Paul was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) he became the apostle to the Gentiles, crossing and melding cultural heritages “becom[ing] all things to all people in order to save some” (1. Cor. 9:22). There has been some progress, but we have a long way to go.
The Latino Student Alliance accepted me as an “honorary Latino.” I felt that the Latino Caucus at MCC did the same. How soon will we be ready to invite non-European heritage people into our midst as not just “honorary Mennonite/Christians,” but fully accepted as equals?