Monday, September 28, 2009

A Question of Race

Critiques of political correctness generally come from the right. However, I think it is important to acknowledge the ways in which an overemphasis on cultural sensitivity can lead to the "closing of the American mind" (as the late Alan Bloom once argued). We must be able to have open debates about race that acknowledge its importance in how we see each other and interact. While a color blind world or post-racial society are wonderful utopian ideas, they do not seem to capture the reality of contemporary American or global society. Race and racism matter and it is important to confront prejudice, even if it is sometimes done in racist ways. The recent contretempts over Jimmy Carter's comments is one example of our inability to really contemplate race and its effects, but another interesting one just occurred at Tufts University.

An Asian student decided to make fun of a fellow Asian student by putting up posters that played on racial stereotypes of Asians. The campus became astir with protests over its inflammatory message and its potentially negative effects on students ( I am not supporting the student, but just this kind of approach can be effective at challenging PC culture that quells real dialogue on important issues. The student in fact argued that he was confronting this very culture on campus. Discomfort and confrontation are often effective ways to get people to explore their own ideas, beliefs, values and perspectives. Rather than shying away from it, I believe we should instead embrace it as a more effective form of mediation. I do this in my own classrooms, and while it does lead to heated conversations and anger among my students, I believe it forces many to confront their own feelings on racism. Civility and reasoned, "rational" conversation are a bedrock of white, middle class culture. But they too often stiffle rather than foster meaningful, critical conversations on race, gender, class and inequality. With some reservation, I thus laud the student for confronting his own sense that cloaking something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Healthcare "Debate"

Good article in Salon on the healthcare debate: While the public continues to support the public option and hungers for real reform, the heathcare industry and the politicians they have bought pretend they are representing them. This is backed by a punditocracy that seems to parrot the discourse of the far right as if it spoke for all Americans. Will the media ever change? Is there such a thing as responsible journalism any more? Too many on television ignore the real public climate in lieu of the very "special interests" they decry. Instead of the reporters who once fought for the public interest, we have too many who are part of the elite. The only hope exists on the margins and we can only hope they have a strong enough voice in the mainstream.