Diversity workshops have been common in workplace America. Although most have been instituted because of corporate fear of lawsuits, the organizers are not only trained facilitators but are committed to reducing racial, ethnic, and gender tensions; to increasing communal harmony and understanding; and to promoting the cause of minorities who have for too long suffered under the yoke of whites, homophobes, and xenophobic nativists.
Although these workshops are said to be race-gender-ethnicity neutral, they are designed to teach white, straight employees a lesson. It is you, management makes very clear, who must reform and adhere to the new standards of equality; and it is your job to assure an accommodating, tolerant, and welcoming environment.
One of the first exercises in many workshops is to ask staff to self-select their identity marker – white, black, gay, straight, Asian, Hispanic, or other – and to explain why they have chosen their particular category. There are no slots for ‘creative’, ‘intellectual’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘compassionate’, ‘religious’ or any of those attributes which define individuals far more than race, gender, or ethnicity.
Grouping by race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation is political, and the agenda of organizers is clear. The more individuals see themselves first as members of a socio-political group, the more power they will have as a collective, and the more confidence they will have to challenge and confront the majority.
While this makes sense politically, it makes absolutely no sense in terms of individual maturation, valuation, and personal evolution.
Radical Islam is a good example of such political indoctrination. Before the rise of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Shabab, Islam was simply a religion. Although it had its roots in political and military conquest, the religion itself was Abrahamic; and no different from Judaism espoused the oneness of God, his glory, and his supremacy. The religion taught that obedience to his law, respect for his power, and acceptance of his principles as set down by Mohammed were essential.
Islam, like Christianity, had many factions and sects which segmented the faith in many ways. Wahhabis, for example, practiced a strict, medieval brand of the religion, while Sufis and other mystical branches of Islam were far more liberal. All, however, respected a belief in one God, almighty and powerful, and practiced their devotions to give him respect and obedience.
In recent decades Islam has become political and radically so.
The religion itself has been transformed from one of personal faith to one of militant, defiant conquest. Muslims have been exploited, beaten, ignored, and marginalized by the Christian West which has since the days of Roland, Charlemagne, and Roncesvalles has been at war with Islam. We Muslims, say radical organizers, must embark on crusades similar to those of the Middle Ages. Just as Christian soldiers marched on Jerusalem to root out the infidel, so must we organize and fight to regain our lands and establish the true religion.
Indoctrination begins early, and schoolchildren are taught this new dogma in madrassas. They are taught the Koran, but are also taught to believe that their faith is not personal and individual. Muslims belong to a community which is now, finally, rising up in defiance. This indoctrination continues in mosques and community organizations. Recruiting for the cause after years of unified teaching, is easy.
The point is that political radicalization has robbed individuals of that special, holy, and very personal compact with God that all religions confer; and has corrupted the simple, pious, and devout act of faith. When all is said and done, all religious are about the individual’s relationship with God, obedience to his laws for the principal purpose of salvation. Whether through obedience to Jewish Law, determination to escape from the wheel of re-incarnation, or devotion to and faith in Jesus Christ to achieve salvation, all faiths are personal and prepare us for our last days.
We are all secular beings as well, but no less individual. In Maslow’s terms, we are all about self-actualization – the psycho-social maturation which allows us to understand who we are and what we can become. Humanism has been the secular counterpart to religion. It is a ‘faith’ based on logic, rationality, and the practiced appreciation of art, literature, philosophy and science. an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
When we are classified and categorized into arbitrary political groups – i.e. race, gender, and ethnicity – we become dehumanized and robbed of our spiritual potential as much as any radicalized Muslim. We lose our potential to fulfill our secular promise. Focus on political identity detracts us from our fundamental purpose – to determine who we are and how as individuals we will act to fulfill our potential.
There is no doubt that political association is essential for change. The achievement of political ends is impossible without collective, determined action. Yet, when political association becomes the be-all and end-all of personal identity; when it co-opts, blunts, and neuters the more fundamental human aspiration for self-fulfillment, it is destructive.
Schools and colleges now encourage political association. Racial, gender, and ethnic identity is encouraged. Black-only campus organizations are not only accepted but encouraged as a way to consolidate racial identity, to share experiences of race, and to join together in a common and continuing struggle against white supremacy and privilege.
For anyone who came of age during the Civil Rights era in America – one in which racial integration was the goal – seeing students associating exclusively by race is troubling. Black dining tables, black social groups, black sections on bleachers – while clearly self-selected – are deeply offensive. Students, because of peer-group pressure, a politically powerful group of progressive ‘diversity’ academic activists, and a complaisant school administration, have no choice.
Rather than associate with peers who share a common intellectual or creative interest, students who have been forced into ‘diversity’ cells, must socialize with members of their race, gender, or ethnicity first. The normal exchange between adolescents and young adults, all looking for meaning, purpose, and stimulation has been blunted. A social firewall has been set up to prevent such interactions.
There is a fine and often indeterminate line between racial politicization and individualism.
“We are all French’', political leaders have said for centuries; and successive governments have refused to acknowledge cultural distinctions. The French census, for example, does not ask questions about race, religion, or ethnic origin. Affirmative action – favoring one racial/ethnic group over another – has been considered an anathema to fundamental French values.
However, not long ago the northern Parisian suburbs made up almost exclusively of Algerians and Africans erupted in violent protest against what they considered a dismissive and repressive regime. Poverty, lack of opportunity, violence, crime, and dysfunction affected the suburbs the same way they do in inner-city America. It was time someone paid attention. “We are all French” means nothing, protesters claimed when the socio-economic divisions in society are so acute.
How to square what was clearly racial and ethnic segregation with the French values of liberty, equality, and fraternity set forth in 1789?
The old-line French leadership was flummoxed. They had no idea what to do; and now that Muslim militancy and factionalism has become an even more serious issue, they have been forced to go back to the drawing board.
The difference between France and America is that there are no French programs which promote separatism like there are in America. If races and religions are separate, it is because of perceived oppression by the majority. No school administrator or teacher is promoting ethnic and religious identity.
We in America have confounded the socio-demographic isolation of racial and ethnic groups by encouraging it. While both liberals and conservatives alike want to see economic improvement in marginalized communities, conservatives do not want to sacrifice individualism for a distorted brand of communalism. Individualism is good because it both encourages personal responsibility – the sine qua non of economic and social development – and allows the individual to find his/her own future.
Progressives on the other hand continue to insist on the primary importance of racial identity.
Being black first and an individual second is the only way to generate the political solidarity necessary for social change. If the individual is shortchanged, so be it. Yet this policy ignores the fundamental importance of individual responsibility, honor, respect, duty, honesty, and intellectual courage.
One hopes that a conservative Republican administration in Washington (2016) will begin to roll back misguided progressive agendas, reset the dysfunctional value system of race-gender-ethnicity, and focus on the core issues facing underdeveloped communities. Moving away from race and towards individual economic enterprise which has always been the engine of equality will be a very positive step indeed.