Sunday, September 30, 2007

"We All Live In Jena"

Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Common, M1, Talib Kweli, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Sankofa Community Empowerment, Change the Game, the National Hip Hop Political Convention, Color of Change and student leaders from over 100 high schools and colleges have called for National Action on Monday, October 1 at 12:30pm to support the Jena 6. Mos Def, who spearheaded the call, said "This is the time for Black people to support the Jena 6, and call attention to the unequal treatment the criminal justice system is dishing out not only in Jena, Louisiana, but across this nation...We all live in Jena."

Okay, boys and girls, you heard the man. Act.

And incidentally, you don't need to go to the streets to act. Talk to your co-workers, your fellow students, your boss or your boss's boss. Start a discussion on institutionalized racism over lunch. Tell your family members. Write a letter to an editor. Or to Reed Walters (now, there's a thought!). Email the New York Times and let them know what you think of their giving Walters a platform to bash Black folks with Jesus, no less. Tell the Kansas City Star what you think of Jason Whitlock's "commentaries." Support your local Black and Latin@ cultural programs. Volunteer to mentor a poor kid in a poor school. Speak up and speak out. Because we all live in Jena and that's a fact, Jack!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"The Big Sexy" Strikes Out

It would be nice if I could get to my emails this morning. I just KEEP running across things I MUST post about. Modi (of both Kill Bigotry! and, more lately, fame -- both fine blogs by a truly fine writer) tipped me yesterday to his piece on Jason Whitlock.

You may have read my response to a recent Whitlock column posted last Sunday. Not being familiar with "The Big Sexy" -- what Whitlock calls himself (see photo above) -- and his meteoric rise as a writer in this country, I was fairly low key in my presentation. In his post, on the other hand, Modi knows and tells the backstory. This is one you really don't want to miss. It's worth reading for the writing alone. But it also describes in graphic detail a classic example of the effects of institutionalized oppression in the name of racism in this society.


Jesus Would Have "Looted"

I wouldn't normally post an advertisement. But sipping juice and browsing my early morning internet stops, I came across a video on BBC (the British television channel) that features Grammy-winning New Orleans blues man and actor Chris Thomas King talking about "Rise," the cd he released last year on the Katrina disaster. Going from there to King's website, I listened to one of the songs, "What Would Jesus Do?" about the kinds of decisions survivors were forced to make. New Orleans musicians were demonstrating this week for better pay in a city that depends on them for its legend. I hope they get what they deserve because New Orleans wouldn't be New Orleans without them. I'm buying "Rise" this morning. Maybe you'd like to check it out as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quote of the Week

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." -- Samuel Adams

From what I understand, only about one out of ten of the early European colonists wanted to overthrow Great Britain and establish the United States. Which means that the vast majority (90%) of the population were just fine with the way things were. Whatever you think of the revolutionaries' motives (such as wanting to be The Power instead of cow-tow to it); whatever you think of their hypocrisy (such as keeping slaves and having sex with them while talking and writing about "freedom"); whatever you think of their practices (such as shooting uniformed soldiers in the back from behind trees), they were ultimately successful in casting Great Britain adrift. While it's true that they had MASSIVE help from Poland and France, among others, they did not have the internet...
The poster featured above is available from Northland Poster Collective.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prevention or Correction?

W.E.B. DuBois, an early sociological theorist who was ignored for most of his life because, even though he was Harvard-trained, he was African-American, called it "dual-consciousness." What he was referring to was the split perspective that African-Americans wind up with as a result of being raised in a society where White makes right and Black must step back. It's not hard to find examples or even to find agonizing critical analyses of the phenomenon written by people of color who struggle on a daily basis with looking through two pairs of psychic and cultural eyes.

White people don't get it. They only have one consciousness: White supremacy. They are born into a society (and yes, even a world) wherein they can expect certain reassurance of their right to privilege. Some White people argue that because they are now or came up poor, they experience the same problems as people of color, which is, frankly, so lacking in grasp of the reality of the situation as to be simultaneously heart-wrenching and ludicrous.

It's true, poverty is never fun. And poor people suffer in multiple ways. But to imagine that poor people of color have no more problems than poor people that look like me is to be ignorant of the truth. Even a Black doctor in this country is a Black doctor and better never forget it, let alone not having the protections of social class.

