By Juanita L. Jartu Jolly
April 6, 2004
Over the years, I have heard so many people say that the world is growing smaller. We are so proud of the technology that has reduced the distance among us, and rightly so. Yet, with the reduction in time and space among us due to computers and e-mail, mobile telephones and very fast cars, trains and planes, still we can find ourselves so distant from one another because of the separations of culture, religions, disabilities and color and ethnicity, gender and age. In “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Martin Luther King, Jr., refers to mankind’s inheritance of a great “world house in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
All of a sudden I am aware that an employer who hires me can cover four Title VII categories in an affirmative action report: race, gender, age and disability. Underlying the affirmative action statistics, we can too easily overlook the fact that real human beings living in the most developed country in the world, face daily uphill battles to be whole persons despite the nation’s flawed perspectives on race, gender, age and disability. These flaws are reflected in every area of American life: employment, housing, education, banking, health care and in our religious institutions. Yet, we see ourselves primarily as a nation of people who are God-fearing, committed Christians and Jews, with new religious expressions and belief systems being added on to an American society founded and grounded on the right relationships with our God.
I must confess that the dialogue on multiculturalism has
often frustrated me. I understand the focus on the concept and its usefulness
from a business perspective. As Thomas states in his book, Beyond Race
and Gender (p.15), there is a compelling business need “to attract
the best talent and reap the benefits of a greater productivity.”
It is also clear to me that the world, having grown so small and with
the influx of people of varying cultures, ethnicities and religious
practices, requires management of their diversity. In Thomas’
words, managing diversity has become a “corporate imperative of
the greatest magnitude.”
Yet, this paper is on American perspectives on multiculturalism. King asks in his book of the same title “where do we go from here?” and his book was written in 1967. Nearly 40 years later, we are still asking the same questions in America. In other words, all of my life the question of acceptance of people of color and intolerance of women and issues related to gender, disability, religion and the like have obtained. Through approximately 40 years of query and study, I have continued to feel frustrated in the quest to understand what makes it so difficult for Americas in general to accept the differences among us.
Professor Cornel West has written in Race Matters, (p.4) that
to engage in a serious discussion of race in America, we must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American society – flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes . . . as long as black people are viewed as “them,” the burden falls on blacks to do all the “cultural” and “moral” work necessary for healthy race relations. The implication is that only certain Americans can define what it means to be American – and the rest must simply “fit in.”
This has been the place where frustration continues to surface for me. There is a change in some American’s dialogue that suggests that we can honor our distinctions and view multiculturalism as the direction that this nation is headed in. We are talking about salad bowls instead of melting pots. I choose to describe this direction as soup or salad. Despite the dialogue, however, the reality of people of color has not changed. We can talk about the numbers of people of color who have joined the middle class or even the upper middle class. We can talk about the increasing numbers of people of color who have become “educated.” We can talk about the numbers of people of color who have become “professional” employees. What we cannot talk about, however, is the fact that all of us live in the same world house and because of a Nietzcheian-like will to power we are unable to live in harmony with one another.
The will to dominate another person or persons or communities or countries is increasingly evident in our contemporary culture. This drive allows us as Americans to determine what is acceptable for others. It tells us that every community should be democratic and, while on the face of it, that appears to be a good thing, it is clear that there are other ways of functioning as community, government and individuals. Our government structure stands in place of the individual who espouses multiculturalism or racial reconciliation on the one hand and who elects politicians who callously cut the funds needed for the country’s human development. We fail to provide education, housing and health benefits to the same people who live in the world house with us in poverty, unemployed, underemployed and without appropriate shelter and food. This allows us as Americans to speak with “forked tongue” as we use to hear the Indians say in old western movies. It is interesting to me that the Indians were able to speak these words about their oppressors in films, since Native Americans did not write those movie scripts. It means that the scriptwriters were conscious of the lies that were told to Native Americas as we stripped them of their land, their livelihoods and their dignity as a people. Even today, multiculturalism as a concept cannot restore what has been taken from the original residents of these United States. It is evident as well that the Native American is never going to “fit in.” Individual Native Americans, African-Americans, Chinese, Cambodians, Indians and Pakistanis – to name a few of the diverse people who are not fully benefiting from the good life that is available in America – may choose to assimilate. They may appear to fit in, but at what cost?
