CHALLENGES OF ETHNIC AND RACIAL DIVERSITY: DOMINANT NARRATIVES, PUBLIC POLICY, AND MASS MEDIA
(USA, University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
Ethnic and racial diversity has come to characterize many communities, large and small, in the U.S. society. A democratic challenge this reality poses is to find creative ways to build trusting relationships across diversity and to create and implement policies that help to make the heterogeneity community strength. In this essay, I address the central role communication plays in this challenge. As such, I also discuss how communication scholarship can inspire and mobilize inclusive policies.
Every society is made up of multiple cultures that struggle with the dialectic tension between asserting their identities and being part of the society. While cultures are created around a variety of collective constructs, ethnicity and race represent one of the most significant facets of multicultural society.1
In fact, Robert Putnam, political scientist and the 2006 winner of the prestigious Johan Skytte Prize, declared in his recent essay that the increasing ethnic diversity is one of the most pressing issues facing all modern societies (Putnam, 2017). This is so, because diversity makes it challenging to build social capital – a resource imperative for building a prosperous, safe, trusting community. People tend to form social networks and accompanying norms of reciprocity and trust with people who are ethnically or racially similar to them. While there are exceptions to this pattern, overwhelming evidence of segregated neighborhoods, interracial conflicts, and anti-immigrant sentiments that exist worldwide speak to the urgency of addressing the question of ethnic and racial diversity as inevitable reality.
Robert Putnam argues that this reality is not simply challenging but eventually helps “create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities” and thus “the central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of ‘we’” (Putnam, 2017: 138-139). Unfortunately, however, he does not offer ideas for realizing this vision. As a way to engage this unanswered challenge, this paper attempts to address three questions relevant to communication studies: what discursive practices hinder the creation of the inclusive sense of “we”?; what community- and nation-wide efforts – policies and initiatives – have been made to engage diversity?; and what role communication scholarship may play in authentic engagement of ethnic and racial diversity? I will focus on the United States as the context for exploring these questions.Ethnic and racial diversity and public policy in the United States America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! Here you stand, good folk, I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries, but you won’t be long like that brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! German and Frenchman, Irishman, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.(Glazer, & Moynihan, 2013: 289). The dream of America as the great melting pot has not been realized for the Negro; because of his skin color he never even made it into the pot. Since its inception, the United States has always been a nation made up of different ethnicities and nationalities. Until very recently, however, the dominant approach to accommodating the diverse population was a combination of assimilation and exclusion. First being made famous by Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play, “melting pot” became a potent metaphor to guide the American imagination of managing differences. Individuals of different cultural, ethnic, and national backgrounds leave their pasts behind as they jump into the pot called “America” and come out as “American.” The social histories of various ethnic groups, however, suggest that this melting never happened; groups maintained their traditions, languages, and identities (Glazer, & Moynihan, 20013). More importantly, not everyone had access to the pot as Justice Marshall remarked, and federal policies and laws made sure that the access is kept out of reach of unwanted groups. To name some, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Immigration Act of 1924, Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907, California Alien Land Law of 1913, the Supreme Court rulings on Ozawa v. United States (1922) and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), and internment of Japanese Americans without due process during World War II all served to keep undesirable groups from reaching the melting pot. In the latter half of the 20th century, nation-builders were forced to abandon the assimilationist and overtly racist approaches to diversity. The passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964 required desegregation and equal rights in voting, service in public facilities, government funding, employment, and all significant aspects of public life. The Immigration Reform Acts in 1965 replaced the national origin quota set by the Immigration Act of 1924 and opened the door to an unprecedented and unanticipated flow of previously excluded immigrants from Asia and Latin America (Hirschman, 2018; Kim, 