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[HISTORY] Divisive Diversity - The Cover Story
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Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 02:35 pm
[HISTORY] Divisive Diversity


Latinos Attack PBS for WWII Series

Now I admit, this got my attention because I'm a big fan of Ken Burns. His documentaries during the 90's helped contribute to my love of History. Whenever he's criticized, therefore, I take more notice than I probably would of somebody else, but that's not the only reason this article is of interest to me.

Like many of my generation, I was brought up learning that diversity is important and needed for a healthy society, especially one like the modern-day United States. We all need to get along, as they say. I also learned that its important that minorities not be discriminated against and that their rights need to be protected. I had the histories of civil rights hurled at me en masse from long before I had the context to understand why they were important. All this time and effort was spent to create a united population of people.

So why do we so fiercely resist integration? Why do we have groups of people who insist their particular niche is represented in everything that has "American" stamped on the side of it? There's a quote from a University of Texas journalism professor in the article above that states "If a documentary purports to be an American experience we need to be in that."

If a documentary purports to be an American experience, shouldn't the only requirement be that it contains Americans? Are hispanic people somehow not present in that group? The underlying implications about how people feel about their relationship the American people is disturbing. There's the outline of an "us-and-them" mentality just under the surface that's powering these feelings of persecution.

To clarify at this juncture, I am expanding this beyond a Hispanic community issue. We see it everywhere. In every American city, there's significant populations of people who primarily identify with their source ethnicity. Latino, Nigerian, Japanese, Chinese, English, German, Russian, Malagasy, Iranian, Albanian, Cuban, Brazilian, you name it. The presence of these communities has obvious motivations and formative causes, but at what point does that become destructive to our own society? At what point do you, or your children, or your grandchildren, stop saying "I'm a Latino", or "I'm an Irishman," and start saying "I'm an American?"

We see the same issue now even with the boundaries created within our nation. People who identify with their state over their country. "I'm a Massachusite", or "I'm a Texan," or "I'm a Floridian". There's plenty of historical precedence for it happening all over the globe and all throughout human history. Look at any instance of one administrative entity forcibly splitting itself into two, and you find groups of people identifying more with their local environ than with the larger organization.

The logical extension of this argument is that eventually, all people should think of each other as members of the same group first. We're all Terrans. We're all Humans. We're all in this together.

So why do we break down into smaller identities? Because its easier to deal with? Because we can't comprehend being a member of a six-and-a-half billion person group? I don't think so. Think about why you would want to identify with a smaller group, or more specifically, why you would want somebody else to identify with a smaller group.

The leader of a group holds considerably sway over anybody who's first identity is with that group. So state governments promote people to feel allegiance to their states. Religious leaders remind everybody their duty to God comes first. Civil Rights groups remind their followers that their race is what defines them. Whoever can convince an individual that they are the representative of that's individual's primary identity exerts tremendous influence over that individual. And as they struggle for the hearts and minds and obedience of the citizen of the world, our global society fractures, splits, and people begin criticizing Ken Burns for not including Latinos in a documentary about World War II.

I don't know how this is supposed to be fixed, or if its even possible in a free society. I know people who are terrified of a world in which everybody identifies with a single group. They call it a death of culture. But having a first allegiance to a single group doesn't mean the exclusion of all others, just the acceptance of everybody else in that group regardless of what other groups they may represent, i.e., everybody.

There's significantly more to be said here, such as how it ties into history, and where state-sponsored religion tries to solve this problem, how reeducation tries to solve this problem, how communism tries to solve this problem, all with varying degrees of success, but that's a book I don't wish to write. My point is that through encouraging this sort of fragmenting of our society into ethic groups, we're encouraging the very kind of conflict and fracturing we hope to prevent.

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pezzonovante
pezzonovante
pezzonovante
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)

DISLCAIMER: I think what I'm about to say is total bullshit, but since the argument has been made to me before enough times, I feel like I can relay it without getting too much of it wrong.

