Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Being Human vs. Being Hyman



Concerning Mark Hyman’s commentary on “privileged” graduation ceremonies, I thought I’d tell you a story.

When I was graduating from college many years ago, my dad told me he wasn’t sure he’d come to the ceremony. Normally, he wouldn’t have missed it. He was proud of me and let me know that in no uncertain terms.

The problem was that the college I attended sent out a list of official graduation events that included a reception for the African-American student group on campus. It was made clear that only members of this group and their guests were invited.

Now, the college was privately funded, so the bill wasn’t being footed by the taxpayers (at least not directly), but as an official college function, it *was* being paid for by all those who were paying tuition to the institution, which most certainly included my parents.

Dad was beside himself. While he thought it was okay to have a private gathering funded by members of the group, or an “official” gathering to which anyone could come, the combination of having a graduation event paid for by the college but only open to students of a particular race drove him nuts.

Some background here: my dad was a thoroughgoing liberal. In graduate school (the early to mid 1960s), he was a member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). When he learned that a group of black students from Jamaica were coming to study at the university he was at (Kansas State), he made a point of signing up to be a roommate with one of them, knowing that they might have trouble finding places to stay or people to live with. He was a disciple of Bobby Kennedy. And despite some dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Democratic Party (he voted for John Anderson in 1980) and lack of patience with knee-jerk political correctness, he remained a liberal throughout his life.

This is all to say that Dad was a man who understood the particular obstacles and challenges facing members of minority groups, particularly in higher education. But, as anyone who knew him could tell you, he was a stickler for principles and the rules that embodied them. The idea that exclusion based on race (or any other demographic feature) was wrong, except when it happened to suit the whims of a particular group, was anathema to him.

Hyman’s commentary deriding the various ceremonies held at colleges and universities that focus on particular student groups (African American students, gay and lesbian students, etc.) brought this memory back to me. In the case of Hyman’s complaints, he doesn’t make it clear whether or not the events he’s mentioning are actually closed events that actively exclude others, or simply events that focus on particular students. This isn’t a small distinction. (He suggests that they are exclusionary, but the “lavender graduation” ceremonies he refers to are also open to friends and supporters of gay and lesbian students.)

But much more important is the way Hyman makes his case. He charges those who hold such events with “bigotry.”

What a perfect example of Hyman’s blowhard rhetoric. He doesn’t take even a moment to consider *why* these groups want to have these ceremonies. Do they hate people who aren’t like them? In the vast majority of cases, I don’t think so. It’s not bigotry that drives these events. It’s the fact that some people acutely feel their minority status while in college. At a typical American college or university, someone who is not white or heterosexual is likely keenly aware of the fact that they don’t fit the demographic norm of the student body, often in ways that are unpleasant. Particularly when the group they belong to is one that has historically had limited access to higher education precisely because of their minority status (e.g. African Americans), it shouldn’t surprise us that people who are members of such a group would feel a certain solidarity with each other and want to express their pride at their accomplishment with each other, as well as with the student body as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that such gatherings should exclude others, should be funded by taxpayers, or are appropriate at all.

But charging those who create and attend such functions as bigots is itself dehumanizing. It fails to acknowledge the motivations that cause the desire for such gatherings, desires that don’t apply to groups in the majority (e.g., whites, heterosexuals, etc.).

Acknowledging the existence and validity of such feelings does nothing to weaken an argument against so-called “privileged graduations.” In fact, it strengthens it, because it shows a willingness to see things from someone else’s point of view and consider that viewpoint seriously rather than simply attacking it. Attempting to understand and acknowledge the other side’s point of view is not only the decent and human thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do simply as a matter of making one’s own case effectively.

But Hyman, as he is wont to do, simply vents his spleen, and chooses to rail against “special privileges” and political correctness at universities rather than engage in a reasonable argument. Again, there’s no reason why being reasonable would soften or nullify his argument. He can be adamantly opposed to such events and be humane and reasonable at the same time. He chooses not to.