2014). In 1960, Europeans made up 80% of total immigrants, but in Census 2000, immigrants from Latin America made up a half of all immigrants (King, 2005). Latinos surpassed African Americans in 2003 to constitute the largest racial minority in the United States. The geographical settlement patterns changed over the years, too. In the past, immigrants and refugees tended to settle in large cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, but this is no longer the case today. Many medium and small size cities became the settlement destinations for refugees, and migrants can be found in all states. The growth rate of the Latino population in North Carolina, for example, is the fastest in the country. All these changes meant that the ways by which diversity is handled also needed a fundamental make over. A number of policies have been implemented to facilitate this change in education, employment, housing, welfare, and immigration. Among them, affirmative action, a poster child policy of the civil rights movement, first appeared in President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 of 1961, and then again in President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 (1965) that required equal employment opportunity regardless of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. Affirmative action began as a way to correct lack of opportunities and representations in public institutions resulted from past discrimination. While it started as a democratic response to the past oppressions, it has become a divisive, volatile policy much debated in legal, academic, and public discourses. The late 1990s saw much backlash against affirmative action as illustrated most clearly in the termination of the policy in California (1996), Washington (1998), Michigan (2006), and most recently Nebraska (2008). What does this trend reflect? Does it mean that the status of racial equality in the U.S. society has reached the point where a policy like affirmative action is no longer necessary? After 40 plus years since desegregation became the law and national origin quota in immigration was stripped down, have we reached the point where race is obsolete in public policies? On the contrary, I argue that race and ethnicity are very much relevant to public policy, but many obstacles obscure this relevancy. In the next section, I read the dominant narrative of racial and ethnic diversity as one such obstacle. Then, I problematize integration and dialogue inattentive to the role of power as obstacles that discourage people’s meaningful participation in policy-making process. I conclude the paper by suggesting some ways by which Communication Studies can contribute to a more inclusive policy process.Dominant Discourse of Racial and Ethnic Diversity Policies do not emerge in vacuum but are framed by a larger, dominant narrative or reading of racial and ethnic diversity preferred by the dominant individuals and groups. Indeed, as M.T. Omi and H.S. Winant (Omi, Winant, 2016) argued, racial projects – interpretations, representations, or explanations of racial dynamics – function to shape policies and societal meanings, and at a micro-social level, they are adopted as “common sense – a way of comprehending, explaining, and acting in the world” (Omi & Winant, 2016: 60). The dominant discourse of racial and ethnic diversity in today’s U.S. society is characterized by the ideology of celebration, race-neutrality, and civility. First, racial and ethnic diversity has become something to be acknowledged and celebrated. To illustrate this, I want to read an excerpt from an article titled “Multicultural living: one sip at a time.” In this short essay, Berkowitz, a mother and feeding interventionist, living in New York City, shared her everyday multicultural experience: I sat with my teenage son and daughter as we enjoyed a Pakistani meal in New York City. When I commented on the stainless-steel dinnerware, they looked at me quizzically. “It’s common in South Asian cultures to use stainless steel drinking cups,” my daughter said. To her, this was a piece of knowledge acquired at an early age, and as natural as knowing that apples come from trees. “Some of my Korean and Chinese friends use coffee mugs for hot and cold drinks at home. They don’t make a distinction,” added my son. ... Does it matter if you drink chai from stainless steel or water from a coffee mug? Not in the grand scheme of things. ... Here [in New York City] our cultures bump up against each other every day. Imagine my chagrin when I advised a mother that perhaps it was time to discontinue breast feeding, only to be interrupted by the co-treating gastroenterologist who informed me that mothers from this ethnic group are under a religious obligation to nurse their babies until 2 years of age. I had just told a mom to go against her upbringing. As I back-pedaled red-faced, I realized that this multicultural adventure never ends – there are always new people to meet, whose experiences and habits and mores are different from mine. All I can do is drink it all in, one sip at a time (Berkowitz, 2018: 55). I include this quote because I believe that it represents a dominant way in