As a white, straight, middle-class, Christian male, you are held up to other groups as the epitomy of what is "American". What you (and me and others in our particular demographic) decide becomes the gold standard of acceptable societal behavior because as a group, we wield all the political, social, and economic power in this country. This is called "privilege".

As a result of this white/male/christian/straight/middle-class privilege, only people outside this group can truly define what is "American" without raising the spectre of racism or sexism or anti-gay bigotry or a Euro-Christian-centric worldview. So documentaries that focus on these white Christian male-centric views of history simply perpetrate the narrative of the White Christian man bringing salvation to the brown heathens and taming the uppity women.

This tendency to rewrite history as the story of how the white man conquered the globe and made all other cultures act like him is an act of racism/sexism/fill-in-the-blank-ism. As a result, failure to proactively rewrite the commonly accepted historical narrative to emphasize the contributions on the non-privileged is morally culpable as an act of _____ism, as is defending the commonly accepted privileged narrative as "true."


[Back to talking as Tom] The problem with this belief system is that, at a minimum, it sacrifices truth at the altar of justice. At worse it denies all objective truth and reverts to a nebulous kind of relativism that results in all attempts at serious debate being reduced to ad hominems ("You're only saying that to perprate your preferred narrative!")


ReplyThread
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)

As a result of this white/male/christian/straight/middle-class privilege, only people outside this group can truly define what is "American" without raising the spectre of racism or sexism or anti-gay bigotry or a Euro-Christian-centric worldview.

Some theorists believe this, and a lot of lib. arts undergraduates are brainwashed into this (which is why there's so much unjustified hatred from engineers towards "artsy" culture), but most lib. arts thinkers believe a variation on that:

"As a result of this white/male/christian/straight/middle-class privilege, anyone who belongs to this group and wants to define what is "American" must be very careful in doing so, because such a worldview is by nature normalizing towards exclusivity."

That said, I'm very glad the more radical theorists exist for one reason:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

A theory, I might add, which is used extremely disturbingly and viciously to sway popular opinion towards believing that moderate political stances are extremely liberal. It makes some of the things I say which would have been considered within the acceptable range of this window ten years ago turn me into a loony in the eyes of others.

The problem with this belief system is that, at a minimum, it sacrifices truth at the altar of justice.

Very nice soundbite, but like a lot of one-line sophistries, it sacrifices truth to the altar of rhetoric. Ironic, eh?

Again, the problem here is that you assume that anyone who believes something along the lines of what you call bullshit above is exerebrose. I'm not dumb. I know the white boys of America went out and stomped the Nazis in WWII. But ensuring the contributions of the non-privileged are remembered is not the same as forgetting what actually happened. If anything, it makes sure what actually happened is what is actually remembered.

The thing is, your dismissal of the argument you presented as bullshit is exactly the kind of attitude they're condemning, and that's why such discussions tend to get nowhere because such presenters realize they're probably not going to get through to you. The privilege you hold makes you blind to the privilege itself, which is why you dismiss the idea that you could be biased because of privilege. I wish it weren't true, but it is. I have by own biases that I'm blind to, I'm sure, but there it is.

At worse it denies all objective truth and reverts to a nebulous kind of relativism that results in all attempts at serious debate being reduced to ad hominems ("You're only saying that to perprate your preferred narrative!")

I have to say that I object to your implicit condemnation of relativism in general. Any relativist worth their salt is able to eloquently argue from whatever framework they need to in order to get their point across. Those who resort to the ad hominems you're accusing are the ones who give the rest of the intelligent people a bad name. Just like those who favor seeking a hard objective view are stereotyped by the fools who refuse to accept that any version of what happened other than their own could be the right one. Idiots like that exist no matter what their doctrine.