A few days before graduation, Dad brought me two drafts of a letter he was writing to the president of my college. In one, he said that he could not in good conscience attend any graduation event, including commencement, given the college’s sponsoring of a racially exclusive event. In the other, he said that while he would attend commencement itself, he would not attend any of the other official college functions open to parents and students, given that one of the official events wasn’t open to everyone. Which of these letters, he asked, did I think was better?

Of course, he was asking me how important it was to me to have him at my commencement. I told him I preferred the one in which he said he’d come to commencement, but take a pass on everything else. Dad nodded and said okay. A few days later, he was in the crowd as I walked across the stage and got my diploma.
In the end, Dad found a way of standing up for his principles, making his point, and being fully human (and fully a father) while doing so.

Would that Hyman had one iota of the integrity that my old man had.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.91

25 Comments:

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The problem was that the college I attended sent out a list of official graduation events that included a reception for the African-American student group on campus. It was made clear that only members of this group and their guests were invited.'

Translation: "We're having a party and white people can't come."

How tolerant. And how pathetic it is that Remington tries to profess a tolerance for such intolerance.

Simply amazing stuff....

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Mike, try reading a post before commenting on it.

tjr

 
At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'Whites Only' restaurants, restrooms, and drinking fountains of yester-year were just flat wrong.

An official graduation event for African-American group members only is just flat wrong.

Condoning or excusing such intolerance, is just flat wrong.

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

See Comment #2.

tjr

 
At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted Remington said...

'try reading a post before commenting on it.'

Just because you don't particularly like a comment, doesn't make it any less accurate.

The graduation party was what it was, intolerant.

 
At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted Remington said...
See Comment #2.

Repeat it all you want Mr. Ted, you're still wrong. You condone intolerance. You've excused it, you've attempted to 'justify' it.

 
At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Bradley said...

"Anonymous"--

Ted's right. You actually need to read what he's written if you're going to attempt to comment on it. As it is, you're just humiliating yourself. Ted has written this essay to point out that the reception was racist, and to celebrate his father for taking an ethical stance against it. He is not, despite your claims, professing "tolerance for such intolerance" or "condoning" or "excusing." He is criticizing. That's, like, the exact opposite of what you're suggesting he said.

Please note: If you actually did read the column, and you've still come to the conclusion that Ted is excusing intolerance, then you are quite clearly illiterate. Seriously. I don't care that you're able to pound out semi-coherent ramblings on someone else's blog-- you obviously are incapable of reading and comprehending. I'm not judging you for that, but I do suggest that you perhaps enroll in some night classes or something.

Ted-- Fantastic piece of writing, as usual. You've managed to write about some very complicated issues in a coherent and sensible way. Don't worry about the Thayers of the world-- your point was clear-- made especially so by your descriptions of your father as "principled" and having "integrity." Actually, I guess it's no wonder that "Annonymous" didn't understand, as he is, apparently, quite lacking in both principles and integrity.

I think I speak for a lot of people who visit this blog on a regular basis when I say that your contributions to political discourse in America are greatly appreciated. I can't imagine how much of your free time gets eaten up by this endeavor, but I for one am really glad that you're speaking up for principles and integrity. Please keep up the good work.

 
At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Ted wrote:

"He doesn’t take even a moment to consider *why* these groups want to have these ceremonies. Do they hate people who aren’t like them? In the vast majority of cases, I don’t think so. It’s not bigotry that drives these events. It’s the fact that some people acutely feel their minority status while in college. At a typical American college or university, someone who is not white or heterosexual is likely keenly aware of the fact that they don’t fit the demographic norm of the student body, often in ways that are unpleasant. Particularly when the group they belong to is one that has historically had limited access to higher education precisely because of their minority status (e.g. African Americans), it shouldn’t surprise us that people who are members of such a group would feel a certain solidarity with each other and want to express their pride at their accomplishment with each other, as well as with the student body as a whole."

Mr. Ted wrote on:

"But charging those who create and attend such functions as bigots is itself dehumanizing. It fails to acknowledge the motivations that cause the desire for such gatherings, desires that don’t apply to groups in the majority (e.g., whites, heterosexuals, etc.)."