which diversity and multiculturalism are understood and accepted in the United States. This is a version of multiculturalism that people like to talk about and accept; it is fun to learn about how other cultures do things, and we can appreciate these differences in customs. We see the evidence of this view everywhere. Most of the racial minority groups, for example, have designated heritage and history months when their historical contributions are noted and their cultural heritages embraced. Businesses, educational institutions, and communities without fail appear to include in their promotional materials their support for racial and ethnic diversity. It is rare to find university homepages that do not use photos of students from every major racial group regardless of how these groups are indeed represented statistically and substantially. In the business world, “diversity training” (or sometimes called “sensitivity training”) has become a requisite program or workshop that employees undergo with the aim of achieving inclusive workplace environment. Celebration of diversity often appears in the remarks by nation’s leaders as well. This was perhaps most exemplified by Bill Clinton, whom Tony Morrison, an African American Novel laureate, called “first black president.” In his commencement speech at the University of California at San Diego in 1997, Clinton noted that America is special because it has people from all over the world. He further demonstrated his affirmation of diversity by personalizing its value: I am a Scotch-Irish Southern Baptist, and I'm proud of it. But my life has been immeasurably enriched by the power of the Torah, the beauty of the Koran, the piercing wisdom of the religions of East and South Asia – all embraced by my fellow Americans. I have felt indescribable joy and peace in black and Pentecostal churches. I have come to love the intensity and selflessness of my Hispanic fellow Americans toward la familia. As a Southerner, I grew up on country music and county fairs and I still like them (Laughter). But I have also reveled in the festivals and the food, the music and the art and the culture of Native Americans and Americans from every region in the world.2 The presence of diverse groups is not just personal but great for the nation. In his speech at the NAACP national convention a month after the commencement speech, Clinton remarked that the presence of diverse groups gives America a competitive edge in the world economy (Kim, 2014). This celebratory tone continued into the next presidency despite the two presidents’ contrasting politics. While he opposes affirmative action, President Bush emphasizes that he is not anti-diversity. In discussing the University of Michigan Affirmative Action Case, for example, one of his first remarks was that “I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education.3 In this short, 7-minute speech, he repeated his support for diversity several times while at the same time expressing his intention to intervene the Supreme Court decision process on the university’s admission policy. Bush has expressed his support for diversity in numerous other occasions. In his 2002 speech on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, he opened his remarks by noting that “I’m so proud to be the President of a diverse nation, a nation with 13 million Americans of Asian or Pacific Island heritage. What a great country, to welcome such diversity.”4 Similar remarks are repeated in his other heritage month speeches dedicated to Latinos and Native Americans. These events are, of course, created to celebrate the contributions of various racial groups to the nation. It is notable, however, that these speeches that meant to recognize how the racial groups came to be part of the American history rarely, if any, contain any mention of violence and power that so centrally shaped the racial history of this country. It is not only the celebratory tone that characterizes the dominant discourse of ethnic and racial diversity; it is complemented by another ideology – race-neutrality or colorblindness advocated by many influential conservatives like Dinesh D’Souza who served as a policy advisor for the Regan Administration. In his numerous publications, D’Souza has repeatedly argued that public policy must be strictly colorblind so the government maintains its fairness. Race-neutrality was perhaps most clearly expressed by President Bush in his two remarks on the University of Michigan affirmative action case. In the first statement made in January, 2003, he called the university’s admission policy divisive, unfair, and unconstitutional and called for a race-neutral approach.5 In the second brief statement in June, 2003, he expressed his satisfaction with the Court ruling that supported the law school admission policy but ruled against the undergraduate admission policy that used a point system. The Court decision meant that “colleges and universities must engage in a serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives. I agree that we must look first to these race-neutral approaches to make campuses more welcoming for all students.”6 But how can racial and ethnic differences