Accusing people who espouse relativism as being unable to engage in serious debate is sophistry of the worst kind, and actually perpetuates that divisiveness bronzite was lamenting. "Serious" debate is still possible between such schools of thought, it just takes more work and effort to accomplish -- often on behalf of the relativist, I might add.


ReplyThread Parent
pezzonovante
pezzonovante
pezzonovante
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)

I'll respond later when I have more time, but I did want to apologize if my wording in re relativism was too harsh. My intent wasn't to disparage all relativism. My issue is with the much stronger claims regarding the existence and nature of objectivity and objective reality.


ReplyThread Parent
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)

Well, thank you for that. :)

Gotta say, though, I usually skip out on such metaphysical arguments. Scientifically speaking, objectivity is unsound (as well as to those metaphysics I find more convincing/interesting), but practically speaking dealing outside some basis of objectivity is quite silly. Without some agreed-upon objective reality, social and political philosophy tends to either fall apart, be incomprehensible, or be untranslatable enough to the point that it's generally much more effort to try and debate than its worth. And if you're going to be talking in those latter arenas (like we are presuming to, I hope), then discussing metaphysics is like talking about what color to paint your house in winter.


ReplyThread Parent
ultimatepsi
ultimatepsi
Kate Nineteen
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)

The privilege you hold makes you blind to the privilege itself, which is why you dismiss the idea that you could be biased because of privilege.

Not necessarily. For instance, I'm straight, though I rather use the word "heterosexual" but I'm well aware of the bias against those who aren't. I sure don't consider heterosexuality normative. Now this is because I had gay parents, but in can happen in other circumstances. A boy raised by his single mother, a white child adopted by non-white parents, a person who was born poor but put emself through college and got a high paying job, anyone who lives or lived in a neighborhood that was predominately minority. Assuming someone in a majority treats that majority as the only normal way, is as truly a prejudice as anything based on a minority status.


"As a result of this white/male/christian/straight/middle-class privilege, anyone who belongs to this group and wants to define what is "American" must be very careful in doing so, because such a worldview is by nature normalizing towards exclusivity."

I would claim the exclusivity is not the sole domain of those who are white/male/christian/straight/middle-class. Often those who support identity politics exclude those who don't share the identity.


ReplyThread Parent
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)

Not necessarily.

Sure. There are always exceptions to every rule, but since the attitude in the previous comments was totally dismissive towards the arguments discussed, I think it's fair to say it likely applies in this case. Experience has shown me this is often true, and since most of the discussers involved seem to have an implied interest in discussion on practical and objective realities rather than entirely theoretical concerns, I think it's only fair to be able to use some level of generality, especially one as incredibly prevalent as this one. While there are many exceptions that you listed, they are by far outnumbered by those examples which reinforce the generalization.

Assuming someone in a majority treats that majority as the only normal way, is as truly a prejudice as anything based on a minority status.

Fair enough. But which is the worse prejudice? The one which reinforces a marginalizing, homogenizing society obviously geared towards disadvantaging certain social groups often tied to ethnicity or sex? Or one which works to counter these elements that lead to continual oppression so subtle it's dismissed by the majority of people?

Often those who support identity politics exclude those who don't share the identity.

And why is that? Because they don't feel included by the heteronormal society. Why do pro-feminism organizations create women-only spaces? Because they're necessary to some extent to help create a more gender-equal society. How do you fight oppression without violence if mainstream society doesn't allow you any tools to do so? Naturally those who enjoy superior status aren't going to want to be presented evidence of it.

The ultimate goal isn't homogenized perfectly-inclusive society; it's an equal society where differences and contributions alike are acknowledged, respected, and encouraged. And straight/white/male/etc. folks don't need to be included in identity-exclusive spaces because they have mainstream society. It might anger a man to not be allowed in a women-only event, but women are excluded from certain elements of mainstream society by their nature. The similar sentiments fueled by that greater injustice is what fuels exclusivity amongst those who engage in identity politics.

