Political correctness is a passing fad

Multiculturalism is a way to relieve us of responsibility because by being “pro,” we don’t have to actively do anything to remedy the situation.
You could say that, as a society, we’ve become more aware of our capacity to be racist, sexist, etc. We became aware, and then we developed multiculturalism. It’s an easy word to throw out; who isn’t for multiculturalism? Nobody wants to be racist, the exception being any of the fringe hate groups, and nobody would be willing to admit it if they were. And now that we’re multicultural, does that mean that racism has suddenly disappeared, been struck down by our mission statements? Generally, it just means that if we don’t say anything bad about people because of their ethnic origins, or if we repress the thoughts we do have, then we’re open-minded, politically correct individuals.
We’re taught to discriminate. And it’s subtler than all that. It doesn’t necessarily feel like hate, or even like we’re doing anything wrong. We may have absolutely no idea that our behavior is anything less than laudable. We may be trying.
I spend time working with kids in minority neighborhoods. In fact, I live in a highly Somalian immigrant neighborhood on the West Bank. I am surrounded by friends of dozens of races, ethnic origins and belief systems. So that would make me an open-minded, politically correct person, right?
This is where it gets complicated. Most of us who are from the suburbs attended predominantly white high schools. In certain areas of the city, minorities make up 95 percent of the schools. Not a very “multicultural” environment. When we aren’t exposed to people who are different from us, we have to rely on parents and teachers as well as our friends for information.
And sometimes we don’t know that something is wrong until a bucket of ice water is dropped on our heads.
I’ve had a lot of ice water dropped on me. Another bucket sat waiting for me on the first day of classes.
At first, I couldn’t tell why class felt different. Then, there it was: I have never in my entire life had an African-American teacher or professor. But right there, in front of the political science class stood August Nimtz, commanding the respect of 75 mostly political science majors. My excitement about the class and what he was talking about was nothing compared to my anger at what I knew I had done.
I’d followed my upbringing and ignored what was missing. Or maybe I just didn’t notice.
This is where subtlety comes in. It’s not anyone’s fault, per se, that they haven’t encountered people of races other than theirs being in positions of authority. Their responsibility is to notice their surroundings, and to question them.
Our responsibility, as a country that is trying to overcome its race problems, is to take inventory of our surroundings. Who has access to the means of distributing information? For whom are people trained to be at attention? Whose opinions do we value? These aren’t merely rhetorical questions, they’re real questions that reveal our biases, our stereotypes and our flaws.
How comfortable are we with an immigrant teaching English? A woman teaching physics? A Native American teaching European history? A Caucasian teaching Afro-American studies?
We all have prejudice ingrained in us by the people who contributed to our upbringing. It’s not just a white thing. Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants; everyone has been taught to listen to different people with varying levels of respect. We’re also taught to accept certain people in certain professions. Asian-Americans and math, African-Americans and music, these are just a couple of examples.
Looking at whose opinions are more valued in different fields is very telling of our sentiments as a whole.
So, whom is education for? One could say it’s for everyone. We have American Indian studies, women’s studies, Afro-American studies and Chicano/Latino studies departments. This is a vast improvement over higher education even twenty years ago. However, improvement isn’t equality. We may have these departments, but what is a department without tenured professors? Not a very stable one. American Indian studies has no tenured professors in the department. And Asian-American studies doesn’t even exist.
There are fine lines here.
Do we really need an Asian-American studies department? It’s a point of contention because we can’t break down the American experience forever. Do we need a department for people who grew up in the suburbs? In the country? Of course these things are silly, but they’ve been used to question departments that study culture. However, since we don’t live in an integrated multicultural society, Asian-Americans have issues, traditions and needs that are not universal to American society. To work with a population, we need to understand it, thus the need for departments studying culture.
In the University mission statement, it says “(We) share that knowledge, understanding, and creativity by providing a broad range of educational programs in a strong and diverse community of learners and teachers, and prepare … students … for active roles in a multiracial and multicultural world.”
Wow. With such good intentions, the University must have higher percentages of minority students than Minnesota as a state. Not quite. It takes a lot of digging to find where the real numbers are (Office of Planning and Analysis), but the numbers aren’t something the University would really want to be broadcasting. On the University Relations fact page, the number for enrolled minority students is 5,632. But unlike the way gender is broken down (by department), race isn’t broken down at all, not even by campus. So that would be 5,632 students for the Twin Cities, Morris, Duluth, Crookston and extension.
Take numbers for African-American students as an example. It’s 1,343 for the whole system, or about 3.4 percent. African-Americans in the state of Minnesota account for 8 to 9 percent of our population. The numbers for African-American professors that are tenured or tenure-tracked are even more dismal. Of 2,638 professors, 45 are African-American. That’s 1.7 percent. These numbers are probably less when you count only tenured professors, tenure-tracked simply means there is a potential for tenure.
The University does not live up to its mission statement. The reason it can get away with it is that all we want to hear is that they’re trying. We don’t need to see the results.
Access to the means of distributing knowledge is more influential than any mission statement. We wouldn’t need to say that we’re multicultural if we really were. We need to start taking inventory, and holding those in power to their promises if we are ever going to start to break through the silence of being politically correct.

Sara Hurley is a Daily opinions writer.