be recognized and celebrated while at the same time being muted? The dominant discourse of diversity appears contradictory. Oregon attorney Elisa Dozono (Dozono, 2018) commented recently in a weekly newspaper, Asian Reporter, that, “diversity” became a new buzz word and yet “diversity initiatives” have not achieved the same status. If diversity is something to be embraced, why are initiatives and policies discouraged? According to Angela Davis, this is because the words, “diversity” and “difference” depoliticize race and takes institutions off the hook of responsibilities for racial justice: “Difference” and “diversity” are descriptive: people are different; cultures are diverse. In this context, we must be aware of the fact that multiculturalism can easily become a way to guarantee that these differences and diversities are retained superficially while becoming homogenized and harmonized politically… (Davis, 2016: 45). Political scientist Clair Jean Kim (Kim, 2014) echoes A. Davis. Multiculturalism can theoretically disrupt the “triumphalist” narratives that represent America as a uniquely great nation that overcame past obstacles and is marching toward greater justice, freedom, and equality. However, what Kim calls “official multiculturalism” relegates racial and ethnic differences to private sphere where racial and ethnic heritages are inspirations for individuals, while it adheres to colorblind laws and policies so difference supposedly does not make a difference in public sphere (Kim, 2014). Framed as anti-discriminatory and fair, colorblindness rhetorically serves as a powerful “American” principle that not only opponents of affirmative action stand by but all Americans should embrace. The dominant discourse of diversity is also often characterized by the idea of civility. In his speech at National Prayer Breakfast, President Bush defined civility as “essential to democracy” because “it teaches us not merely to tolerate one another, but to respect one another – to show a regard for different views and the courtesy.”7 Civility may indeed help to establish a safe climate for the expressions of diverse points of view and prevent people from becoming antagonistic, but it can also prevent honest engagement of racial and ethnic diversity. In her study of community building dialogue project, J.L. Simpson (Simpson, 2018) provides accounts of the detrimental role civility plays in dialogue. People of color participants in her study expressed that, at a young age, they were taught to avoid saying things that would make the people in the dominant group uncomfortable. In this case, Simpson observed, civility functions not as an interactional norm that ensures equal participation but as a tool for further silencing the marginalize voices. Though Simpson presents civility as a form of whiteness, I believe that civility also hurts whites. As Beverly Tatum (Tatum, 2017), psychologist and now president of Spellman College, powerfully argued, whites, too, are afraid of engaging in interracial dialogue due to fear of being inadequate, uninformed about the reality of racism (though this is a result of white privilege), and possibly offending people of color. A more compelling example of civility as a predicament comes from my own city, Greensboro, North Carolina. Greensboro has historically presented itself as one of the most progressive cities in the South. After the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, it was the first city in the South to declare its intention to desegregate schools. In 1962, it was the epicenter of student sit-in from which the national sit-in movement spread. Greensboro was also considered a center of the Black Power movement. Despite all the civil rights activities, however, the city did not desegregate until 1971, making it the last city in the South to comply with the desegregation order. In his brilliant analysis into the city of Greensboro, historical William Chafe (Chafe, 2018) named this gap between the city’s progressive appearance and actual progress in race relations “progressive mystique.” This myth reflects the belief among the progressive whites that “conflict is inherently bad, that disagreement means personal dislike, and that consensus offers the only way to preserve a genteel and civilized way of life” (Chafe, 2018: 7). According to Chafe, Greensboro is not unique on this point; it mirrored the working of myth that pervaded the country. This myth continues to live today and manifests itself in the way the city (and the nation as a whole) tries to promote interracial dialogue without challenging the structure itself that keeps the racial divisions intact. I will come back to this point later. Thus far, I discussed that the dominant discourse of racial and ethnic diversity is characterized by celebration, colorblindness, and civility. None of these characteristics in itself is a bad thing. As Berkowitz, the mother living in New York City, said, people come from all walks of life, and our learning never ends when our communities are increasingly becoming heterogeneous. We should be accepting and celebrating our rich differences. Colorblindness, too, is a noble concept; it was, after all, Martin Luther King, Jr. who famously declared that we should be judging each other based on the content of character and not the color of one’s skin. In his defense of colorblindness in public sphere, D’Souza (D’Souza, 2018) cites Cornel West and argues that, because race matters, the government should be out of race business just as it is important to have the separation of church and state. But in society where power is still unevenly distributed along racial differences, being celebratory, colorblind, and civil is not likely to bring racially and ethnically diverse populations together.