My genuine, interesting, mostly positive diversity experience started about 38 years ago. I was drafted into the U.S. Army. The Basic Training company I was in was two-thirds white, one-third black. Might have been half and half. This was in 1968, a few years before the Black Power self-segregation thing started kicking in. There's not much to say about it. I was from rural Genesee County, most of the black trainees were from Flint. Aspects of black culture were part of the training. One of the marching cadences was "Corn bread and black-eye peas, soul food is what I need! Am I right or wrong?"
At Ft. Monmouth I met some Mexicans. I got in a fight with one of them in the mess hall, but after he punched me in the nose twice I started thinking, hey, this is enough, so it went no further. We shook hands later in the day. I always get a smile when I recall it.
At Ft. Hood I had a fair number of Puerto Rican buddies. One of them had had some serious combat decorations. I went with another to a Puerto Rican restaurant in Killeen where I had some "aroz con gradules." In short, I met a more diverse bunch of people in the Army than anywhere else, and I have many excellent memories of these people. I also remember a few wild and crazy multicultural drinking parties.
But all of the encounters were unforced. Which is why I gag when I read articles with title like "Dialogue Project helps students discuss differences." You know, it's really not that hard. We managed back in the '60s in the U.S. Army. Have American youth been turned into idiots sometime since then? Good grief, I've had conversations with people from India, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Germany, England, Ireland, Peru, Canada, Costa Rica, Hungary, Belgium, Greece, Italy and Detroit. Heck, I lived in Detroit for seven years. All without the benefit of organized intergroup dialog exercises.
But if you follow the above link and read carefully, you'll see that there was more going on at the University of Michigan's Youth Dialogues Project than an excess of politically correct Kum-bah-ya silliness. I will quote extensively to illustrate my point.
The teams devised eight project proposals that when implemented will challenge discrimination, build relationships and create community change.Why is "creat[ing] community change" the job of the University? Isn't it the responsibility and the prerogative of the people living in a community to change it if they believe it is in need of change?
Barry Checkoway is quoted:
Without initiatives for intergroup dialogue, racial tension can be expected to rise and diverse democracy decline.There probably are some situations where serious discussions among community members and leaders of different racial groups could have positive results. But those would be adult-adult conversations organized by the participants themselves. They would not take place in the context of a "retreat" "with trained university students as facilitators."
Anyone who has been following race relations in America knows that most problems are beyond the reach of "intergroup dialogue." Read my essay Virtual Racism at the University of Michigan in the Winter of 1987 about the great racial uprising of that year. How would "intergroup dialogue" have made any difference? The radicals were making demands. They wanted concessions. Concessions are what they got.
When Barry Checkoway says "intergroup dialogue," he is talking about his particular brand of snake oil. It might conceivably lubricate the way towards some kind of weird "diverse democracy," but I doubt that Dialogue a la Barry would be of much use in actually lessening any of the tensions that are such a prominent part of the world we live in.
According to the article:
Through the dialogues participants learned a great deal about the experience of growing up in segregated areas, and about people who are different from themselves.Wow. I grew up in two almost completely white communities, and I never met anyone who wasn't different from myself. Earth to Barry!! White people are not all alike!! He's participated in how many God-awful intergroup dialogue thingies AND HE STILL DOESN'T KNOW THAT!
Well, I'm sure he does know that, but that leads us to the truly sinister aspect of this whole thing. A few more quotes:
Others said that participating in the Dialogue Project was the first time they had experienced any real interaction with others from a different race or ethnicity. And most described this segregation and isolation as stemming, in part, from being from families that tend to stay rooted in communities.Do you see the pattern? "experience of growing up in segregated [area]" -- bad. "rooted in communities" -- bad. "thoughts and behaviors of the past" -- bad. "system that they recognize" -- bad, something to "be free of."
. . .
Participants acknowledged their own internal prejudices and reflected on thoughts and behaviors of the past.
"It seems like the dialogues sparked continuing reflection on this matter," said one facilitator. "At the same time, it was also powerful to hear the strength of how individuals also know that they can make a change in their own lives to be free of the system that they recognize."
What's going on here is a mild form of cultic mind-control, which involves detaching new or potential converts from old patterns of thought while new ways of thinking are being instilled. It is very significant that all of this took place as part of a "retreat" where the converts were physically removed from familiar surroundings and thus more susceptible to peer pressure and other influences contributing to the development of new group identities.
Of course, this isn't classic "brainwashing" of the sort American POWs were subjected to during the Korean War. But it is a covert attempt to influence thought and opinion. I doubt that any of the young participants, black, white or other, had any idea as to what was really going on.
Critical thought and formal persuasive techniques are the heart and soul of a university. If I want you to believe that (a+b)*c = a*c+b*c, I make the following series of statements and my reasons for believing that each is true:
(a+b)*c = c*(a+b) [multiplication is commutative](The example presumes that you understand the language I'm using and the "laws" that I mention.) If I want you to think that nationalism leads to mass violence, I'll offer historical examples, references to psychology papers, etc. If I want you to think that "The Purist" by Ogden Nash is the greatest example of light verse in the English language, I will write up my own reasons for thinking so and hope you agree with them.
= c*a+c*b [distributive law]
= a*c+b*c [multiplication is commutative]
The University of Michigan has already shamed itself by submitting the tendentious "empirical study" by Patricia Gurin to the courts in connection with its admissions lawsuit. It further shames and degrades itself by employing persuasive techniques that are appropriate, not for free citizens of a democratic republic, but to totalitarian societies and religious cults.
Addendum, 31 October 2007:
Speaking of totalitarian societies, check out these links about The University of Deleware:
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