Getting divisive over diversity

Posted 5/5/14

What an interesting couple weeks it has been for “diversity” in our country.  A study in contrasts, if you will.

In one corner is the strange case of the really, really rich old guy who, it turns out, is a racist. Donald Sterling, …

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Getting divisive over diversity

Posted

What an interesting couple weeks it has been for “diversity” in our country.  A study in contrasts, if you will.

In one corner is the strange case of the really, really rich old guy who, it turns out, is a racist. Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, was found to have made some really repugnant racist remarks to his personal assistant. How was he “found” to have done that? Well, turns out his personal assistant, who is 50 years his junior and used to be his mistress, tape recorded many of his conversations and then released some of them to the entertainment show “TMZ.”  Yep, I was thinking the same thing: class act!

And, in the other corner, is an opinion piece on the website Chalkbeat.org, in which Dr. Alphonzo Rodriguez, doctorate, comes within inches of accusing the new Jeffco School board president of being a racist. Apparently, at an April 3 study session, (and, by the way, I’m going to quote the article in the interest of accuracy) “Witt is on record as saying during a presentation by Ray & Associates regarding the attributes of a new Superintendent that he, ‘Was not interested in diversity.’”  Further, “board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman requested that a bullet point about valuing diversity be included on a promotional flier recruiters would use to solicit applicants. Board President Ken Witt said he didn’t believe the flier needed to include that copy because cultural sensitivity should be expected of any candidate.”  For that, Dr. Rodriguez called Mr. Witt’s comments “prejudiced,” accused he and other Board members of “disenfranchising our diverse student population,” and worried that our “reputation as a district (would) be viewed as racist and having no compassion.”

We’ve come a long way, as a society, since slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. Are we all the way there? Are we at a point yet where all God’s children are viewed on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? No, we’re not  My best friend from high school, the grandson of Japanese immigrants, recounts how he was subject to awful racist verbal abuse after the Virginia Tech massacre a couple years back (perpetrated by an Asian man). So, no, we’re not there.

But, for the most part, I think we are at a point where the majority of people recognize just how abhorrent racism is  That’s why Donald Sterling was run out of Los Angeles in a, er, New York minute. 

And that’s why the charge of racism should be reserved for actual, honest-to-gosh examples of racism. Is it really so outlandish to say that cultural sensitivity should be expected of candidates? And, honestly, the list of attributes that describe a good candidate for superintendent is as long as my forearm — I would be surprised if there are 30 people in the whole country who qualify (and even more surprised if more than five of them are willing to take the salary). I think there are higher priorities than checking off another box on the demographic profile.

Actual racism is foul and moronic, but, sadly, there will always be morons. And, sometimes, there are simply anachronisms: sad men and women living in an age that has passed them by and with, at best, a tenuous grasp of reality, easily manipulated by cheap courtesans. Not worth our hate — just our pity. However, specious charges of racism where none exists does real harm to the cause of equality, also. It betrays a weakness of actual argument, desensitizes people to actual racism, and is the rhetorical equivalent of yelling “shut up!” 

Policy disagreements aren’t necessarily because of character flaws — if you can’t make your case without impugning the character of someone with whom you disagree, then maybe your case isn’t worth making.

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