Back in the 1970's, when there was a strong "Back to Africa" movement amongst radical African-Americans -- largely because they felt they could never achieve true equality in America -- most of the heteronormal population had an attitude of, "Fine. Let the n---s leave my free country." But by and large the movement died out because most activists realized that it is far more important to work to improve the society you live in than encourage such racism by ignoring it and sequestering yourself elsewhere.

Again, the ultimate goal is inclusion, not exclusion as far as mainstream society is concerned. But taking pride in your identity shouldn't be considered a sin either. When the time comes that its just as viable to have a white pride organization without inherent racism, then we know that the push towards equality has achieved its ideals.


ReplyThread Parent
ultimatepsi
ultimatepsi
Kate Nineteen
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)

But which is the worse prejudice? The one which reinforces a marginalizing, homogenizing society obviously geared towards disadvantaging certain social groups often tied to ethnicity or sex? Or one which works to counter these elements that lead to continual oppression so subtle it's dismissed by the majority of people?

But which is which?

I need to stop having this discussion. I'm getting overly emotionally involved. I'm just sick of being considered part of an evil "mainstream" that can't possibly understand prejudice or fight injustice.

Some of the identity stuff feels like I'm being told by the minority in question "I want you to accept me as part of society, but you'll never be able to because you're *normal*" I AM NOT NORMAL! AND HOW THE *&$% DO YOU EXPECT SOMEONE TO ACCEPT YOU IF YOU KEEP TELLING THEM THEY ARE INHERENTLY UNABLE TO? That wasn't directed at you, but rather at those who hold so strongly to the view point you have been presenting, that they won't consider anything a majority person has to say.

Isn't it OK for people to be proud of what they have done rather than being proud of what they were born? Isn't it OK for me not to be proud nor ashamed to be a woman, of Jewish heritage, or queerspawn?


ReplyThread Parent
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)

It's supposed to be okay. That's ultimately what I want, for people to make up their own minds what's important (or unimportant) to their identities without it having negative repercussions.

I'm sorry you feel that people are making moral judgments about you, or consider you permanently handicapped somehow. I certainly don't, but I'm hoping you knew that already.

*hugs*


ReplyThread Parent
ultimatepsi
ultimatepsi
Kate Nineteen
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)

Thanks.

I guess what my real problem with identity politics isn't the notion that people from different backgrounds should be included and those backgrounds respected; it the notion that if some type isn't being put forth continually and in an unambiguously positive light, the reason is mainstream oppression. With a focus on oppression, identity politics seem to lead to expectation of oppression from both the victim and perpetrator sides, perpetrating rather than changing that mode. I know growing up with radical feminist politics lead me wrongly for a long while into thinking that all men were my enemy, which surely didn't help me act with the confidence that would win respect.

In this specific instance, I don't have a problem the Latinos who wanted to be included in the documentary. That is totally reasonable. But the level of anger expressed saddens and frustrates me. It seems that if concerned groups had written a polite letter to PBS and Ken Burns, they would have gladly added a intro or closing acknowledging that though the feature didn't cover any specific Latinos (or other specific minority groups) those groups were not left out intentionally and did make significant contributions to WWII.


ReplyThread Parent
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
You present a compelling, intelligent, and valid argument, but here's where I disagree...

Something that's really important to remember, though, is that although we should each other with respect and compassion and equality and all that, we are not all the same. You touch upon this, but in an oblique manner, saying that, "having a first allegiance to a single group doesn't mean the exclusion of all others, just the acceptance of everybody else in that group regardless of what other groups they may represent, i.e., everybody."

I don't think anybody with a brain disagrees with that no matter what other groups they pledge allegiance to. We are all part of the human race, clearly. But sometimes it's important to remember that we are members of other things, too. I have roots in Okinawan culture, and this is important to me. You're not asking me to give that up, clearly, but sometimes that has to take precedence over other more global concerns. An extreme example would be if some nation decided that the Okinawan people should no longer exist.