When an African-American, out of this dual-consciousness, mouths either lies or part truth and part falsehood because he or she cannot unwind the threads of the complicated and racially-charged mental processes under which they have been socialized, the White power structure and those in agreement with it rush to applaud. "You see," they chortle, "Even 'they' admit what we've been saying all along. It's all their own fault..." (whatever "it" is).

Sometimes the person of color is just trying to suck up to Whitey because that's the prudent thing to do in this society. Sometimes their socialization has been so effective, ruthless, and deeply skewed as to leave them clueless as to their own oppression. Sometimes they've had to retreat into a system of denial just to keep from slapping somebody, even if the denial is often accompanied by a profound sense of their own inadequacy. But probably most of the time, they simply get caught in and deliver without realizing it a stew of confusion that serves White supremacy well.

After a week of media reports on the happenings related to the on-going three-ring circus Jena, Louisiana has become, someone sent me a commentary by columnist Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City (Kansas) Star. Whitlock is Black and is bemoaning the fact -- with which we all could agree, I might add -- that it would have been to the point for the community (Black and White) to be there for Mychal Bell when he was young before all this mess unfolded. All boys need their dads, writes Whitlock, and Bell's dad was not there until after he went to jail. In fact, Whitlock appears to relish reporting, Bell has been before the bench three times for assault in the last two years, including the most recent incident. Doesn't that prove, he seems to be suggesting, that it's a personal problem; that it's his father's fault; that it's a shortcoming in the Black community where men don't volunteer to be Big Brothers for boys like Mychal?

He calls the fight a "beatdown" (how Black of him). He castigates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for being prone to serve up a "kernal of truth on a mountain of lies" because they demand racial parity. He dangles "true American liberation, equality and power" in front of his readers as if none of these requires any realization of who precisely is sitting on top of all three making sure they are NOT shared.

Whitlock points out that the Black U.S. Attorney said the attack had "absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before" and that because the defense attorney who called NO witnesses was Black, his poor performance couldn't possibly have had anything to do with Mychal's race. By the time he finishes his piece, declaring that the Black community needs to practice "preventive medicine" so that other boys of color will not throw away their futures, his assertion that these boys "deserve to be punished" comes across more as a man concerned than a man who, at least in this case, like so many others with dual-consciousness, unfortunately helps those with the Power-to-Define maintain the paradigm that incubated this situation and then threw it in the laps of the clean-up crew.

Who can argue with the idea that all children need loving parents and a supportive community? But many live-in dads do more damage than their absence would. And "Talley's Corner" (a famous sociological study in the 1970's) found a long time ago that Black men who are FOUR TIMES more likely to be unemployed than European-American men at every educational level in the U.S. are often discouraged about their inabilities to support their families financially and therefore walk away. Is discrimination in the job market their fault?

White men leave their families in the lurch. too. And there's been plenty written about how "deadbeat dads" are the cause of all manner of ills in this country. But the fact is that, while children in other industrialized nations (especially in Europe) are routinely covered by programmatic assistance that ensures their eating and having medical care and receiving truly adequate educations, this society does not find that important enough to outweigh the war du jour. What I mean is, does this society give a crap about its kids in general or not? You want to fault Black men for the norms to which the whole society is apparently committed?

Additionally, young Black men are the fodder for the cash cow that the prison-industrial complex has become in this country. The Federal Bureau of Prisons alone is now the biggest industry in the U.S. and with the workers making pennies (sometimes literally), a magical mystery tour of capitalistic endeavor it has become. With three-fourths of those now "doing time" incarcerated for non-violent crimes or no crimes at all (such as drinking on probation), those who pay attention know how many of those young men have been prepared for their fate and then helped to fulfill it just as the Jena Six have.

Finally, how in the sam hill (as my mother used to say) can we continue to wolf about making Black boys "accountable" when we do not make our racist society at least equally accountable for its wrongs? How can a U.S. Attorney (apparently an "educated" man) say there's no connection between the nooses and the fight when they both came straight out of the ugly, vicious, White-driven violence of U.S. history which is still living out its twisted agendas today? How can a Black public defender who needs a job in a town of three thousand people where only White kids deserve shade be assumed to be unscathed by race in his defense of a Black boy who cold-cocked a White one?