>Toward the Policies on Difference that Make Difference If race and ethnicity matter, how should they be approached? What is the key for creating a community of diversity? Robert Putnam has something to offer here. Since his hugely successfully book, Bowling Alone, his theory of social capital has been influential in policy initiatives in the United States and abroad. He theorizes that, as the voluntary associations increase, people develop the norm of reciprocity and trust, eventually creating a cohesive community. In his most recent work, R.D.Putnam (Putnam, 2017) reported that ethnic diversity negatively affects social solidarity and social capital in a short/medium run, because Americans are uncomfortable with diversity. In the long run, however, diversity is desirable and will produce a new kind of solidarity. He argues that this solidarity is achieved by “bridging” social capital where associations are formed across diverse populations (as opposed to “bonding” social capital that occurs between people of similar backgrounds). Eventually, people transcend differences and come together to form a trusting, unified community. R.D. Putnam, however, does not suggest any concrete way to realize this. So, the question remains. If diversity is the reality whether Americans are comfortable with it or not, how can social capital be built across diverse populations? What are the obstacles to building cohesion? What policies are likely to help here? Some may say that, since groups are still segregated, more integration is necessary so that members of diverse groups interact and get to know each other better so the intergroup relations improve. This logic, originally based on the contact theory (Allport, 2016), served as an impetus for most integration efforts. However, just because people are brought into a close proximity, it doesn’t mean that they interact with each other, let alone form positive relationships. Using an example from England, D.T. Robinson (Robinson, 2015) discusses the difficulty of actualizing this theory. In England, community cohesion agenda emerged after the street disturbances in three cities in 2011. The government identified housing as a key theme in the agenda; they diagnosed that residential segregation is to blame for different populations living, working, and socializing separately. The community cohesion policy was developed to intervene the problematic housing patterns. By promoting residential integration, more interactions between previously segregated groups occur, which, in turn, leads to increased understanding, tolerance, and harmony between the groups. Even in integration, however, there was little interaction between people of different social backgrounds. Moreover, the frequent contact can engender animosities between groups. Robinson suggests that more collaborative local structure and communication network must be created so the integration does produce more understanding and appreciation. The lack of such a collaborative structure can leave newcomers confused and discouraged even if they tries to integrate. R.T. Grillo (Grillo, 2017) tells a story that vividly illustrates this point. In 2005, the UK government launched an initiative called Improving opportunity, strengthening society at a conference attended by some 500 delegates. During a panel of distinguished leaders, an audience member asked a question about integration. He wanted to know, as a Muslim, what he should do to show that he had integrated. The panel responded that he should be proud of being both British and Muslim, but this did not satisfy this man: I would like to know how I can prove that I’m a Muslim and I have integrated into society. Look at me, I wear British clothes. I speak broken English but, still, I speak English and I have got a beard. That gives away my identity. Some people would recognise who I am. Now, people ask me “Why don’t you integrate?” and I say, “How do you mean?” And they can’t answer me back because I go to schools, give talks about how to deal with racist incidents and very often the teachers ask me, “Why don’t Muslims integrate?” I say, “What do you mean?” I pay tax. I obey the law of the land (Grillo, 2017: 983). R.T. Grillo shared this episode to demonstrate the fuzziness of word, “integration.” The episode, however, raise an interesting communicative question. How should members of non-dominant groups perform integration? What behaviors and code of conduct should they follow in order to be seen by the dominant society as an integral part of the community? If they find out what they are and follow them, would they