West continues in the introduction of Beyond Race (p.3) to say “white America has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks.” Professor West’s focus is on blacks in America, but this weak will has affected the sense of inclusion of other so-called minorities in the United States. It is for these reasons that continued dialogue about multiculturalism other than, as a business strategy seems blatantly disingenuous.
In an article written by Noam Chomsky in The New Statesman, July 1994, Chomsky refers to America’s mission in the world “leading the way to a bright future, based on the ideals that they have always cherished but have not always been able to protect – democracy and human rights . . .” Chomsky continues that the United Nations’ codified Declaration of Human Rights passed unanimously in 1948 states that
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family . . . including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to secure that in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood.”
Chomsky then asks “How are these principles upheld in the richest country in the world, with absolutely unparalleled advantages and no excuses for not completely satisfying them? The U.S. Chomsky says, “has the worst record on poverty in the industrialized world. In New York City, one of the richest cities in the world, 40 percent of children live below the poverty line, deprived of minimal conditions that offer some hope for escape from misery, destitution and violence.”
West (p.7) paints a similar picture when he describes
the tragic plight of our children as “revealing our deep disregard
for public well-being. About one out of every five children in this
country lives in poverty, including one out of every two black children
and two out of every five Hispanic children.” Most of our children,
West says “neglected by overburdened parents and bombarded by
the market values of profit-hungry corporations – are ill-equipped
to live lives of spiritual and cultural quality. Faced with these facts,
how do we expect ever to constitute a vibrant society? Further, how
do we expect, in this very small world community, to live in the world
house together when our hearts are not even compassionate for helpless
children – albeit children of color?
Contemporary terrorism is a complex concept; there is no pat analysis of it. Yet, it is no secret that anger, resentment and the bitterness that people who are excluded feel even when the politically correct and economically profitable language of managing diversity or multiculturalism contribute to the explosive reactions we are experiencing in hot spots in local communities, national outbursts and daily international suicide bombing announcements. It causes one to wonder whether the announcements are pronouncements on American perspectives on multiculturalism.
As one who is sincerely seeking answers to the questions about the difficulty of accepting others as the individuals that our God has created with all the distinctive characteristics He has arranged for the edification of the Body of Christ, I wanted to learn what some Christian thinkers say about multiculturalism. Patrick Buchanan, the founder of The American Cause had this to say about immigration and affirmative action. First, the mission statement of the organization:
Launched in 1993, The American Cause is an educational organization whose mission is to advance and promote traditional American values that are rooted in the conservative principles of national sovereignty, economic patriotism, limited government and individual freedom. Among other things, The American Cause states that it believes that assimilation and national unity should be the guiding principles of formulating immigration policy and support initiatives that end illegal immigration, reduce legal immigration to manageable levels, and emphasize integration of immigrants and their communities.
Further, with regard to affirmative action, The American Cause states that
[o]f all the needs of this nation, few are greater for our peace and happiness than racial reconciliation. But we do not alter the evil character of racial discrimination by simply changing the color of the beneficiary. No government in this Land of the Free has the moral or constitutional right to discriminate on the basis of color, and all government-sponsored prejudice – no matter how benign its purpose – belongs in the same graveyard as Jim Crow. Instead of patronizing minorities by presuming they cannot succeed without government assistance, we must work together to bridge our racial divide and rediscover what brings us together as one nation and one people.
Here there is no denial that there is a social, economic and political beneficiary in America. Here, rather, there is a call to arms to defend the right to that privilege and clear confirmation among them that people of color should not receive any such entitlement. Here, we see a reference to the United States of America as the “Land of the Free.” This is telling since it is clear that without more recent legislation, people of color were not considered free, much less real members or citizens of such a land. The Land of the Free, if the truth be told, is the free land wrenched from the hands of the people Europeans met when they arrived in the Americas. The same people, I add, who compassionately responded to a people who history advises could not have survived on their land without their assistance. Now they are relegated to lives of poverty and disease in pockets of the land they once owned outright.
