Dealing with Difference Institute
Dr. J. Q. Adams, Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies, has conducted interviews with scholars and activists whose work has advanced the understanding of cultural diversity in the USA. Each of the interviewees offers insights into diversity based on their research and experience.
- Dr. Shakti Butler
- Dr. Heather Hackman
- Dr. Maulana Karenga
- Dr. Pedro Noguera
- Dr. Ronald Takaki
- Dr. C. T. Vivian
- Mr. Tim Wise
- Dr. James A. Banks
- Dr. Paul Gorski
Rev. Vivian: “Nonviolence is the only alternative to violence in our time.” Quoting Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass): “’Every struggle makes a greater struggle necessary.’ That’s a deep truth.”
Rev. C. T. Vivian, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, discusses his participation in the Civil Rights Movement: lunch-counter sit-ins in Peoria, IL and Rock Hill, SC; seminary studies and nonviolent direct action training in Nashville, TN; the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Wade-in in St. Augustine, FL; Freedom Rides through the South and imprisonment in the State Penitentiary in Jackson, MS.
Rev. Vivian speaks of civil rights leaders with whom he worked, including Rev. Martin Luther King. Rev. James Shuttlesworth, Rev. James Bevel, Dr. James Farmer, and Rev. James Lawson, and others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also speaks passionately of nonviolence as the only viable means to effect social justice, of the preparation and motivation that prevented fear from ever becoming a factor in his quest for racial equality, and of the necessity for strong, in-depth education in the development of leaders who understand and embrace nonviolence as the response to violence.
Dr. Takaki: “I think America is coming to terms with [its cultural] diversity. America is recognizing that diversity has become America’s ‘Manifest Destiny.’”
Dr. Ronald Takaki, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams in Berkeley, CA, discusses a wide range of topics from a multicultural perspective: his upbringing in Hawaii, undergraduate studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio, graduate studies in history at the University of California, Berkeley, the first Black history course at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1967, the comparative ethnic studies program and the multicultural requirement for graduation at UC, Berkeley, his multicultural history of the United States of America, A Different Mirror, and the ongoing research prompted by his commitment to multicultural history based on the personal accounts, the personal stories, of real people.
Professor Takaki discusses his admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King and his interest in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and its 1964 voter registration drive, in slavery and the roots of racial hatred, in the critical contributions of African American Union soldiers during the Civil War, in the WWII internment of Japanese in the USA, the 1965 Watts rebellion, and the government’s contemporary detainment and deportation of Muslims. As important are his insights on comparative studies, integrated, interdisciplinary approaches to education, critical thinking, epistemology (knowing how we know what we know), race/ethnicity, cultural diversity, assimilation, colorblindness, equality, and the master narrative of US history.
Dr. Maulana Karenga (Dept. of Africana Studies, California State University, Long Beach, 562-985-5620)
Dr. Karenga: “There is no alternative to sharing the world we all live in.”
Dr. Maulana Karenga, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California, tells the story of his evolution from the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1965), through the Black Power Movement (1965-1975), to an increasingly inclusive and complex understanding of liberation movements throughout the world. In doing so, he mentions some of the leaders who influenced him, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Rev. Martin Luther King, Elijah Muhammad, leader of the American-based Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X, a disciple of Elijah Muhammad who later rejected the Nation of Islam and its separatist doctrine. Dr. Karenga goes on to explain his study of African ethics and the philosophy to which it led. That philosophy, Kawaida, sees culture as the foundation of a people’s identity and purpose and seeks, through continuous dialogue, “the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense.”
Kawaida has influenced Dr. Karenga’s exploration of multiculturalism and of African and African American histories and cultures. It has led as well to his deepening understanding of how critical mutual respect and an ethics of sharing are to genuine multiculturalism. While recognizing that ethical values and truth are inevitably rooted in specific cultures, he indicates that being deeply rooted in one’s own culture enables one to search for commonalities among cultures and to embrace an ethics of sharing that values everyone. Though his analysis of multiculturalism and human potential are overwhelmingly positive, he does not ignore the problem of racism; he sees it as a violent imposition, an ideology, and an institutional arrangement that perpetuates inequality.
