A lot to learn -- and we will

Wiley A. Hall 3rd B

May 30, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

I suppose serious scientists might someday conclude from the evidence that there is something frivolous and sentimental about women that makes them unsuitable as leaders.

But first, scientists will have to define the concepts "frivolous" and "sentimental" in ways that can be quantified.

Then they will have to define and quantify what they mean by suitable to lead.

Then they will have to design, test and refine research tools that can measure these concepts.

Then they will have to identify and isolate their own cultural prejudices; identify and isolate the cultural prejudices that may pollute their samples; identify and isolate the cultural prejudices that may distort the way their test results are interpreted by others.

And after serious scientists have done all of that, they will find that their tasks as researchers are just beginning.

Scientists might also find that blacks are inherently shiftless and lazy, but there, too, they have an awful lot of work to do first. The same is true regarding the savagery of American Indians and the inscrutability of Asians.

As it happens, though, such serious work is being done.

Even as we speak, biologists and psychiatrists are working feverishly to understand the mechanisms of the brain, the connection between sex and personality.

At this very moment, geneticists and sociologists are seeking to understand the interplay between inherited characteristics and culture.

In fact, scientists of every description and discipline are examining, delving into, and probing questions of every kind.

So when denizens of the far right complain that so-called Politically Correct thinking has stifled academic inquiry on college campuses, they are lying.

But when a professor chuckles indulgently and informs a woman student that she may as well switch to home economics because women can't cut it in math-related fields, that is not academic inquiry.

Similarly, when an undergraduate drenches himself in beer and goes lurching across the campus screaming racial epithets, that is not reasoned debate.

In fact, it doesn't take much effort to recognize that the outcry against "Politically Correct" thinking isn't in defense of academic inquiry at all. Serious academic inquiry tends to refute the traditional stereotypes about women and minorities.

No, the outcry really is about my old friends, the crazed conservatives, demanding the right to be bigoted in public.

And, they're right, I suppose.

People do have the right to be bigoted in public, so long as the expression of their views does not interfere with the rights of others. But bigots have to accept that the public also has the right to disagree and even to censure those views.

What has really driven crazed conservatives crazy is their painful realization that their views no longer represent the mainstream.

Most Americans recognize that we live in a multicultural society and they understand the need to enlarge our cultural, academic and political institutions to reflect this.

It is a discovery process that sometimes leads to excesses, sometimes to false starts. It is true for instance that broad generalizations which would be labeled "bigoted" when applied to minorities often go unchallenged when unfairly applied to whites, particularly white men.

So, there is no question that we have a lot to learn about how to be sensitive to everyone.

But we will.

One of the things the crazed conservatives refuse to admit is that this process of inclusion is not just a political fad that will blow away.

We are engaged in a discussion of values, fundamental values such as fairness, accuracy, and decency to others.

(I don't know who invented the term, "Politically Correct" but conservatives are the ones who have seized upon it and promoted it, probably because it denigrates the ongoing efforts to be inclusive in the way we think, speak, and learn).

Bigots cannot halt this process, although they currently are louder, more powerful, and have friends in the highest offices in the land.

Langston Hughes put it best, in his poem, "Poet to Bigot." Hughes, by the way, is a black American poet who is almost Shakespearean in his ability to express universal ideas with untouched elegance.

"I however, have such meager power," wrote Hughes. "Clutching at a moment while you control an hour.

"But your hour is a stone.

"My moment is a flower."

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