be accepted as part of the community? Or by virtue of his physical appearance that gives away his racial and religious identity, would he be always constructed as the other? Identity construction always occurs through communication, and, if one of the communicators tries to dominate the other physically or symbolically, co-construction cannot occur (Yep, 2012). A lesson from the above two examples from England is that, for a genuine integration to occur, efforts need to be made to make it a participatory, collaborative process. Policies should not be simply designed to bring groups together artificially, but they need to facilitate a collaborative creation of community. In this process, dialogue is essential. However, just as artificial community integration does not work, dialogue will not be a transformative tool if its organizers and participants are not willing to address the issue of power and structural problems. This was powerfully illustrated in What’s race got to do with it? In this film, students at University California, Berkeley engaged in a semester-long interracial dialogue through a class. In one of a class session, Latino students shared their struggles with identity and discrimination. At one point in the session, Mark (a white male) comments that the stories shared are only about the bad aspects of being Latino in America and that he was disappointed because the rich culture of Latino lives were not shared. Latina student, Myra, responds that that’s because “social justice is what’s important for brown people.” In an interview with her that followed the classroom scene, Myra elaborates this response: “I think celebrating cultures and social justice are very different things. Yeah, I can tell you what I eat and what’s my family’s like. I don’t think that helps with social justice. ... The class isn’t about what I eat. The class is about how my life is.” Myra’s response (and similar responses by many other students of color in the film) show that race talk that only celebrate diversity without addressing social justice is not likely to be transformative. But even dialogue is designed to address racial inequalities, policy-driven dialogue is difficult. During his presidency, Bill Clinton launched Initiative on Race, which he called as “a great and unprecedented conversation about race.” The initiative aimed to address complex issues related to racial oppressions experienced by people of color, the growing racial and ethnic diversity, and possible role of federal policy in reforming the existing problems. According to one analyst, the initiative accomplished several things, including research, dialogue, and action (Goering, 2001). The initiative did not result in policy but produced some research findings useful for engaging Americans toward reconciliation. About 18,000 people participated in 1,400 conversations about race over a period of one year. The conversations resulted in a publication called “One America Dialogue Guide” in spring 1998. The guide included suggestions for racial dialogue, which Department of Justice still uses for assisting communities. Goering (Goering, 2001) assessed that the Initiative, while achieving some outcomes, was a failure because the President was not able to articulate a vision of racial reconciliation. He concludes that any comparable top-down effort to involve the American people in an honest engagement with their racial views was certain to be frustrated by the absence of any collateral, grass-roots engagement with the issues of racism and anti-racism. The American people, in late 1990s, were unready and unprepared for serious racial dialogue, reconciliation, or for major new Federal policies that would meaningfully transform the racial status quo. Other more pessimistic critics concluded that the failure of Clinton’s Initiative is no surprise because no initiative or commission in the past was able to significantly transform the racist structure that is deeply etched into the American mind (Reed, 2016). But even when a grassroots effort to engage the issue of racism exist at the same time as a top-down interracial dialogue occurs, transformation may be difficult. Here, I want to return to the example of Greensboro, North Carolina. Consistent with the progressive mystique (Chafe, 2018) I mentioned earlier, former mayor Keith Holliday launched an interracial dialogue program called Mosaic Partnerships in September, 2004. Mosaic Partnership was “designed to increase communication, trust, and cooperation among the city’s racial and ethnic groups.”8 It was a response to the nationwide social capital survey that found Greensboro low on interracial trust. Over the course of one year, two individuals from different races paired up to meet 16 times as well as meeting in small groups consisting of five to six participants. Following Putnam’s theory, it was believed that, as the individuals get to know each other, they develop personal relationships that allow them to improve communication, trust, and cooperation across racial lines. The program was supposed to have three phases, but, due to the lack of funding, it ended after the first phase that involved invited 144 community leaders.