From the Ayn Rand Institute we learn that the philosophy of reason also eschews multiculturalism. It asks their members to “circulate the Institute’s mission to challenge the altruist-collectivist underlying much of public policy.” Its philosophy holds the “multiculturalism is the new racism in a politically-correct guise. It holds that an individual’s identity and personal worth are determined by ethnic/racial membership and that all cultures are of equal worth, regardless of their moral views or how they treat people.” http://multiculturalism.aynrand.org/home.html, March 14, 2004.
It is obvious from this web page that diversity and multiculturalism fly in the face of reason. The Institute denounces multiculturalism calling it a “grave threat to this country . . . to education . . . to reason and independent judgment . . . and says, moreover, that it demands obedience to authority: the authority of the ethnic group.”
In an interview I conducted recently with Dr. Carlos Russell, Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn and Medgar Evers Colleges of the City University of New York, Dr. Russell kept using the phrase – “if we scratch beneath the surface.” Dr. Russell intimates that if we scratch the surface deeply enough we are going to find that we are all one people. We are going to know that the oldest bones of mankind have been found in Africa in the Olduvai Gorge and that archeologists and paleontologists have confirmed that the first home of all mankind is Africa. Whatever else happened as people migrated away from the equator and evolved into all the nationalities and ethnicities that we view as humankind, we cannot fully escape from the fact that we are simply that, humankind.
On page 94 of More than Equals, Perkins and Rice refer to residual anger and blame. They speak of an “anger that is specific to being black in America.” To those of us who are born in America and who are black, the struggle seems futile. Talk of multiculturalism – whether positively or negatively received or conceived by whites – is just that… talk. The bridging of the racial divide that Pat Buchanan refers to is not about reconciliation and neither is multiculturalism as whites in America describe it. It is simply a mechanism to live in relative peace to accomplish the capitalistic objectives of the society. Profits are more important than people and if this is what it takes to rake in the profits then we may use the words and go through the exercises. At the end of the day, however, it is not our intention to live peaceably in the world house together. It is as if America believes that there is a big world house where white Americans will live and another world house where others can live.
I can still recall the tone of effrontery of news commentators as they reported on the kind of house that Saddam Hussein lived in. According to hegemonic thought, he never had a right to live there. The issue was not despotism. American government and corporate executives entertain despots routinely. The issue is not democracy and concern for the downtrodden. Right here in the United States poverty, inequity, abuses continue in rural communities and in inner cities within view of the politicians, religious leaders, educators and philosophers who have the power to make desperately needed changes. And yet, as the illustrious black writer, the late James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time (1963):
…And here we are, at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands, we have no right to assume otherwise. If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: GOD GAVE NOAH THE RAINBOW SIGN, NO MORE WATER, THE FIRE NEXT TIME!
I appreciate the need for a strategy for us to work together effectively. I know that there have been positive changes in America for people of color. I also think that the images that white America places on people of color who have not attained the wealth and success that the melting pot or salad bowl should afford us do not apply to my family or many of my friends. The playing field is still not level. No politically correct language or legislation can accomplish that. If we are all to live in the world house in peace, there must be a change of heart – a yielding of the spirit.
No social policies can cure what ails America. The only
place of healing for America rests on the bosom of a Creator who loves
all of His creations: black, white, yellow, red and brown. It is written
1 Corinthians 13:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing . . . and it profiteth me nothing.
Moreover, our Christian walk is not a matter of bluffing God or our fellow man. If it is, we risk the judgment of our God who will say: “depart from me ye workers of inquity, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)
Dr. Jartu Jolly has traveled extensively as a missionary. She has ministered in Sierra Leone, Ghana, the Republic of South Africa and Nigeria. Dr. Jartu Jolly is a leader and intercessor with a God-given vision for strengthening leadership and responding to mission needs in the Body of Christ.
She is a retired Human Resources Executive, Dr. Jartu Jolly remains active in church and community, locally and globally. The proud mother of mother of 5 children and one grandchild, Dr. Jartu Jolly resides with her family in New Jersey.