When, in the same region of Louisiana as Jena, three White boys beat another White boy so badly that he wound up in the hospital for two weeks with bleeding and swelling of the brain, the attackers were charged were simple battery -- a misdemeanor. No jail. No felony record. No interruption of their school year. But when Mychal Bell and his friends -- after being threatened with lynching (a practice that still occurs, Mr. Whitlock, and not just in the South), attacked physically on another occasion, threatened by a Prosecutor with having their lives "disappear," turned away by the School Board when they attempted to be heard about their concerns as young African-Americans, threatened with a shotgun and then charged with robbery for disarming the White man who was threatening them and who was NOT charged with anything -- finally had a bellyful of standing alone in the face of such a display of unmitigated Whiteness arrayed against them and jumped somebody for mocking them, they deserve to be punished.

You want to know where the preventive medicine is, Mr. Whitlock? It marched in Jena last Thursday. Where were you?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

All Power To The People

I just put in my third twelve-hour day in a row at the campus and I didn't eat my microwaved frozen dinner until 9:30, but I can't go to bed until I say, "Way to go!" to all those who descended on Jena today. Daaaaaa-amn! When on a single day in the middle of the week, you manage to make the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor and Congress is talking about a federal investigation and George Bush actually finds himself feeling as though even he has to say something, however stumbling and bogus, about the case, you have pulled off something to be proud of and something we need to celebrate.

The Associated Press reported that the Louisiana State Police estimated the crowd at between 15,000 and 20,000 protesters. Even though my body was here, my heart was there and right now, it's full to overflowing with what on a more ordinary day I might call cautious optimism, but what on this most extraordinary day can only be called hope. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to every person who marched in Jena today to carry the message of truth, peace, and freedom to a nation that so desperately needs to hear it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Be still when you have nothing to say; [but] when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot." ~ D.H. Lawrence

I'm not sure Lawrence was talking about ranting on a blog here, but passion is passion. And what I read on the blogs where I make my regular rounds is hot, hot, hot. It's a very hopeful note in a culture full of people who appear to be yawning while Rome burns.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

All Suffering Isn't Equal

C. Wright Mills (one of my favorite sociologists, whose work helped me to decide to study power relations and who died young, I like to think, of a combination of frustration and too much alcohol attempting to deal with that frustration) said the study of sociology resides at that nexis where biology meets history and that each of us arrives at conception at that nexis, unable throughout the rest of our whole lives to avoid its effects.

Being born (as I was) in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky situated me geographically and culturally in an area known for its poverty-stricken population BUT to a family that had been filthy rich and locally quite powerful one hundred years before. My father received a bachelor's degree on the G.I. Bill a few years after my birth and my mother had a year of college herself, not to mention being raised by her own mother who was in her youth a school teacher. And they moved away from the mountains soon after my father completed his education.

While our first home had no indoor bathroom until my father put a toilet in a closet, by the time I was in high school, we were living, despite having become a family of seven, in a middle class fashion. Our neighbors were clearly much wealthier than we were, making me feel much of the time slightly embarrassed, like a poor relation, but I rode around with my friends in their cars and enjoyed the generalized privileges of a middle class White girl in northern Illinois.

Now, it's true that I was taught that women are for sex and cooking and I didn't go to college until I was almost forty years old, but when I got ready to go, my middle class up-bringing and "better" high school education gave me a leg up into the non-traditional degree program designed precisely for people just like me. And here I am a couple of decades later, living, if not comfortably or with much "security" by many middle class people's standards, at least adequately most of the time.

I wear "better" clothes from consignment shops and department stores. I drive a ten-year-old car with a fading paint job and a dented rear end, but it's a brand built to last, gets pretty good gas mileage, and manages to look more or less sporty on a good day. I had health insurance for the past year and will have it again in two weeks. I've needed some dental work done for quite some time, but I own two pair of expensive prescription glasses. I can afford to send $150 to Haiti once a month to feed street kids without putting my Christmas vacation plans on hold. And I could choose to spend twenty bucks last night to watch some of my students play football and still go out for a sandwich at a popular yuppy joint afterward, even though it meant running home to balance my checkbook, making a mental note not to pay a small bill until I get paid again.


