I guess it was just a matter of time.
My professional organization, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), adopted a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” statement. (I know, I know. Foreign-language group names tend to be wordy.)
Anyway, in recent years, colleges, companies, and organizations have fallen all over themselves to virtue signal about how enlightened they are –so much so that “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is already a cliché. It was a sweeping generality to begin with. The corporate literature repeats the phrase like a meditation mantra, but never really gets around to explaining how they interpret such genuflecting to the American political left.
In our case, however, there’s just one problem: We’re Spanish and Portuguese teachers in the United States! Foreign-language instructors are inherently diverse –culturally and linguistically. Moreover, Americans have been ethnically diverse since colonial times, and they are a welcoming and fair-minded people. One wonders why we would even need such statements.
Perhaps the funniest part of the declaration is the commitment to “reject oppressive language ideologies,” such as colonialism, but English, Spanish, and Portuguese are colonial languages! Even in these three, vast, linguistic worlds, it’s impossible to step outside of colonialism.
You’d have to learn an indigenous language to truly develop a non-colonial outlook. I’ve thought about resurrecting the Timucuan language, which was spoken in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia until the Eighteenth Century, but there are certain challenges in that endeavor. Is there a market for such an idea? How do we describe modern devices, like cell phones? Which dialect do we favor? Anyway, I digress.
I wrote my dissertation on the Spanish captives, castaways, and runaways, who lived among the North American Indians. These Spaniards were an anti-colonial phenomenon, since they assimilated to indigenous cultures. However, I wrote my doctoral thesis in Spanish, and I used “universally accepted” terms in Spanish, since it was impossible for me to step outside of a colonial language –even while writing about anti-colonial practices!
The fact that we’re teachers calls to mind our imperialism. We counter students’ nationalist desire to speak only American English by teaching them Spanish or Portuguese, but we also assimilate them to middle class values, which are the accepted cultural norms of business, the military, and higher education.
Sure, there are students who insist on arriving late, being truant, dressing inappropriately, arguing with a fence post, refusing to complete tasks, and breaking every behavior rule in the book. They act that way, in spite of 13 years of scolding from adults, but those bad habits don’t cut it in the real world. It isn’t about “acting white,” as some agitators claim. It’s about being professional.
Above all, we reject the American obsession with race, which is a bizarre attitude of the continental United States. In my Spanish immersion class, we focus on learning Puerto Rican culture very well. As a result, we are Puerto Ricans first and black, white, and olive-skinned second.
I, myself, can check various boxes on the intersectionality index, and those are interesting facts about who I am, but I fail to see why they should be “empowering.” This is the central contradiction that identity politics can’t resolve: By constantly “honoring” our differences, we undermine the very things that naturally bring us together. The reviews on “diversity training” are not good: Such staff development only serves to divide workplaces, not unite them.
Current zealots are given to “correcting past injustices” by renaming buildings, destroying monuments, and tearing down statues. I thought of the song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Joan Báez’s 1971 flower to the South, when the Duval County School Board voted to change the name of my alma mater Robert E. Lee High School, the crown jewel of Jacksonville, the birthplace of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Nevertheless, all this “correction” perpetuates the dishonest belief that our history is the Great Satan. In reality, the purpose of studying history is to negotiate with the past by accepting good traditions and rejecting bad ones. Nowadays, no one advocates a return to slavery, but without our colonial past, we wouldn’t have countries to call our own or democratic societies to thrive in.
All in all, I find the whole “diversity” project redundant. Aren’t we already diverse? Don’t we already run fair contests? Aren’t our programs open to all? Can management quit the racial bean-counting and just let us work?