Diversity That Matters: A Commitment to Social Justice

Diversity That Matters: A Commitment to Social Justice

CCCC: Supporting and promoting the teaching and study of college composition and communication

Annette Harris Powell, Assistant Professor of English
Bellarmine University

I teach at a university with a mission grounded in the Catholic Intellectual tradition of faith and reason and focused on the examined life as a way to encourage students to be discerning. We also teach students to become critically engaged in social justice issues that support global sustainability as it embraces “cross-cultural and inter-faith awareness and diversity.” Yet, I frequently get the following student responses to readings:

“I really can’t relate to this experience; it’s very different.”
“These kinds of things don’t really happen here.” Or,
“I don’t really understand why they live like this.”

Commentary such as this is nothing new to me—majority students, in particular, have always been somewhat resistant when asked to reflect on the limits of their own experiences. They continue to be skeptical of, or indifferent to diversity and multiculturalism. This view is doubly complicated by the apparent shifting dynamics of race in this age of “change.” There is growing popular discourse about the imminence of a post-race era. Increasing numbers of both majority students and students of color are now more resistant to “diversity talk,” often asserting that they see no need in dredging up history—“it’s a different day.” The civil rights movement was successful—there is so much more access today…

…Though it’s difficult to say with certainty what accounts for the above responses, economic and class demographics are, I suspect, one indicator. Recently, some scholars (See Jared Sexton’s Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism and Catherine R. Squires’s Dispatches From the Color Line: The Press and Multiracial America) have critiqued multiracialism and its attendant ambiguity as “bridges between the races.” Squires argues that “this ambiguity is about exoticism and intrigue, providing opportunities for consumers to fantasize and speculate about the Other with no expectations of critical consideration of power and racial categories.” This re-positioning of race by many Americans contributes to the conception of race as fluid and neutral. This view is acontextual and ahistorical—race and its underlying societal meaning can be manipulated so that “choice” (the decision to belong/not belong, to be fluid, to move in/out) will maintain the current paradigm of inequality. In the May 29, 2009 issue of The Chronicle Review, Rainier Spencer, a professor of anthropology argues that “what popular wisdom tells us is the supposed twilight of how Americans have thought about race is merely a minor tweaking of the same old racial hierarchy that has kept African-Americans at the bottom of our paradigm since its very inception. Multiracial ideology simply represents the latest means of facilitating and upholding that hierarchy—while claiming quite disingenuously to be doing the opposite” (B5). I would suggest that students and scholars in the field question this facile conception of race…

Read the entire article here.

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