Well, sometimes I feel as if I make the wrong choices. I chose not to lock into the "right" kind of relationship that would have made it possible for me to send my kids to private schools while I did "volunteer" work or went to law school. I still choose not to prioritize "having" stuff over learning stuff (in a range of ways). And I choose to spend my time trying to make the world better by challenging the way things are, from the outside, not the inside, because I've seen first hand how seductive -- and how distracting -- good cologne and silk pajamas can be, at least for me.

It seemed to me early on, I think, even though I didn't consciously recognize the decision, that it just doesn't work to attack the monster while riding on its back. So I didn't ride. But I sometimes lusted after the trappings or the apparent comfort level of those who did, though I was always, always deeply conflicted about doing so.

I wanted the niceties, but I saw so much suffering. "You can get this," the monster would coo in a velvety voice. "You owe it to yourself." And sometimes I succumbed. And the next thing you know, I'd have done or collected or "enjoyed" one more little perk of the privileged, my soul compromised a little further, my feelings of empathy for those who suffer just the tiniest bit more numb.

Many of those I met and spent time with chastised me for my hanging back from "living life to its fullest" by getting the "gusto" that, after all, everybody wants. My reticence to participate, my discussion of why I don't participate, my description of the effects of our participation in such lifestyles on those who cannot participate irritated those around me and dampened the "fun" of others.

"Lighten up!" I would be told and sometimes I'd try, biting my tongue, eating the food, trying not to remember--just for a few hours--but whether I call it "sociology" or "social activism" or "guilt" or "oppression psychosis" (what Lyford Edwards called it in The Natural History of Revolution), I would eventually rain on my own (and everybody else's parade). No wonder folks take me in short doses. I never let it go. I never give it a rest.

Then, this week, several things came together in a way that reinforced my questions and highlighted my dilemma, if indeed, that's what it is. First of all, a friend sent me one of the most remarkable stories I've ever read and I've been reading it. It's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder. If I thought I was fixated on oppression, Paul Farmer makes me look like a piker. Besides being a book so well written and interesting, the story alone would make it worth reading. Being exposed to Farmer has amped my flame up even higher or maybe what I really mean is "deeper" because it doesn't have me wanting to run around doing more activities. It has me going deep inside myself, examining what is there, that I might play my role more fully and with less ambivilence.

Farmer is ruthless in his constant attack on the system that feeds the haves not only their own share, but the share of the have-nots, as well. A tenured professor in the Harvard med school and a world renowned scientist, Farmer has almost single-handedly sometimes taken on problems that were supposedly unsolveable and virtually by bull will when nothing else would work, solved them -- in South Africa, in Russia, in Peru, and most particularly in the mountains of Haiti. He doesn't just treat starving, poverty-stricken people with AIDS, wildly resistant strains of tuberculosis, and other diseases we never hear about, let alone get, but he does it at least partly by treating sick systems full of individuals who don't understand, don't want to listen, and don't care. And over his shoulder, while never missing a beat, he continually describes and points out how these systems create the diseases, poverty, hunger and pain of his patients while insulating the haves from their inposition.

And one of Farmer's principles, now espoused by his main organization, Partners in Health, is "All suffering isn't equal."

Reading this book this week was having a profound effect on me anyway, but then I visited Professor Zero who routed me to profbwoman over at Oh No a WoC PhD and what with being well into the book on Farmer at the same time, I was overwhelmed with hardcore, thought-provoking new consciousness. Oh, dear. Life was difficult enough before, I mumbled to no one in particular. How was this going to work?

According to Kidder's truly beautifully written account, Farmer, who himself has a whole string of books out and has put almost every bit of money he has ever made for his whole adulthood into helping someone somewhere, once taught a course at Harvard called "Varieties of Human Suffering." "Impolite terms, used intramurally [in Farmer's organization]," writes Kidder, "were meant as philosophical rebukes to the misplaced preoccupations of those who believed in 'identity politics,' in the idea that all members of an oppressed minority were equally oppressed, which all too conveniently obscured the fact that there were real differences in the 'shaftedness,' also sometimes called the 'degrees of hose-edness,' that people of the same race or gender suffered. 'All suffering isn't equal' was an article of the [Partners in Health] faith, generated in reaction to the many times when they had tried to raise money and instead had been offered lectures about the universality of suffering, or simply lines like 'The rich have problems, too.'"