Allen Johnson (Johnson, blog.news-record.com/staff/outloud/archives/2016/02/), an editor of Greensboro newspaper, News and Records, commented in his column that he suspects many Mosaic Partnerships participants had “rich and rewarding” experience as he did. While his small group continued to meet after the program ended, others faded at the end of the program, and no follow-up information is available as to whether the participants were able to establish trusting cross-racial relationships. In any event, the personalized approach framed interracial (dis)trust as an individual matter that can be solved through personal relationships without examining the role of institutions. What is interesting, however, is how the city officials responded to another city-wide grassroots project that was occurring at the same time as Mosaic Partnerships was happening. The project, Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project (GTCRP), modeled after similar commissions in South Africa and Peru, aimed to establish “healing relations” between the opposing parties in the 1979 shooting through truth, acknowledgement, and forgiveness. On November 3, 1979, white supremacists killed five demonstrators who were part of the “Death to the Klan” rally. The shooters, some of whom were filmed by news cameras as they fired into the crowd, claimed self-defense and acquitted of all charges by all white-juries (Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Commission, www.greensborotrc.org/exec_summary.pdf). The police was informed about the rally as well as the Klan’s intention to confront the demonstrators with physical violence but failed to provide protection. The Commission developed specific suggestions for various institutions to engage this part of the city’s history, but the city council concluded that the suggestions do not merit serious consideration. The shooting, despite its role in the racial history of the city, is absent from the Greensboro Historical Museum, nor is it planned to be included in the Civil Rights Museum that is scheduled to open in near future. The city’s contrasting approaches to the two projects reveals the continuing presence of the mystique through which the city presents itself as being racially progressive while disengaging itself from unresolved social injustice that remains at the core of interracial distrust.Contributions of Communication Studies to the Promotion of Inclusive Diversity Policy Process and mediaMany examples discussed in this paper seem to only point to the difficulty, if not impossibility, of truly transformative public polices and initiatives. A transformative policy must be inclusive of the issue of power and justice, something that McLaren (McLaren, 2016) calls “resistance multiculturalism”: Resistance multiculturalism doesn’t see diversity itself as a goal, but rather argues that diversity must be affirmed within a politics of cultural criticism and a commitment to social justice. It must be attentive to the notion of “difference.” Difference is always a product of history, culture, power, and ideology. Differences occur between and among groups and must be understood in terms of the specificity of their production. The growing ethnic and racial diversity certainly demands continuous policy changes to accommodate the dynamic demographics. However, policy makers are complicit in the very structure that needs to be altered. At the same time, structural changes cannot occur only through non-governmental efforts. Given this double-bind, what can Communication Studies do? I believe there are at least two ways by which we can make contributions. First, Communication scholars can demonstrate the value of more participatory policy process. Most of the policy initiatives and government-led projects on ethnic and racial diversity are developed without significant input from the people who are affected by the very initiatives and projects. As Cheong et al. (Cheong, 2017) argue, policy initiatives too often are based on the belief that community cohesion is possible by applying the majority agenda to the minority groups. The result often produces an opposite effect. Participatory policy process is critical in creating ownership, particularly among those who are excluded from social citizenship (Vertovec, 12018). By participatory, I envision something like Jürgen Habermas’s ideal speech situation where all people who are affected by the policy are given opportunities to be seriously heard and are required to listen to each other for a common good. Participatory policy process should be also holistic; it needs to take into account the larger contexts such as history and economics that shape the problem at hand. Second, Communication scholars can demonstrate how language and representations play a critical role in the creation, practice, and outcomes of public policy. For example, as I discussed earlier, the ways in which ethnic and racial diversity is discoursed frame how such diversity is engaged. There are many other areas that need close reading and analysis. Racial and ethnic labels are one. Census 2000 is widely understood as a drastic improvement from the previous ones by allowing individuals multiracial responses. However, it was also problematic. One apparent problem was the conflation of the terms race and ethnicity; race is used to generate categories that are based on ethnicity or country