Focusing on those comments, which is all that was done in response, and was appropriate - I don't care how you pseudo intellectuals choose to spin it, Remington advocates the tolerance of intolerance.

None of the other commentary was put in play, it's you folks who chose to bring it in so you could score points I guess. That's twisted. That's unacceptable arrogance.

 
At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to second your support of Ted. Anyone with an open mind can see that he endeavors mightily to be fair and see multiple viewpoints. It's not surprising that Ted has gone on to a good academic position in Indiana.

Our visitor, Mike Thayer, however, cannot be reasoned with. We've been down this path before with him.

Mike goes around to left-leaning (or not rabid-right) blogs and just disses everyone on them. It's a pretty strange way of going about life -- constantly harranging people -- and for no apparent purpose but to abuse people.

I wish I could be more sympathetic toward him; he always seems to be picking a fight.

 
At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted,

Is that you posting as anonymous?

 
At 8:44 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Nope, that's all Mike. (Well, except for the stuff that's obviously not Mike).

Anyway, thanks for the comments (even you, Mike!). And for the kind words (not, you, Mike).

I'll try this one more time. There are two issues, here, Mike. One is the propriety of exclusive graduation events based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The other issue is why members of these groups would want to hold such events in the first place. What I pointed out in my post was simply that one can be sympathetic to the reasons why such groups might want to hold such an event while not undercutting one's opposition to them on principle.

For a majority group to exclude a minority (e.g., having a "whites only" graduation event) would almost certainly be motivated by nothing more than animosity toward the minority groups excluded. There isn't any reason to hold an event like this other than the pure wish to exclude others.

But in the case of African American students on a mostly white campus (or vice versa), or gay students at a mostly straight campus, one can understand how there would be a desire to acknowledge the shared experience of being a minority, especially if that minority group is one that had traditionally been either exluded or ignored on college campuses.

That doesn't mean such events are right or are defensible. It simply means that one can understand the motivations for such events and still raise concerns and objections about them without caricaturing those involved by equating their attitudes with the hateful motivations of Jim Crow exclusion.

Drawing knee-jerk and distorting parallels between the *motivations* of those holding the events and the motivations of true bigots *weakens,* not strengthens, the argument that such gatherings are unfair because they exclude other students who help pay for them and/or are counterproductive because they fetishize certain aspects of identity at the expense of a more holistic understanding. (On this, I'm thinking about the comment of a lesbian student I came across online in an article about "lavender graduations" who said she didn't plan on attending because it felt weird to celebrate something like graduation in the context of an event that revolved around only one part of her identity).

Arguments that simplistically chalk up the motivation to bigotry (the way Hyman does)show not only an unwillingness to look at the facts of the situation, but also demonstrate a huge flaw in any attempt to persuade an audience: an unwillingness or inability to understand the viewpoint of someone else. In so doing, they do more harm than good to the causes they claim to support.

By the way, Mike, I realize I probably owe you an apology for posting our back and forth on my sidebar, "Cream of the Counterpoint." I didn't do so to show you up. I just wanted to create a place where some of the people who had started coming by the blog more recently could have an easy place to get a feel for what goes on here. It's an idea I've seen other bloggers use, and I've appreciated it as a reader, so I thought I'd do the same.

I honestly didn't include that to ridicule you. On the contrary, I wanted to include the post and all the comments because it showed some feisty back and forth among those of us who get together here (you included). I hope you didn't take it any other way.

cheers,

tjr


tjr

 
At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted posts to his blog nearly everyday, dissing Mark Hyman. It's a pretty strange way of going about life -- constantly harranging Mr. Hyman -- and for no apparent purpose.

 
At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted, I have to hand it to you, you are amazingly patient with SickOfSpin Mikey. This sequence of blog entries demonstrates that he is coated with Loginex, the miracle logic barrier.