I felt as if I was getting the same message from all sides. And that typically means, I have come to believe, that this is exactly what is happening and further, what is supposed to be happening. So, I listen. Even when, as in this case, I think it's something I already know and -- for the most part -- try to live by.

I haven't got the lesson all sorted out yet. But I invite you to join me in this exploration, if you have the nerve. Go read profbwoman's post. And if you're really serious, get Kidder's book and read that, too. The illusion that as long as some of us are eating, it's gonna be all right is dangerous. A couple of hundred years ago, a writer with a sharp wit once wrote satirically that the rich would probably suggest that we ought to eat the poor. Actually, if we don't get a new attitude, we may, in the end, find the poor eating us, sharing their diseases because we wouldn't share our food and our good fortune. And even here in the good old U.S.A., other repercussions of our own poor decision-making as individuals and as a society appear to some of us to be much more dire and much closer than many might imagine.

I have few current heroes. Dr. Paul Farmer is now one of them. His story and his work prove that a person who looks like me, who grew up with enough to eat, and who got an education, all factors that turn so many of us into self-centered, self-serving iconoclasts, can see the truth and spread the truth and live by the truth. And the truth shall set you free.


NOTE: On May 28, 2008, Amy Goodman interviewed Dr. Paul Farmer on Democracy Now. Through the wonders of modern technology, I am able to add the interview nine months after I wrote this post.

No, We're Not There Yet

Mychal Bell's case has been sent to juvenile court (where it belonged from the outset) by the Louisiana State Court of Appeals. But The Thin Black Duke over at Slant Truth is reminding us that we must stay tuned in to the rest of the game so we don't miss any late-breaking surprises. The way things too often work in a system as riddled with institutionalized oppression as ours is that just when you think it's over, it turns out not to be.

There are six young men still swimming in a sewer and it's up to all of us to make sure every one of them gets to walk away and resume his life with dignity. White boys from the same region who put a White victim in the hospital for two weeks with swelling and bleeding of the brain were only charged with simple battery (not even a felony). The Jena Six's victim spent three hours in the emergency room and went home. Mychal Bell has already been locked up for more than nine months in an adult jail. We can celebrate, yes. But we need to remember what put him there in the first place and keep the spot lights on.

The cartoon featured in this post is by the famous African-American cartoonist, Brumsic Brandon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Remembering Attica

The United States in 1971 was a powder keg of emotion in every direction. Protests against racial and gender inequality, against governmental corruption, and against an unpopular war filled the streets. Those with the power felt their backs against the wall and came out fighting over and over again, using law enforcement, overt and covert surveillance, and even brutal violence to hold onto the shreds of what they believed they were about to lose. The result was prisons filled beyond capacity with prisoners, a number of whom were intelligent, politically savvy, and committed to social change.

Attica State Penitentiary was no different from any other major joint in this concern. At 40% over maximum capacity with prisoners who were allowed only one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper per month, a long hot summer was just coming to a close when -- on Thursday, September 9th -- a thousand prisoners took over the prison, demanding better conditions.

Governor Nelson Rockefeller, whose get-tough policies on crime and political dissent were part of the reason the New York state system was popping at the seams, blamed the up-rising on what he believed to be "revolutionaries" who he saw as threatening order across the nation. Refusing to go to Attica, even to supervise the outcome, on this day thirty-six years ago, Rockefeller ordered that the prison be re-taken by force. More than 2000 rounds of ammunition were shot at close range, killing 29 prisoners and 10 of the guards being held hostage, in one of the bloodiest show-downs in U.S. history.

