Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Color-Line Goes to College

On the wall of Cape Coast slave castle in Ghana, West Africa December 2006

The Boston Globe had a lengthly piece today about "racial tensions" at colleges in the area. Here's a taste of it:

"One girl said to me, 'Well, let's face it, the only reason you're here is because we need the statistics,' " he says. Hermonsillo, who attended Lake Forest Academy, a predominantly white boarding school outside his hometown of Chicago, told her he'd worked as hard as she had to get into college.

"Then she was like, 'Well, ummm,' " recalls Hermonsillo, 18. "She didn't know what to say. She didn't even apologize or anything."

The subject of racial and ethnic tensions on college campuses has become so topical that a November episode of "Without a Trace" kicked off with a white student calling his black peer an affirmative-action "charity case" during class. Tufts University's conservative student newspaper, The Primary Source, generated controversy a year ago when it published a Christmas carol titled "O Come All Ye Black Folk." Asian students at Boston College complain of drunken alumni and students who shout racial epithets as part of their football game celebrations.

In recent months, nooses, a centuries-old symbol of racial intimidation, have been found at the University of Maryland, California State University at Fullerton, Purdue, and Columbia. "Crossing the Border" and "Ghetto" parties, in which white students wear blackface or crawl under barbed-wire fences to get in, generate outcry when images from these events turn up on Facebook. The blog Vox ex Machina offers a "College Racism Roundup" of incidents on campuses nationwide.

The tensions, says Daren Graves, an assistant professor of general education at Simmons College, mirror a nationwide movement opposed to political correctness that's occurring in response to the advances of the civil-rights movement.

"There is a cycle that happens when there are large social movements in any society," Graves says. "The people in power think things are moving way too quickly. . . . What you might be seeing on campus is a reflection of what you're seeing in society in general: 'Let's slow down with this PC stuff. It's taking people out of their comfort zones. I have to watch my words and that's not what America's about.' " (Read all about it here)
I really want to hear from the college kids or adults working in academic environments on this one. Are you seeing similar things where you are?

It's discouraging but not surprising to hear that the same kinds of things are happening in 2007 that were going on when I was an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts back in the 90's. Remember the '90's? Seems like years of multicultural education and diversity training didn't quite reach those who needed it most. Interestingly, there's a nice piece of blogging at Anti-racist parent that basically says "diversity training" doesn't work. It is worth reading. I was speaking with a colleague of mine today about racial issues in Boston and said "you can't legislate love". My understanding as a Baha'i is that racism, like all the other problems that humanity is facing at this time, requires a transformation that is spiritual and is not just about embracing the "right" political or ideological viewpoints about race or even just addressing structural issues like discrimination or income inequality. It also involves the institutionalization of this spiritual transformation in a way that its liberating and unifying energies can be channeled in a systematically, which is more powerful than individuals just trying to be nicer to people whose skin color is different than theirs. The Baha'i Faith offers both of these things which is why it is worthy of serious study be anyone who wants to see a meaningful and lasting change in race relations in America.

"Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind -- the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolve-- is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds -- creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world -- a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units. It represents the consummation of human evolution -- an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it."
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 42)