Fall 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP3
Alternatives: Get Mad, Give Up, Make Changes
While it's convenient to wall ourselves off from the "thems" who have or cause problems elsewhere, the reality is that the problems are everywhere that racism, intolerance, and negative attitudes toward anyone different are allowed to flourish. I'm proud of the Cooperative Extension System for explicitly tackling diversity.
Twenty years ago, Kenneth Clark, the social psychologist whose research on racial differences in education undergirds the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education, wrote:
Education for the future must accept the fact of diversity among the peoples of the world, must accept the fact that the status relationships between whites and non-whites have abruptly changed and will continue to change; and must accept the fact that, if mankind is to survive, these changes must be accepted affirmatively and somehow made an integral part of the educational process.
Today, in all parts of education and society, we still struggle with Clark's imperative. Gear describes the Cooperative Extension System's commitment and plan in 1992. We must accept and implement the ideas. We must, not only in Extension but throughout society, or our nation and world will suffer not only disorder, but wasted lives and limited potential.
As I write, Los Angeles burns. For several days now, I've been trying to sort out my own feelings and attitudes as I respond to questions and assertions from my children and my colleagues at work. For the first time in 20 years, I've been talking back to the commentators on radio and television.
So what do we do about the fact that fair trials aren't a certain matter, that anger and despair walk the streets of our large cities, that good education and family support systems that upper- and middle-class families count on are denied those who are poor, that the leaders of our country have cynically allowed ideas of "reverse discrimination" and racial inferiority to have credibility? There are some alternatives. Get mad. Give up. Make a plan to change things.
Getting mad is useful. There's nothing like a good surge of adrenalin to end apathy or to act quickly. But moral outrage alone is never enough. At worst, it's self-indulgent. At best, it's rhetoric without useful action.
Giving up is easy. These are hard problems and they're far away. After all, I live in a small city, largely white, seemingly unaffected by the riots. Yet, I know that some stores in my town discourage African-American customers in all the subtle ways- ignoring them, following them around as if they're going to steal, not wanting to encourage them to try on clothes. Kids on my son's hockey team harassed an African-American on an opposing team with a string of racial epithets. Come to think of it, some harassed the Jewish kid on their own team with a few choice anti- Semantic remarks. While it's convenient to wall ourselves off from the "thems" who have or cause problems elsewhere, the reality is that the problems are everywhere that racism, intolerance, and negative attitudes toward anyone different are allowed to flourish. And giving up because the problems are hard is comfortable, but decidedly un-American and out of character.
A plan, it seems, is the only decent alternative. A plan, not just in Cooperative Extension, but in all our institutions for valuing the resources that diversity brings. Institutional plans and leadership are necessary, but not sufficient. Each of us also needs to assume personal responsibility for helping to change attitudes and behavior. Here are some suggestions:
- Remarks in the workplace that are offensive should be challenged immediately. When sexist, racist, anti-gay, anti- Asian, anti-Semantic remarks are made, each of us needs to be personally responsible for pointing out the objectional language.
- Support teachers, coaches, volunteer leaders, and mentors who teach our children by example and word that diversity is of value. My son's hockey coach dealt clearly with the problem. He needed parental support; he got it from most of us.
- Choose a local institution to participate in-church, civic club, city council, downtown merchants association, parks and recreation board-and personally raise the diversity issues that trouble it.
Small, nameless, unremembered acts of decency and courage are as necessary as are large, visible, nationally prominent strategies. I'm proud of the Cooperative Extension System for explicitly tackling diversity, but I also hope that each of us accepts the personal responsibility that's ours as citizens of this multicultural democracy.