Mr. Wise on colorblindness: “If you say you don’t notice color, A. I don’t believe you, but B. even if you are telling me the truth, the problem is that kids in your class are experiencing color. I mean they’re experiencing what it is to be black or to be Latino.”
Mr. Tim Wise, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, identifies himself as an educator, writer, and activist whose work revolves around race relations, racism, anti-racism, and institutional racism, discrimination, and white privilege. These are the issues he and Dr. Adams explore in this interview; they do so initially as the issues play out in P-12 and higher education. From these perspectives Wise discusses colorblindness, white flight and its impact on student populations, the role of school principals in strengthening the learning of all students, Affirmative Action and white preferences, and the opportunities college offers students who are open to deepening their understanding of their own identities while learning about the cultural identities of others.
Mr. Wise also discusses the fears many whites have of losing their culture in an increasingly multicultural world, a fear exacerbated by what he describes as a “perfect storm of racial anxiety” brought on by the election of the first USA president of color, an economic meltdown, a demographic transition moving the population from majority white to majority people of color, and a multicultural popular culture. He cautions against racist thinking based on “good-bad” divisions and on exceptionalism (identified primarily as whites recognizing the abilities and accomplishments of some people of color while maintaining a sense of superiority over most), and he points out the necessity of recognizing the limited lens with which each person views the world. Wise prefers agency to hope, given that hope can remain passive while agency demands action.
Dr. Hackman: “[A] social justice framework looks at critical thinking; it looks at issues of power and privilege, and in terms of issues of race, . . . it asks questions not just how racism targets folks of color but also asks how white people benefit.”
Dr. Heather Hackman, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, discusses her work as a faculty member in the Human Relations and Multicultural Education Department at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and as a workshop facilitator whose primary interest is social justice education. Though aware of the value of diversity education and cultural competence that revolve around the awareness and appreciation of cultural difference and cultural values, Dr. Hackman stresses the importance of social justice in education. When social justice is the goal, educators and students probe more deeply into the historical events and decisions that form the contradictory foundations of the USA, most notably, its democratic ideals and its disenfranchisement of whole segments of its population, including women and people of color.
A social justice framework demands critical thinking: exploration of issues from multiple non-dominant perspectives, rigorous self-reflection, and examination of power and privilege, liberation and oppression. It encompasses a study of the construction of “race,” of “whiteness,” and of white privilege. As important: a social justice framework inspires empathy and action. Dr. Hackman’s perspective on education and history has been influenced by many scholars and activists, including Paulo Friere, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities, and Waziyatawin, who wrote What Does Justice Look Like? One of the resources Dr. Hackman has found valuable in her teaching is the California Newsreel/PBS documentary series Race—The Power of an Illusion.
Dr. Butler: “[T]his drive to be human, this drive to grow, this drive to learn and change is alive and well, and I refuse to believe otherwise.”
Dr. Shakti Butler, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, discusses her work as a filmmaker and educator who explores issues of oppression, primarily through the lens of race. Her films include The Way Home: Women Talk About Race in America,a distillation of eight months of discussions among 64 women who came together to examine their own and others' perceptions and attitudes about their identities and their place/s in society; Light in the Shadows, in which a small group of women continues the conversation chronicled in The Way Home; and Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, which brings together a number of educators, who are white, to discuss white privilege . Like all of her films, her most recent, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, invites viewers to examine the system of racism and white privilege in the USA, in this instance as it permeates personal beliefs and values as well as the societal structures that continue to perpetuate it.
In her interview with Dr. Adams she speaks of colorblindness as a way to undercut the relevance of race by eliminating the language that makes race visible. Her films, as well as books such as Clarence Lusane’s The Black History of the White House and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, counter this by demonstrating how race not only played a role in history but impacts contemporary life. She also addresses the issue of individualism as an unexamined and often invisible USA value that glosses over persistent disparities within the country. Her work puts her in touch with a wide range of young people, with Spoken Word artists, with conscious hip hop artists, and with activists who are using a variety of organizational methods and approaches to make a difference in their particular areas of interest.
