Is there something wrong with ethnic groups?

Well, maybe. I think the self-segregation can be problematic inasmuch as it isolates people from each other. That being said, I don’t think we should act like everyone is or assume that everyone should be the same with some mixed culture, race and/or community. But what the hell do I know?

The BSA is sponsoring a Town Hall discussion tomorrow night in Lev JCR at 9 to discuss diversity and ethnic groups. While it annoys me that this seems to have been initiated by a truly unthoughtful piece of writing, it’s a really important and interesting conversation, so I’m going to go and try to learn something.

Anyone have any thoughts on the matter?


10 responses to “Is there something wrong with ethnic groups?

  1. um, this reminds me of that movie “save the last dance” because julia stiles could have been totally like, im gonna stay self-segregating and be the only white person here in this school, but no. she like went and learned their hip hop and dance moves, and like totally appreciatd their clubbing culture. maybe the writer of that column in the paper should like learn new dance moves.

  2. Jamal Sprucewood

    Is it just me or does it seem like overkill that a town hall meeting is being called to address two op-eds?

    I would think that these groups are legitimate enough that they need not defend that legitimacy every time that it is questioned.

  3. but maybe not everybody knows their cool dance moves.

  4. i can’t tell if this person is a racist or trying and failing to be funny. If you’re going to make a joke, at least have it be a comprehendable one…

    Jamal, I agree that’s it’s overkill inasmuch as they are pretty much responding to two OpEds. Even so, it’s a constant conversation here, so it’ll be a good event anyway…

  5. Yes, self-segregation, while not the most novel of topics, is still very relevant and should be discussed. As I see it, the problem is not that single-sex/race/ethnicity/religion groups exist but, as you point out, that they isolate themselves. Building in-group membership and solidarity is important, of course. These organizations allow members to articulate shared histories, and to dispel, through differing opinions and experiences, myths of in-group homogeneity. But as a result of fixation on solidarity, there is a severe and lamentable shortage of inter-group dialogue and meaningful event co-sponsorship on campus, which amounts to missed opportunities for growth on all sides. When was the last time the AIDS Coalition, BSA and BGLTSA sat down together and really talked? As the Unite Against AIDS Summit last weekend showed, such a discussion could prove compelling and fruitful for a healthy-sized cross-section of the community.

    The benefit of having a diverse student body (to the extent that ours is diverse) is not to produce a static, mosaic effect of multicolored discrete units that happed to share the same space. Rather, we need a dynamic, kaleidoscopic version of diversity that allows for combinatorial creativity through issue-based dialogue (not wishy-washy, overly broad ‘diversity coalition’-type efforts). Students should be able to claim group identities without rendering themselves immobile. To move in this direction, we should be a little more concerned with group action and a little less concerned with group composition (though the two are clearly linked).

    On a related note, is BSA the only group sponsoring the town hall? Don’t other groups have a stake in this issue? Why it always got to be the black folks stepping up on the race questions?

  6. Other groups are co-sponsoring the event, as they indicate in the announcement blurb…

    Co-sponsored by: The Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association, Latinas Unidas, The Association of Black Harvard Women, The Harvard Black Men’s Forum, The Harvard African Students Association, The Harvard Caribbean Club, The Harvard College Democrats and many more…”


  7. right, sorry about that oversight. My impression (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that the BSA initiated the creation of the event and got others on board. That’s an interesting question though, why is it that the black groups are so much more public in their activities than, say, the Asian or Latino organizations? Or is that a misimpression on my part?

  8. Yes yes, it was BSA that initiated the event and that has been organizing for it – I wasn’t trying to correct the original post, just answering anonymous’s question about whether BSA was the only group (co)sponsoring the event.

    I can’t speak for the other groups that are co-sponsoring, but I’ll confess that the Dems weren’t at all behind initiating/organizing this, and our role has just been trying to help get people to come to it. So the broader question stands – why is it that BSA had to step up and organize this meeting, rather than another group?

    The easy answer is that the Dems, or another non-racial group, can’t really organize a discussion like this, on the value of single-race organizations on this campus, without coming across as condescending at best and confrontational at worst.

    Beyond this particular discussion, though, anonymous’s question was why it’s always “the black folks stepping up on the race questions,” rather than groups of other races or race-neutral groups like the Dems. The Dems have done a few things in this regard – we had an affirmative action debate with the Republicans (about a year and a half ago, I believe), planned two events for black history month this past February (though one was cancelled because our speaker backed out), and are in the beginning stages of planning some sort of “race/diversity in politics” week for next fall.

    Part of the reason we might occasionally be hesitant to do more is the feeling that single-race groups are really the experts on this, and that there isn’t much we’re able to do on questions of race that they wouldn’t be able to do better (1/12 of the Dems board is black, compared to 100% of the board of, for instance, BSA). That said, we’re always willing to do more, and a number of our board members will be at the meeting tonight to discuss this more.


  9. Greg,

    Your sensitivity to the (in)appropriateness of the Dems’ involvement in “questions of race” is laudable–I think you’re right that the Dems aren’t in a position to initiate a forum questioning the very existence of racial or cultural clubs. Equally commendable is your eagerness to do more. But I am surprised at the Dems’ underestimation of its own importance in “questions of race,” since race infuses nearly every aspect of politics I can think of. It’s up to constituents and constituency groups to determine their stances on political issues, but the Dems has the power to bring these different groups together to debate the issues at the next level.

    While I understand that a large part of the Dems’ purpose is to support the established philosophies and candidates of the Democratic Party, I think it’s also important to recognize our agency as students in affecting the party’s direction, not merely reiterating the party line as presented at the national level. For this reason, continual dialogue among Dem-supportive (and non-supportive) Harvard groups, including race-based groups, is vitally important in learning how students feel about various political topics, events, etc., and translating those sentiments into action. Again, I think issue-based dialogue is key, since it creates coalitions and fosters discussion among otherwise separate groups–and the Dems are in prime position to provide a forum for such dialogue.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the planning processes of the Black History Month events and, if the info is available, what’s on the table for this ‘race/diversity in politics’ project.

    Also, in the interest of fairness (and curiosity on my part), any HRC fans want to chime in with thoughts?

  10. Paloma Zepeda

    Golis Wrote: My impression (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that the BSA initiated the creation of the event and got others on board. That’s an interesting question though, why is it that the black groups are so much more public in their activities than, say, the Asian or Latino organizations? Or is that a misimpression on my part.

    That is, to a certain extent, a function of coverage. The Crimson has come under fire the past several years for dramatically under-representing Latino and Asian community events, and old habits die hard. For example, the Latino community’s response to Samuel Huntington’s publication last spring was swift, organized, effective and largely uncovered– those not involved in the Latino community would not have known what was going on.

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