Hi. My name is Bill. I’m a 56 year old white male (Cherokee Indian if you follow one line back four generations). I have a PhD in Early Modern British History from the University of Cambridge. I also have 15 years of teaching experience in a series of African graduate schools and universities. I have published a modest number of academic articles and a book (I would have published more but I have been teaching full loads of classes helping African students catch up with their Western counterparts). I’ve been told I’m a good teacher. I recently faced an unanticipated life-transition that forced me to move back to the US. I attempted to find a job as an associate professor, assistant professor, adjunct professor, janitor at any university/college/community college anywhere in the states. I sent out on the shy side of 50 applications. I did not get a single response. Not a single institution even wanted to talk to me.
Of course no institution looking for someone to fill their history or theology position will ever admit it. But I am guessing that my virtual stack of papers never made it past the screener, who never looked past my page 1. You see, today nobody is hiring men (unless one has connections); in particular, nobody is hiring white men; And if one is over 40, then sorry – there is no room at the inn. And at 56, I’m practically a dinosaur. To sum up, evidently I’m the wrong race, the wrong gender and the wrong age. Old white men not served here.
Given the current climate of outrage across American college campuses and many other institutions and communities, I think I would be justified in calling this discrimination. And I am guessing I would be laughed out of the discussion. As a 56 year old white male, the rest of the culture would seem me as the posterchild of their problem. It’s white men like me (according to the unhappy social justice warriors) who hold all the cards, who are the true bastion of racism and economic privilege in this country. If I had a position to lose, I might get hounded out of my job, having been labeled a ‘racist’, if for no other reason than by association or not going along with their agenda.
|by Frank Cotham|
To use an old but useful cliché, the current movement of on-campus and community radicals is producing a lot of heat, a lot of smoke, but almost no light. Victory is declared if some poor administrator is hounded from office, or if their threats and intimidation succeed in causing a policy review. If only.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of discrimination happening throughout American culture today, and not just white on black, police on black, college administrators and teachers on black. But what nobody seems to get, is that dealing with discrimination (and the racism behind it) in this way – naming, shaming, protesting, rioting, policy-making, legislating – when has this ever made a difference in resolving the real issues behind discrimination, from the personal to the institutional? We have some wonderful laws on the books, both federal and state, but when has a law ever dealt with the real causes of discrimination and racism? The concerns of the so-called radicals today may be legitimate, but the way they are going about addressing those concerns demonstrates they neither know history nor have they understood the true nature of the beast they claim to be fighting against.
Here in East Africa, we have horrific problems with racism. The concerns of our campus and community social justice people look like the Promised Land given our ongoing reality here. In Burundi today people are being killed daily. There are fears of a new genocide being triggered. Ever hear of the words Tutsi and Hutu? That’s who lives in Burundi, and this is what racism looks like right now over here. Or in Southern Sudan, the past couple of years have seen an absolutely horrendous civil war going on – at least that is how it is described in polite society. It’s actually a war between two ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka. They hate each other. This is what racism does. And you simply haven’t heard of the terrible number of atrocities going on and of the awful plight of the people on both sides, probably because Nuer and Dinka people fighting each other in Africa’s poorest country is not deemed important enough to mention in the Western press. And perhaps that’s a kind of racism, too.
And then here in Kenya, we have had our own eruptions of horrific ethnic violence. We are quiescent now. But it only takes pressures there or incidents here to flame the coals into another fire like we had in 2007, where Kikuyus were killing Luos and Kalenjins and Luos and Kalenjins were killing Kikuyus. We have a rather serious racism issue here.
Like the USA, all of these countries have laws on the books. Like the USA, everyone here understands that racism is the underlying cause. And like the USA, having discovered that laws and ‘education’ don’t make any difference, leaders are at sixes and sevens to know what to do.
I think it’s safe to say that shouting doesn’t work. Shaming doesn’t work. Demonstrating doesn’t work. Legislating doesn’t work. Picking up guns and going after the other side doesn’t work. These may make us feel better for a time, but they simply don’t work. I think that there needs to be a change in strategy. I have a modest suggestion.
My way out of racism has occurred because I have intentionally pursued relationships with people that were being discriminated against. This means I have gotten to know Africans-Kenyans-Kikuyus-Luos-Kalenjins-Luhyas and Ethiopians-Amhara-Oromos-Tigrinyas, as well as Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians, Tanzanians, Malawians, Congolese, South Africans and even Nigerians as real people, people just like me. I have taken the initiative to learn something of their culture, of their hopes and dreams, to play with their children, to go to their churches, to share their food, to stay at their houses, to travel with them in matatus, to see them, not as some ‘enemy’, not as some threat to my well-being, but as a human being made in the image of God just like me. I don’t know about you, but I can’t discriminate against someone I know and love. I can’t think racist thoughts and pursue racist actions towards someone I know and love.
The problem of discrimination and racism is an individual problem and cannot be solved from above by threats or laws. It will only be solved from below, relationship by relationship. All those issues that folks are making so much noise about on campuses and in communities – those are symptoms of the problem, not the racisim problem itself. When I see the people racing around from demonstration to campus to sit-in become willing to address the real problem they are facing, then we will be on the verge of real progress. But as of right now, these people are just making a lot of noise and will end up having nothing to show for it – nothing of any meaning.
The strategy that I am advocating is actually very risky. That is because by addressing the relationship issue, everybody – including the social justice warriors – will make the discovery that racism is not something out there that those people are doing to us. Rather it is also something right here in my heart, something that I am doing to them. All of us have a racism issue.
It is so much easier to find fault with the others and demand that they act on this list of things they need to do in order to change. Much harder to take the risk and get to know someone and listen to them and then figure out a way to work together. And given every other strategy has failed, one that requires a lot of hard work might actually be a good thing.
In the meantime, it would be lovely some college search committee chastened into doing justice will contact this wrong gender, wrong age, wrong color but otherwise well-qualified person and at least want to talk. Of course I’m back in the job I want in Nairobi. But it still would be nice.