Dr. Pedro Noguera (Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development, New York University, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Noguera on the Achievement Gap: “At the most fundamental level the achievement gap is about inequality. It is an educational manifestation of social inequality.”
Dr. Pedro Noguera, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, focuses on the need to eliminate the achievement gap experienced primarily by students of color, particularly black male students. He sees it as an allocation gap and a preparation gap as well as a gap between parents and teachers, between teachers and students, and between ability and performance. In discussing this multifaceted issue, he repeatedly comes back to the central role relationships play in education and the need—on the part of teacher education programs--to prepare teachers to establish bonds of trust and respect between themselves and their students. As an essential and integral aspect of teaching, establishing relationships demands teachers understand their students’ cultures and meet them where they are rather than vice versa. To accomplish this, teachers must listen to their students and colleagues, enter into dialogue with them, and, as Paulo Freire advocated, maintain open minds.
Defining education as a civil rights issue, Dr. Noguera identifies the responsibilities the federal government, state governments, teachers unions, school boards, and local administrators have to ensure quality education for all children. He is confident we know how to educate all kinds of people and is able to give examples of successful schools even among those most frequently stereotyped as likely-to-fail (schools in the Brownsville, TX school district and PS138 in New York City), but he can also identify the biggest obstacle to comprehensive quality education: politics.
Dr. James A. Banks (Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Seattle, email@example.com)
Dr. Banks on the challenge of education: “How do we prepare students . . . to live in a world where there’s shared dominance and shared coalitions and where decisions are made not by just Western nations?”
Dr. James A. Banks, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, chronicles his professional evolution from African American studies to ethnic studies to multicultural education and his increasing interest in cultural diversity as it plays out globally as well as nationally. Widely recognized as the “Father of Multicultural Education,” he has focused many of his publications, most specifically the Routledge International Companion to Multicultural Education, the four-volume Encyclopedia of Multicultural Education, and the Multicultural Education Series he edits for Teachers College Press, to help institutionalize the field of study. He allows that it is always a struggle, given the hegemony that persists despite a growing population of people of color whose presence is essential for the continuing vitality of the USA.
Dr. Banks points out that nations tend to resist change until it is in their best interest to change. The USA is no exception. Up to now, the USA has been able to survive well asserting its hegemonic perspective in global contexts and to prosper as a predominantly monolingual nation, but the growth in prominence and power of other countries is repositioning the USA vis a vis the dominance it has exercised. Greater diversity within the country as well as increased power sharing among nations reinforces the need for educators to teach students to be flexible and to think deeply as they encounter an increasingly diverse nation and world. The challenge for educators is to help create a world in which people enjoy “flexible citizenship” and can move in and out of a world characterized by multiple hegemonies, coalitions, and shared decision making.
Dr. Gorski: “I think we need to take the schools back [from corporate interests] and I think the best way to do that is to work with local communities.”
Dr. Paul Gorski, in this interview with Dr. J. Q. Adams at Western Illinois University, discusses the necessity to replace a deficit model of education with a greater focus on critical inquiry and equity. He describes the deficit model as one that identifies students and teachers as problems within the educational system, blaming them for lack of progress or success and shifting attention from inequitable educational opportunities to inaccurate cultural stereotypes. Because he sees this deficit model as favoring corporate interests and an attempt to shift education from public community responsibility to private control and profit, he reframes the discussion about educational reform around an understanding of equity literacy, challenging educators to recognize inequity within the system and to redress this inequity in the long as well as the short term.
Dr. Gorski points out that, though educational leaders themselves must value critical thinking before they can expect teachers and students to make it a priority, critical analysis, especially when it leads to challenges to the system, is not rewarded on the educational track to leadership. Aware of this, he is attempting to bridge the gap between scholarly analysis and pragmatic demands through his writing. As important, however, is building community among all segments of the educational world, including teachers, students, and parents. Increasingly this has become the focus of his work, organizing people around interrelated social justice issues, whether these are identified primarily as economic, environmental, or educational.