The prisoners were harrassed, beaten and tortured for months afterward, but an official investigation a year later faulted Rockefeller for his decision and his lack of presence, calling the attack ill-conceived, poorly executed, and probably unnecessary. In August, 2000, 1280 men who lived through the nightmare were awarded about $8 million among them. But according to award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row in Pennsylvania for the alleged killing of a police officer in 1981, prisons are today still being used just as they were in the 1970's, except that now, they play an even more intrinsic role in the U.S. economy. This is what he has to say about all this:

In 1971, I was a member of a collective that worked tirelessly to abolish prisons as a tool of oppression. We published a 90-page tabloid about what happened at Attica and forced the administration by court order to allow the issue into the institution. I post today in memory of those who died in Attica on this historic day and in memory of all those who have died anywhere in prison fighting for their rights and the rights of all people to be free.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Jim Crow isn't dead. He just got smarter." (This from one of the defense lawyers connected to the Jena Six case.) I was going to run a photo of a lynching here, but I decided instead to run this one of Mychal Bell, the member of the Jena Six who will come up for sentencing on September 20th. There is no way this country will see any peace until Mychal Bell is freed. Believe that.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The So-Called "Downside" of "Diversity"

Once folks know you pay a rather inordinate amount of attention to the socially-constructed political notion of race, you can run, but you can't hide. You can get rid of your television. You can refuse to read a newspaper. You can ignore the headlines on your rss feed page. And you can steer clear of blogs. But somebody at some point will find you and drop something on you they know you won't be able to ignore.

For those of you who are new to these parts, I made a major move six weeks ago to a different state, a different school, and a different culture. The move, as moves always are, was beyond exhausting, but the transition, while requiring tons of work, has been much, much easier than I could possibly have hoped. One can only assume that this was a move that was supposed to happen. But there was anxiety, I guess, on levels I wasn't prepared to entertain. And the upshot of it all is that I haven't really been in a blogging mode for two months or so. The blog stats bear this out in a pretty forlorn fashion.

In any case, right after I moved, one of my colleagues at my old school, a man with whom I'd had enough conversations that he had learned exactly how to rattle my cage or, if not that, at least what bait I'm most likely to rise to, emailed me a copy of an article from The Boston Globe. He wrote only: "You've probably seen this. It's all over the internet. But I wondered what you think about it."

I dodged the bullet for the moment, but printed out the article and started shuffling it around on my desk. This corner. That corner. Underneath a stack of other stuff. And into the "to do" basket (which was mostly just filled with things I didn't know what to do with yet).

Then, a few days ago, I was having trouble with my internet connection on my office computer and I was stuck in what academics call Office Hours, during which you are supposed to be readily available to see students without an appointment, and I became so bored, I finally read the piece. I knew the die was cast when I broke out a hot pink highlighter and as I loaded up my briefcase yesterday afternoon, the article jumped in and rode home with me.

It wasn't the kind of issue I wanted my first real post in two months to be about. There's much more flashy, emotional, and dramatic stuff to about currently. But that's exactly why the study described in the Globe article is so important. It's flying under the radar. Nobody screamed or even said the N-word on coast-to-coast television. Nobody shot an elderly or mentally-challenged person of color, accusing them of going for a gun. In fact, the study sounds so low-key as to be downright boring unless you happen to be in academe or it's your job to set public policy. But this study could fuel endless processes further entrenching what some of us call "neo-racism" for decades to come. No billy clubs. No nooses. Just Power smiling congenially in blue suits and relegating people of color to the back of the societal bus -- again -- by declaring the "downside of diversity."

The study was done by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, made famous by his book, "Bowling Alone," in 2000, about how people in the United States are becoming more and more isolated from each other. This later study, which examines this idea further, is large by social scientific standards. Detailed interviews of 30,000 Black, White, Hispanic and Asian people in 41 communities from coast-to-coast is an impressive sample of the population and certainly offers the ability to generalize from the data and draw conclusions with major implications.

What Putnam was trying to determine was does diversity make a community stronger? In other words, when a neighborhood is multi-cultural, that is, made up of individuals and groups representing a diverse range of cultures, are the results as positive as many liberals have suggested? I use the word "liberals" here the way many "liberals" use it, to mean "not conservatives." In point of fact, many, if not most, liberals are not at heart vastly different from many conservatives. That is to say, conservatives want to maintain the status quo. They want to keep the power in the hands of those who have so far always had it in this country. You don't need to have a Ph.D. in history to know that White men of means wrote the constitution, putting only themselves in it, and if raw statistics are any indicator, they still hold by far and away the predominance of the power. Conservatives have no problem with this. And when push comes to shove, many so-called liberals are pretty comfortable with this, as well. Using slightly different words or selecting women and people of color who can be included without really upsetting the apple cart doesn't necessarily represent a desire for change.

