Cathy Quinones quinones at
Sat Mar 2 20:17:50 EST 1996

In message <4ham3j$q3k at> - pbowne at (Patricia 
S. Bowne) writes:
:>I really liked Cathy's answer - ethnicity usually is a 
:>non-issue in my classes and workplace, too. But sometimes
:>it's specifically raised, in discussions of diversity
:>and access to services. It usually seems also that the
:>persons who think to raise it are most likely to be
:>offended if the wrong terms are used. What's the best way
:>to participate in these discussions? I've been in some
:>situations where as soon as the issue of diversity was
:>raised, everyone who didn't identify with an oppressed
:>minority just shut up and looked guilty. Nobody wanted
:>(or at least, I didn't want-) to be the first one to use
:>an incorrect word.

I'm willing to guess part of this discomfort is due to how people have mixed 
feelings about affirmative action and any program that targets a certain 
group of workers.  For instance, I understand affirmative action as follows: 
a *temporary* approach through which "the system" offers certain advantages 
that will help neutralize or compensate for social/economic inequities (in 
the form of insidious, institutionalized racism/sexism) which are keeping 
certain groups from having a fair chance at accomplishing educational and 
professional advancement ( = representation in various fields being 
proportional to group's overall population).  Anyone who believes the world 
is already fair, that everyone (regardless of sex or ethnicity) gets exactly 
what they work for, of course is going to chaffe at any affirmative action. 
To them, affirmative action IS reverse discrimination.  

That takes care of part of the members of this meeting you described :)  Now, 
the others probably are people who mean well but don't know what to say.  
Part of the process through which the oppressed overthrow the tyrant is by 
publicly bitching :)  and as a result, there is a degree of what some people 
call "white guilt" (or "male guilt" or whatever fits).  One may not have done 
any evils personally, but by being part of the group identified as the 
oppressor, one gets to wear the blame in the eyes of others (people who don't 
know one personally).  Or, one may wonder if one got one's job at the expense 
of one of those oppressed minorities.  This sucks, of course, but it 
shouldn't stop you from trying to help if you so desire.  I think you are 
pretty safe if you go with terms such as African-American, Asian, Pacific 
Islander, female, etc., and you can always make a disclaimer and say "I am 
using this terms because they are generally accepted, if anyone in this room 
would rather be called something else, please let me know."  [Notice I'm 
really into asking people what they want to be called... knowing somebody 
cares enough to ask does make a huge difference.]

There is no accounting for what is going to bug some people but as long as 
you stay away from really backward terms I think you'll be fine.  For 
instance, I am Puerto Rican and happen to think "hispanic" and "latino" are 
about as good a term as any (they just make a statement about language, no 
single term can encompass the variety of Spanish-speaking people).  Now, if 
someone says I'm "Spanish" I'd raise my eyebrows because this denotes very 
thorough cluelessness about history, culture and politics (using that term is 
about as accurate as calling an North American "English").  I wouldn't be 
insulted per se, but I'd have to wonder when was the last time this person 
read a newspaper...  and of course, anyone that hasn't read a newspaper in a 
long time may also have missed other little milestones like the civil rights 
movement and women's suffrage...   

Finally, ethnic labels SHOULD be an uncomfortable topic: they are there to 
define "the other."  In a world where everyone is treated fairly, ethnic 
(and gender) categories are unnecessary in the workplace because people are 
treated with respect and rewarded according to their performance.  I think we 
all get nervous about these labels because we realize (consciously or not) 
that their presence indicates an entrenched sickness in the way the world 
works.  And, of course, we are afraid we are going to do the dreaded "open 
mouth, insert foot" routine [a quick, sincere apology usually 
dislodges the foot ;) ].

Cathy Quinones			quinones at = bird care info

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