Modern Melting Pot

What's new in racism.

Successful Communication with Minorities and Women

Race and gender don't matter but thankfully they do.

One of the beautiful things about America is the racial/cultural differences of its people!

I agree with an anonymous commenter who responds in disagreement to many of my posts. My theme is about respect for racial differences. I love racial and ethnic diversity. Anonymous often comments that there are no racial differences --people are the same regardless of race. We should treat them all people the same.

Race and racism are such touchy subjects that many people, including Anonymous, make statements about it that reject the obvious in order not to sound racist. There is probably not a parent alive, even in a very fair-minded household, who would speak to, or treat, all of his or her children the same. There’s probably not a citizen who would speak to, or treat, all of his or her neighbors the same.

We don’t like to admit it but we not only talk to children of the different genders differently. We try to remain fair but we find many instances when we treat daughters differently than sons.  We talk to the woman down the block differently than the football-fan buddy across the street; or the widow who lives on the corner differently from the guy next door who is a bit uptight.

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If we eventually learn that we must speak and act differently towards different people in our household and neighborhood, how much more of a concerted effort must be made to lean how to speak and act towards those who grew up in different cultural and social circumstances.

Those who claim that they speak and act the same towards everyone really don’t, and shouldn’t. Even those who say they speak to and treat everyone as they themselves wish to be spoken to and treated really don’t, and shouldn’t. successful communications and interactions demand that we each learn something about the customs, thinking, behavior, values, and ways of seeing reality of other citizens of the nation and the world.

I’ve noted with a lot of interest many of the Internet comments on the news that House Republicans, at their Jan 2013 retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia held a “Discussion on Successful Communication with Minorities and Women”.

The New York Time reported that the panel that lead the discussion was composed of three white male lawmakers and several women: “ ‘a woman from CNN’ (Ana Navarro) and ‘Sean Duffy’s wife’ (Rachel Campos-Duffy). . . Also on the list was Ms. Herrera Beutler. But, unfortunately, her name was misspelled.”

House Republicans should have hire professionals to lead their discussion. Private businesses know that there is an extensive, fluid body of best practices in successful communicating and treating people of different genders, gender orientations, racial, and cultural groups.

I have done some of this kind of Diversity Training, it is called:  I can imagine a scene for a fiction film about a top-notched Diversity Trainer at the House Republican retreat:

 TRAINER: (cheerful) Our nation is filled with people with different customs, ways of thinking, behavior, values, and communication styles.

 Audience sits in edgy silence, faces upturned

 TRAINER: House Republicans must effectively meet challenges created by a shifting American population filled with ideas that are bound to be strange to a body such as this.

 Camera pans slowly across the audience!

 TRAINER: The effectiveness of House leadership of the nation and our nation’s leadership in a world of about 200 nations with thousands of ethnic, religious, and regional cultural groups. . .

 Barely audible background music plinks and jangles in discord.

 TRAINER: . . . depends on how well House Republicans understands the infinite number of ways that different customs, ways of thinking, behavior, values, and communication styles are mixed within the American electorate and the American population at large..

 Camera shows close-up of a Congressman whispering to the Congressman sitting next to him: “who hired this speaker”? Others in the audience react with various shades or shadows of umbrage. Some in the audience are clearly interested but after looking around their faces reflect reluctance to let their approval show.

 TRAINER: (deflated, turns back to audience, begins talking to slides on the large screen) . . .the sometimes obvious and sometime subtle differences in how different groups. (speaking to slide # 1) Value relationships of various kinds! (speaking to slide  # 2) Feel about authority or different kinds of authority and the history of reasons for those feelings! (gulps)

 Camera pans slowly across the audience of stone faces! Barely audible background music and the shift in lighting show that air has drained from the room. Some members of audience loudly clear their throats. Others are texting or tweeting.

 Unlike in a corporate retreat, there is no boss here to make sure others are paying attention.  There are no salaries and bonuses based on how well the product (democracy or representative government) sells to different demographic groups.

 TRAINER: (speaking to slide # 3) Act on emotional stimuli of various kinds! (speaking to slide # 4) Respect various decision making processes! (speaking to slide # 5) Balance ideas that comes from traditions with what comes because of changing conditions.

Off stage the TRAINER’S ASSISTANT give thumbs up that the check from the retreat organizers has cleared the bank.

TRAINER: (new enthusiasm) America is enriched if we bring to each situation what is valuable that comes from different groups in a national population that is uniquely diverse compared to that of other nations of the world.

Camera shows close-up of a Congressman whispering to the Congressman sitting next to him: “the press might find out about it if I walk out.” 

TRAINER: (excited) Think of the six slides I just discussed and think of the list below of American groups and subgroups, listed in order of the beginning of their arrival in great numbers to the Continental United States.

Background music is upbeat: “We Are the World” drowns out the faint discordant music.  Slides now have embedded videos and montages of photos under each:

(Slide # 1) Native American (from hundreds of tribal backgrounds)

(Slide # 2) European American (mostly from Western Europe)

(Slide # 3) African (from hundreds of tribal backgrounds)

(Slide # 4) Central and South Americans (first into the Southwest and continuing nationwide)

(Slide # 5) European Americans (from Southern, Northern, and Eastern Europe)

(Slide # 6) Asian (from Central, Eastern, Southern, and Southeast Asia)

(Slide # 7) Arab, Middle Eastern, and Immigrants from various other parts of Africa

TRAINER: (cheerful, comes to front of stage) Yes, they are all Americans. Race doesn’t matter but thankfully it does because each racial group, due to its unique cultural history, strengthens some universally human quality or value that obviously or subtly, directly or paradoxically adds to the great multiracial nation that we are.

Once back in Washington I trust that we can have sensitivity sessions throughout the year. Conservative democracy is a great product but House Republicans must manufacture and market a version that will sell. And remember: One of the beautiful things about America is the racial/cultural differences of its people! And gender differences are more beautiful than that!

How could we cast this film? Michael Douglas, on the one hand, or Tracy Morgan or Adam Sandler, on the other! If the TRAINER is female, Glenn Close or Amy Poehler!

George Davis is author of the new spiritual spy novel, The Melting Points, about three women pursued by danger as the clockwork universe melts around them. In development is a television series based on his soon-to-be-published nonfiction novel, Branches, which continues the spiritual journey that Alex Haley dramatized in “Roots.”  It continues the journey of America towards becoming an exceptional, multiracial nation.

George Davis is professor emeritus at Rutgers University. His latest book is Until We Got Here.

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