I wish that I could be as tempered and polite with someone like him. I mean, this guy is really rude to you, adds no substance, and you still hang in there, trying to explain things to him yet again. I can't help but wonder if he's got some real issues, perhaps medical ones. Why would someone post like this, with cut-and-paste rambling and no interest in discussion or back-and-forth? It truly flummoxes me. But then, it seems strange to me that W. still has the support of 33% of Americans capable of answering a poll.

 
At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote:

"This sequence of blog entries demonstrates that he is coated with Loginex, the miracle logic barrier."

It's amazing how bitter and tainted you folks are, but don't see it.

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remington,

If you were truly about understanding, then you too would have signed the letter your Dad submitted, joining him in his protest of intolerance.

Failing to do so was an acceptance of segregation.

Racial segregation is characterized by separation of people of different races in daily life when both are doing equal tasks, such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a rest room, attending school, going to the movies, or having a party.

Your father demonstrated an understanding of you, you on the other hand were not understanding of him.

 
At 2:36 AM, Anonymous Bradley said...

"Your father demonstrated an understanding of you, you on the other hand were not understanding of him."

On the contrary. The very act of writing this essay demonstrates not only understanding, but also admiration, respect, and love. A son who didn't understand his father's ethical stance would simply complain that his dad had overreacted, or was being an embarassment.

Ted-- Once again, congratulations on a really effective (and affecting) Counterpoint this time around.

 
At 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job Ted.
Bradley, SOS isn't illiterate, he, like so many of the 30 percent of Americans who still support the dismal failure in the White House, has made a commitment to remain wilfully ignorant. I have written about this in previous comments, it is the only way that they (right-wing extremists) can allow themselves to feel good about the bad things they say and do.
He most likely read the post, but acknowledged only the parts that fit with his narrow-minded views. He is the product of a lot of intentional bad programming by the likes of Hyman, Boortz, Limbaugh and host of others. This is really apparent when he questions why Ted would spend so much time trying to set the record straight about Hyman's constant distortion of the facts, without any time for thoughtful rebuttal. SOS calls it "dissing" Hyman for no apparent purpose.
Thanks Ted, and keep bustin' Hyman.
Mike B. in SC

 
At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike B. in SC

Nothing but arrogance.

 
At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And there's a big difference between what Ted does and what SOS does.

Ted has a humble blog that refutes the extremist nonsense of Hyman. He does not write abusive comments to Hyman. SOS does, however. What makes the SOS crowd's real objective (venting anger) is that they never ever engage in dialog. The proof is right here. That's the really weird thing: SOS leaves a big paper trail and still is not reflective enough to see his self-degradation.

Anyway, enough about SOS. The main point of Ted's blog is logical argumentation. Let's enjoy Ted and try to let less pleasant things diminish.

 
At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Bradley said...

Well said, Anonymous. There's nothing to be served by Thayer hatin'.

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

As host of this blog, I figure I can afford to be accomodating to folks like Mike. If I came across comments like his on another blog or site to which I was a visitor, however, I'd probably be more ornery. But as he's accepted my inivitation to come to this blog and read and post, I try to be as gracious a host as I can be.

Probably the best ways to handle such stuff is either to ignore it as "acting out" behavior or to keep gently insisting on returning to the point of the matter. To that end, I find myself continuing to wonder what motivations folks like Mike ascribe to those who want to hold "lavendar commencements" and such.

Let's agree that they are exclusionary and therefore improper. My only point, Mike, is that I honestly *don't* think the motivation is bigotry or hatred of whites, straghts, or whatever. That doesn't mean their actions are right, but to understand the issue, we want to understand the underlying causes. Do you think those who want to hold such separate ceremonies are doing so because of hatred or intolerance, or is it simply that the actions they take *have the effect* of being intolerant?

just curious.

tjr

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
And there's a big difference between what Ted does and what SOS does.

Ted has a humble blog...

That's a very twisted definition of humble.

There's nothing to be served by Hyman hatin'.

You guys are cartoonish.

 
At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Bradley said...

Ted--

I'm not sure that Mike is going to take you up on your offer for civilized and honest debate, but I thought I'd offer my two cents to try to return us to the topic at hand.