Nevertheless, while many conservatives are quick to cut minorities no slack (except during election years), liberals in general have tended to purport for some time to believe that "diversity" (also called "integration" or "multiculturalism") was a good thing. A warm fuzzy, if you will. One result has been what is sometimes perceived by people of color as appropriation of their traditions by White folks with no actual appreciation for the meaning of what they feel so entitled to adopt. Another result was the implementation of programs supposedly intended to expose diverse populations to each other, especially in work settings.

The principle, apparently, was that questions such as "Why can't we all just get along?" or "Why can't we be friends?" were only problematic because different cultures hadn't gotten to know each other, had never been able to "walk a mile in the other person's shoes," so they didn't understand each other. Exposure, it was thought, would bring about understanding and then, everything would be all right.

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that people of color in the Western Hemisphere have long since had a bellyful of understanding European-American cultural traditions, a number of which are predicated on the idea of their own supremacy and the reasonable nature of their dominance over everyone else. This idea, needless to say, is patently unappealing and even ridiculous to people of color, but when you don't have the power to change the norms (norms being the accepted beliefs and practices of a given society), you're stuck until you either get the power or those with the power decide voluntarily to give it up. Riiiiiight. It's White folks who lack the "understanding" about what they continue to put those they consider "others" through.

Workplace training went from being about "diversity" to being about "multiculturalism" to being about "cultural competency," but there was no change in the norms with which U.S. citizens are socialized. And understand this: not only are European-Americans taught that they are better, smarter, more beautiful, and more deserving of not only the power positions, but all the good things offered by the society. People of color are taught this, as well. From babyhood. So that even when Momma, Grandma, Uncle Junior or some teacher says, "You're as good as anybody. You can be whatever you want to be," they know when they say it that while the first statement is true, the second one may not be. And more importantly, the child will not be treated as if he or she is as good as anybody. At least, not by people in general in the United States, including other people of color. And anyway, people of color, with the most of the worst and the least of the best, inundated daily with reminders that they will be seen as less than their lighter-skinned counterparts, and feeling after five hundred years that it's always going to be this way, may understandably and often do give up trying to fight the power and either get sick, give up, or get mean.

So when the famous Robert Putnam marched his social scientific troops into 41 "diverse," "multicultural" communities, which he admits tend to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents, everything I've written here was already glued in place. Putnam admits that the factors I just named -- that he admits are typical characteristics of the communities involved in the study -- could, according to the Globe article, "depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have." That is, a large, disproportionately poor and therefore crime-ridden neighborhood where the residents move often would tend to make people isolate, distrust each other more, and lack a sense that community involvement (such as voting) would make any difference. Still, they brushed all that aside, saying that the so-called "diversity" is The Problem in these communities.

Neo-conservatives are having a field day. What we need, they exult, is more gated communities where people of like-minds and similar interests can live in orderly fashion, without any of the difficulties attached to communities with those "other" people (not like them).

But liberals are off the hook, as well. They can stop feeling embarrassed that they secretly wonder why all that training never takes, why more than forty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (which was supposed to fix everything, for goodness' sake), Black people are still poor, still going to jail, still depressed and angry and in our space with their problems.

I'm reminded of the results of a study I saw on a bulletin board years ago finding that young people are happier than old people, healthy people happier than sick people, and rich people happier than poor people. My thought as I walked away from the bulletin board was: "And they paid money to learn this?" To my mind, Putnam et al has "found" the same type of information. As long as people of color are kept disproportionately poor just because they are people of color (and this has been documented so resoundingly as to be hardly worthy of studying any further), then neighborhoods where they constitute a significant portion of the population will be marked by social problems and social unrest. I tell my students, "Wherever you find oppression, you will find social conflict." Putnam could have asked me and I'd have saved him all that work.