Re: civil rights/60s/Multiculturalism

Candida Ellis (
Thu, 9 May 1996 17:17:14 -0400

In my own defense I'd like to say that the leap from the issue of white
participation in the Civil Rights Movement to the issue of white
responses to multiculturalism was not an attempt to collapse the sixties
into the nineties but an effort to provoke some reflection on white
resistance to the efforts of others to determine a separate political
agenda. This white-centered stance seems to me to overlook now in the
90s as it did in the 60s the effects of racism on subjectivity.

Personally I think multiculturalism is mostly a crock, not for its
potential to divide the left -- there is no left at the moment (as far as
I can see) -- and certainly not because it excludes white liberals or
teaches "youngsters" to protect their own racial turf (which some choose
to see as a form of racism) -- but because it incorporates the worst of
our economic and cultural practices: competitiveness without real
collaboration, top down rule, hierarchical thinking, and absolutely
self-centered economist thinking, all of which is dressed up in reverence
for culture without appreciation for culture's role in policing social
practice and punishing individual deviance.

But those who rant about multiculturalism (like those who were hurt by
the black nationalism of the 60s) have missed an important point as they
sink deeper and deeper into their own psyches. Racism as hegemony
inflicts mortal wounds on the psyches of its victims; it cannot be
compared to racism as deviance. Those wounds require a certain form of
"affirmative action" (to appropriate a maligned term) to heal.
Thenationalism of the sixties and the multiculturalism of the 90s (and
indeed affirmative action itself) are weak, contorted and inadequate
responses to the ongoing injuries inflicted by hegemonic racism. But
they are the only responses contemporarily available.

Burying the injuries of women and peoples of color in the vision of the
white middle class will not solve the problems of any but those who have
and will continue to be privileged.

I toss this into the maelstrom, not with hope, but with the kind of
optimism that creates political activity. In the end I believe it IS
better to do the wrong thing than to do nothing.

Candi Ellis
UC Berkeley