Thursday, November 22, 2012

We Shouldn't Accommodate Everything, Should We?

First let me say that I have really appreciated reading other people's responses to this blog prompt.  They were thoughtful, thought-provoking, and each had a ring of truth to it.

Something that occurred to me as I was thinking about this was that we haven't really grappled with something that, to me, is central to our discussion on this topic: the specific manifestation of prejudice we are being asked to accommodate.

Let me illustrate: After the class discussion, I went to the Writing Center and sat down to work on a paper before my shift started.  Laikwan sat down moments later in the seat next to me.  I turned to him and said, "Laikwan, how would you feel if someone refused to be tutored by you because you're black?  I mean, how would you want the Writing Center to respond?"  He said that he would be disappointed and would want to know for his own sake why they refused but that he wouldn't expect the Writing Center to respond correctively to the tutee.  The tutee should be permitted to wait for a different tutor if that's what he/she wants.

So I changed the question: "If you overheard them say, in reference to you, 'I don't want to be tutored by one of them,' would your response be any different?"  Laikwan said he would be very bothered if the tutee said something like that but that he still wouldn't want the Writing Center to try to correct the prejudice.

Before I go any further, I think I have to conclude that Laikwan is right.  The Writing Center, generally speaking, should do as Kellie, Amanda, and Aisley suggested: we should do our best to welcome and help all students, regardless of their prejudice.

It's interesting to consider, however, how we might respond to particularly vehement or outrageous expressions of prejudice.  If someone begins to share their prejudice in deeply offensive ways--for example, by explaining why women are inferior to men or minority races don't deserve equal treatment--are we permitted to respond?  Are we morally obligated to respond?  If so, what else are we morally obligated to respond to in student papers and expressed attitudes?  There seems to be a line somewhere between accommodating objectionable uniqueness and being complicit in bigotry, and we are right in refusing to cross that line.  Of course, I doubt most of us will face this kind of situation, but I believe in trying to have my mind in the right place and knowing where I stand.

Standing up for diversity seems like a never-ending process of reevaluation.  It seems simple at first; be accepting of everyone regardless of age, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  But what do we do when someone's diversity manifests itself as an ideology or a viewpoint?  Ideologies and viewpoints almost always contain hierarchy, opposition, and privileged position.  The essential quality of them is that one thing is right or correct and another is not or is less correct or some variation on that theme.  When someone is diverse by believing that women don't have the brainpower to do a man's job, do we stand up for that diversity?  If we challenge them, are we to not challenge those who proclaim equality?  Perhaps being accepting of diversity is the new prejudice.

On this matter, I have no sure answers.  I would like to trust myself when the time comes to respond in a way that I deem to be appropriate, but perhaps that's just a pretense.  Bigotry permits no ambiguity in its adherents, and it can be frightening to face down certainty when I remain so unsure.  Perhaps, faced with the choice to stand up or sit down, I'll conceal my discomfort and drift passively across that line.


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