of origin. These categories are artificial constructions created to lump together a divergent set of individuals, and yet they have substantial significance in policy and administrative practice (Yanow, 2013). Communication research can also scrutinize the language that is adopted in the policy-making process. A compelling example comes from Houston, Texas. In 1997, opponents of affirmative action wrote Proposition A based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The proposition stated whether the city “shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment” to anyone “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”9 But the mayor of the city, Bob Lanier – a proponent of affirmative action – revised the wording to ask the voters if the city should “end the use of affirmative action for women and minorities” in employment and contracting, “including ending the current program and any similar programs in the future.” The joint poll conducted by the University of Houston and Rice University showed that the proposition would likely pass with 70% majority with the original wording, while only 47.5% of the voters would support it with the revised one. To add more layer, an earlier poll showed that 62% of Houston residents want to keep some form of affirmative action (Vertovec, 2018). The election result, which favored the continuation of affirmative action, was later nullified because of the change in the wording (Tummala, 2018). Nonetheless, this example clearly shows that wording determines the passage of initiative. Communication research can show how symbolic representations can have profound material consequences and advocate more voter education and transparency in the whole process of initiatives. Another important research program may center on the relationship between policy-making and media. After all, we live in a media saturated culture where our reality construction is almost always mediated. How we understand various policies on immigration, employment, education, welfare, and so forth cannot be divorced from how these policies are portrayed and debated in the media. R.L.Schwartz-DuPre (Schwartz-DuPre, 2017) provides interesting and timely insights into the relationship between media and policy. In her analysis of National Geographic’s 2002 film, The search for the Afghan girl, R.L. Schwartz-DuPre shows how the film’s use of biometric technology rhetorically positions the audience as a consenting public. In the film, biometric was used to identify an Afghan woman who was the cover of National Geographic 15 years ago, while at the same time Congress and the Department of Homeland Security were writing the technology into policy. By using a short footage of the 9/11, the film encourages the audience to see the identification technology as useful and necessary in hunting terrorists; if it can confirm the identity of the Afghan girl from 15 years ago, it is surely helpful in finding terrorists. The issue is not really about whether biometric is good or bad; what needs to be articulated is media’s ability to reposition the audience who rejected the national ID card as a violation not too long ago. Communication research can reveal powerful ways by which our understanding is shaped by major media and suggest how we may become a critical consumer of mediated knowledge. By way of conclusion, I want to come back to the point where I started. Ethnic and racial diversity is the reality of modern societies. This reality in itself has little meaning (or in Stuart Hall’s words, meaningful meaning); what matters is how it is interpreted, represented, and explained. Brazilian educator Paul Freire (Freire, 2013) noted that naming is fundamental to human experience: Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namer as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection. In order for diversity to serve as a catalyst for solidarity and a creation of a broader identity, communicative constructions of diversity must be examined and named.
- I am well aware that ethnicity and race are two different concepts. For the purpose of this paper, however, I am using them together, because they often overlap in the discourses of diversity.
- Remarks by the President at University of California at San Diego commencement, June, 1997. // www.ed.gov/PressReleases/06-1997/970614.html
- President Bush Discusses Michigan Affirmative Action Case, January 15, 2003. // www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030115-7.html
- Remarks by the President at University of California at San Diego commencement, June, 1997. // www.ed.gov/PressReleases/06-1997/970614.html
- President Bush Discusses Michigan Affirmative Action Case, January 15, 2003.
- President Applauds Supreme Court for Recognizing Value of Diversity, June 23, 2003. // www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/06/20030623.html
- Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast, February 1, 2001 // www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/20010201.html
- Mayor Holliday announces launch of Mosaic Program, September, 13, 2004. // www.ci.greensboro.nc.us/mosaic/press/Mosaic091304.pdf
- Verhovek S. H. Houston to Vote on Repeal of Affirmative Action, New York Times. November 2, 1997 // query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE1DF1430F931A35752C1A961958260
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