But there are other, less-extreme examples, too, and I feel like your general reaction was to a specific piece of criticism where people who identified as Hispanics felt that they were losing important representation in the making of history. And to that specific group, that's probably very important.

Not knowing the specifics of the situation, I can't give direct arguments, but I can give speculative ones.

I know that you'll agree with the Orwellian sentiments that he who controls the past controls the future, and the one who wins writes history. But a more subtle effect is at work, too. Heteronormal culture also writes the history, and general heteronormal pop culture is exclusive by nature.

Such culture seeks to represent WWII as smiling, shining good ol' boys defending America by going to the front, and then enduring the ravages of war. Very patriotic. Very nice. But as a Japanese-American, if it is forgotten that America used internment camps at the same time Germany was, then I would naturally get upset. History tends to gloss over that. I often have to remind people that WWII wasn't just righteous fighting against an evil tyrant (which is especially bizarre in the wake of WWI, where an entire generation was disillusioned about the "glories" of war when they hit the trenches; that disillusionment didn't happen again until Vietnam, and even then it is largely ignored by everyone except the veterans -- look at how "patriotism" almost requires war-enthusiasm today). There was oppression right at home to fight, too.

Point being: if we are all members of the human race, and all part of America's "melting pot," then we all need to remember that the human race's strength is in its diversity, not its sameness.

You call such a stance a subtle destructive "us-vs.-them mentality," but your stance could just as easily be called subtle destructive heteronormally-justified racism. And before you get upset about that, I'm not calling you deliberately racist, nor do I think you're a racist person. This is usually the point where reason steps out of the conversation and a very important point is missed: by showing an image which purports to be American and excluding a group from that picture who wishes to be known as American, you're not saying that America includes them. You're saying, "Hey, forget what makes you unique and your own people's important contributions to our society and get on board -- this is what America looks like!" and because later opinion and thought will be shaped by such cultural artifacts, by excluding a particular group you're basically erasing them from history. And then telling them that they're being destructive to society by not agreeing to their own exclusion? That's just salt in the wound.

Why do niche groups insist on being a part of everything that's supposedly "American?" Because we already are, and by letting the representations of America be white people smiling and holding hands, we're letting the rest of the world and the rest of history forget that. So to me, it's less a question of, "Why can't those disagreeable people just get on board?" and more a question of, "Why shouldn't representations of America acknowledge its diversity?"


ReplyThread
verrucaria
verrucaria
E. Z.
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)

Why shouldn't representations of America acknowledge its diversity?

Of course it should, but there will always be practical problems with implementing this goal because there's simply no way to include everyone. Not all "Latinos" love each other, and a Panamanian-American (for instance) might feel offended by being forced to be represented, say, in a documentary by Mexican-Americans.

An individual will often be offended when you conflate him/her with members of another, usually neighboring, group with which the group with which this individual identifies has a long history of conflict. (I apologize about the phrasing of this sentence; I'm not the clearest of writers, but I hope you get the idea.)

I think that you should try to include other groups, but no surprise should be felt if someone feels offended, no matter how hard you try. The only way of including everyone to to literally include everyone, which isn't practical (and even then, there'll be complaints if a group someone identifies with is portrayed differently than that person hoped). I think it sometimes might be more practical to include disclaimers like "The scope of this project did not allow us to include the contributions of [groups like X, Y, and Z] to [effort R]. We just have to stop pretending to be writing the Grand Narrative of Everything. I'm not all that hot for postmodernism, but there it is.


ReplyThread Parent
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Wed, Apr. 11th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
Didn't you hear? Postmodernism died a decade ago. We're into post-postmodernism now. :)

I agree, actually. Theory must give way to practical concerns, and as long as acknowledgments are made -- even as a passing nod -- then that's better than nothing. It's when the issue is ignored entirely at the risk of marginalizing people entirely that it becomes a problem.


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