Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Trap of Minority Studies Programs"

That's the title of a very interesting article at Minding The Campus, in response to the sacking of commentator Naomi Schaefer Riley last month (which we covered in these pages at the time).  Here's an excerpt.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, large populations of poor immigrants arrived in the U.S.--Irish, Italians, and Jews from Russia and Poland. Their extreme poverty placed them at the bottom of the social ladder, and they were often treated with contempt. Yet just a few generations later they were assimilated, and their rapid upward social mobility had produced mayors, senators, judges, and even Presidents from among their ranks. None of this could have happened without first-rate public education.

To be sure, they worked hard to get ahead, but they were not obstructed by something that afflicts the have-nots of today: as they walked through the school gates they were not met by people intent on luring them into Irish or Italian Studies programs whose purpose was to keep them in a state of permanent resentment over past wrongs at the hands of either Europeans or establishment America. Instead, they could give their full attention to learning. They took courses that informed them about their new land's folkways and history, which gave them both the ability and the confidence needed to grasp the opportunities it offered them.

When we compare this story with what is happening to minority students today, we see a tragedy. Just as Pinocchio went off to school with high hopes, only to be waylaid by J. Worthington Foulfellow, minority students are met on the way to campus by hard-left radicals who claim to have the interests of the newcomers at heart but in reality prey on them to advance their own selfish interests. Of course, what black students need is the same solid traditional education that had raised Irish, Italians, and Jews to full equality. But that would not serve the campus radicals' purpose. Disaffected radicals wanted to swell the ranks of the disaffected, not the ranks of the cheerfully upward mobile. Genuine progress for minority students would mean their joining and thus strengthening the mainstream of American society--the mainstream that campus radicals loathe.

There's more at the link.

I can't find anything in the author's views with which I disagree - but then, I didn't find anything wrong with Ms. Riley's views, either.  It's refreshing to see them being voiced so openly, despite all the politically correct can do to ignore or undermine such perspectives.  Question is, will they succeed in reopening the debate and bringing about meaningful improvements, or will the present ghastly mess that is ethnic and gender studies on so many campuses carry on regardless?




Anonymous said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize why Ethnic Studies is such a compelling draw: Because "Victimhood as Identity" is a modern invention.

If there is any ethnic group that could safely lodge themselves as victims, it would be the Jews (the Irish are a distant second). For them, a country (or countries, if you include Canada) that welcomed them in any capacity was too great a possibility to ignore. There was also the idea of "assimilation" where new immigrants were expected to become part of the emerging landscape. It's true that many saw these waves of unwashed foreigners as a threat to American values, but with an explosively growing industrial economy, new workers were vital.

Ghettos did form, as each group settled in with their own, primarily in the biggest cities (where the work was). The apex of these separate cultures was the Yiddish culture. There were neighborhoods where Yiddish--a lingua franca of Hebrew, German, Russian (and often Polish Czech, everything else) was used in theater, the early movies, and everywhere else. In fact, it was these people, and the first generations born as American, who saw the opportunities open to them in the entertainment industries, which were considered by most Christians as unwholesome and thus avoided. To a lesser degree, show business became an outlet for other immigrants, like the Irish and Italians. Through fame and wealth, these first generations were more able to participate n the larger American society.

Anonymous said...

In contrast are African-Americans and Latinos, who represent conquered peoples. In stark contrast to the immigrants of the late 19th Century, they were not welcomed with opportunities. Quite the opposite--they were actively denied the ability to assimilate, and were kept separate by forces outside their communities (I'm not sure of Canada's record in this regard). Negroes, Latinos, Asians, and Native-American Indians were not wanted, and at best grudgingly accepted, "as long as they knew their place". If you look at African-American culture in the 1950's, they're secular culture was a mirror of the mainstream; they were essentially a separate society, with banks, shops, doctors, etc. That separate society had its own strata too, with its own built-in restrictions for those lower on the pole.

I'm not sure what triggered the development of "victimhood" as both a concept of identity and as a field of study, but I'd have to guess the exposure of the Nazi's "Final Solution" for the Jews. No one had ever been so bluntly forced to examine the dehumanization of a people, and to see the lines of complicity that extended to those not directly involved--from Poles who turned in their Jewish neighbors to nations that turned away shiploads of Jewish refugees. All acts big and small were examined, and "How could this happen?", together with "This must never happen again!" lead to the social study of discrimination and genocide. In fact, the 50's and 60's saw an explosion in the "soft" sciences of every sort, with psycholgy and sociology leading the way.

I think it was inevitable that every successful or attempted obliteration of a culture would be compared to Hashoah. What was less noticed was the effect it had on Jews of the Western World. Virtually all the conflicts in Israel and Palestine are a reaction to "Never again", and the Jews have refused to allow themselves to be victimised since then--a complete reversal of 2 millenia. African-American culture did the opposite--ironically, because the barriers of separation from mainstream America were brought down. With sudden access to the businesses and institutions outside the ghettos, black businesses went out of business (there was no reciprocating influx of white customers to them). The culture essentially disintegrated as it was abandoned.

Ethnic studies was born when these desegregated blacks were able to go to previously white-only schools and colleges, only to discover a history of America where they were just a footnote, slavery being their only "contribution". To achieve parity, history needed to be "fleshed out" to where their own predecessors were included. This is when we begin to see Ethnic Studies, and the template for all other ethnic/gender/orientation-style programs is formed. After all, in order to rewrite history, one needs to know what to rewrite...

It was inevitable, I think, that these new Ethnic Studies programs went from the goal of "fleshing out" history to replacing it with a history of oppression.

I'm going to stop there, Peter--I have actual work that needs doing.