In this reply to a letter to the editor attacking both my view and myself (see Positive on Affirmative Action), I wrote a second letter to the editor of The Summit, expressing my horror at the previous letter writer's distortion of my views.
The article (titled “Yet more affirmative action ideology”) appears below.
I've lectured about cognitive distortion and autistic perception, but I hadn't expected an educated colleague to so blatantly twist my ideas into the ugliness I read in your last issue. It reminds us to beware the true believer. Unable to find the devil he requires, the self-appointed crusader invents one.
A college or university ought to be a place where opposing ideas may clash without fear of personal attack. Ad hominem animosity and straw-man argument do nothing except provide interesting grist for the student of logic. Let us not grovel.
In my correspondence on this issue I've studiously avoided names, even when accusations have been shouted at me. I've been careful never to call those who disagree with me racists. Why can't others reciprocate in kind? I assume we all want an egalitarian society and differ only on the means for getting there. Our debate must be about ideas, not people. This is a college campus, not a back street alley. Our students are watching.
Are “non-Anglo candidates less qualified”? I've noticed that some of those in favor of affirmative action behave as if they have the corner on righteous indignation. Your letter writer of last week, for instance, is “offended” at the image he projects onto me. I am offended at it too, revulsed and outraged that he should propose that I suggest “non-Anglo candidates are less qualified.” This is insulting, scurrilous, and false. I said it bluntly in my letter:
“The human qualities required of a great teacher...leap the boundaries of...skin pigment.”
“Skin pigment and gender are irrelevant to quality.”
“We must root out any practice that suggests that skin color matters.”
It takes deliberate effort, or pestilent thinking, to warp this into the monstrosity that appeared on your pages a week ago. People of all races are equal. How can I say it more plainly?
How dare someone try to insert a wedge between myself and others! How could I possibly regard Teresa Jacob, my Latino friend and fellow psychology instructor, as less than the bright, cheerful, and loving person she is? How dare someone imply that I lack respect for my friend and department colleague, Leilani Holmes, who brings a kindness and intuitive spirituality from her Hawaiian homeland. One conversation alone with Claudia Thompson, an African American counselor, is enough to persuade that a student of any color would be fortunate to be held in her warm and sensitive embrace. Are these people less qualified than a white person? Of course not. The ugliness projected onto me by your letter writer erupts from some inner fissure that is not mine.
It appears to me that once again so many of those who wield the affirmative action sword have learned only to attack. Where some of us seek to unify, they divide.
Some of us believe than a person's skin color tells us nothing about the person. When a student comments on the looks of another, we say: “Look deeper. Gaze softly beneath the surface and you'll find our shared humanity.” We who ignore the skin say the same to all: We're in this human family, thrown into this uncertain life, together. We need each other. In the night of life, the color of the hand we touch is invisible.
My life models transcend race. If the letter writer is troubled that I quote Martin Luther King because Dr. King dreams of the day when we shall see character and not skin color, then that discomfort is something the letter writer shall simply have to live with. It is neither Dr. King nor I who is fixated on the skin. I'm trying to make his dream alive today because it is mine too. I can't afford to wait until others have sliced us into racial boxes and then try to put us back together again.
As I recently wrote the members of my department, the African American slain in Memphis as he fought bigotry with the hand of peace is one of “my people,” and yet I am not African American. The little, brown Indian who defeated the British Empire with the sweetness of his nonviolent voice is one of “my people,” and yet I am neither Hindu nor Indian. The brave, olive-skinned student outside Tiananmen Square who stopped a tank by the force of his will is one of “my people,” and yet I am not “Asian.” Because I see through skin color, my people aren't separately white, or black, or brown—they are all. If the slice-and-dicers are “deeply troubled” that we reach across DNA boundaries to call one another brother and sister, then that is their problem.
Fortunately the day will come when those who courageously stretch across racial barriers to marry will have melded our colors into one golden brown. There will no longer be a race for one to be proud of, except the human. There will be no visual differences for the affirmative actionites to classify. Sadly, none of us shall live to see that day. But we can choose to act, in this instant, as if that paradise were now. We can make the dream alive in this moment if we stop making decisions based on race.
The full life consists of a delicate interplay between feeling and thought. Numerous times now I have seen those favoring affirmative action permit their passion to inflame their reason until they attack with the brutality of the bulldog. You are better than this. Those too gentle to speak among wolves deserve to be heard. When we quiet the flames so that the heart and the intellect may warm one another, we hear a voice. It speaks softly. It tells us that it is wrong to reject anyone because of skin color—white, black, or brown. It whispers: We are One, not many. Some cannot listen. Others will not.
The Summit (Grossmont College). Sept. 26, 1996. Vol. 9, No. 4. Pg. 2.