(Plus, I'm feeling a little guilty about my role in derailing the conversation with charges of "illiteracy").

I guess I just don't see the big deal about things like lavendar commencements. I'm speaking as a white, heterosexual, college professor who's never been invited to such a celebration, but who would probably accept an invitation were one extended. An interesting thing to note about Hyman's original commentary was that at no point did he identify any lavendar commencement that barred heterosexuals; he strongly implied that the LGBT students were treated preferentially, but at no point does he offer any evidence or identify schools that ban straight students from these activities by name. On the other hand, the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education describe a typical Lavendar Commencement Ceremony as a celebration for LGBT students, as well as supportive faculty, staff, family members, and friends. It seems to me that the only prerequisite for being a part of Lavendar Commencement is a desire to attend Lavendar Commencement.

Mark Hyman complains that, sometimes, tax dollars go to support these types of activities. I have no doubt this is true, and I guess I can understand the frustration of seeing one's tax (or tuition) dollars going to fund a celebration any given student (or her family) has no interest in. But that's the way things go on a college campus-- the administrators at the school have to spread funds around to cover a variety of student interests. If you're going to suggest that the school withhold funds from the Gay Student Union's commencement celebration, then you also have to be consistent and say that the university should not fund Christian student organizations, campus entertainment committees, and intramural sports-- not all of the students are going to enjoy all of these activities, after all.

Are celebrations and organizations devoted to the interests of marginalized groups inherently "exclusionary," and does that make them "improper"? I'm not sure. I don't think I've seen much excluding from most student organizations on the campuses I've lived or worked on-- it seems to me that most groups of minority students that I've had any interaction with appreciated support and help from wherever they could get it. The only really exclusive student clubs-- apart from Greek organizations-- that I've seen are the ones devoted to religious devotion. 'Cause you, y'know, have to belong to the religion.

I think the far bigger concern might be the "unofficial segregation" that can occur among students. The food court in our student union is quite clearly divided into sections based on race, and that's troubling (thought at the same time, I can understand why members of any given marginalized group would want to come together for support and fellowship). Similarly, our fraternities are overwhelmingly white (and yet I've not read or heard of anyone criticizing their commencement celebrations for being exclusionary).

These are not simple issues-- as your Counterpoint articulated much more clearly than this rambling response, I'm afraid. But, to answer the main question-- are the planners of lavendar commencement ceremonies or celebrations of African-American achievement bigots? No, certainly not.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Yes, I tend to agree with you. Given how much money is given to so many other groups that are exclusionary in some way (athletes, to give just one example), I don't have a problem with public funds (and they are incredibly minimal, from what I can tell) being used to host a small reception for members of a certain campus group such as LGBT, Asian American students, African American students, foreign students, or whatever.

I *can* see the problem if such events are advertised as being exclusionary. I recall that what set my dad off was not that there was a reception for African American students and their families, but that this event was listed in the official list of ceremonies as being only open to those students and their families. Would anyone else have shown up had it not been exclusionary? I certainly doubt it. But it was the principle of having an event that was explicitly closed to most of the college community that was the problem.

As you point out, most of the "lavender graduation" events are in fact open to those who aren't LGBT themselves, but wish to show solidarity or support for those that are. I can't imagine anything wrong with this.

And obviously you're right in noting that the motivation behind such events isn't bigotry. Even if one thinks such events shouldn't be condoned (such as Hyman and our friend Mike), one can certainly grant that fairly obvious point.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

tjr

 
At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted,

I'd like to take a somewhat different POV, perhaps more akin to your father's.

First, I'm not sure the argument about the excesses of athletic departments is good rationale for accepting relatively small affronts by other groups. A principle is a principle. Perhaps we should be railing about the behaviors and privileges of collegiate sports, instead of using it as a baseline for normal.

Second, I always feel that there is something a little sad, or diminishing, about seeking one's own groups. Yes, they can provide solace and solidarity. And they may just be plain practical (most people would not be interested in joining a group designed to support people with depression, unless they were afflicted with that problem).

But it seems to me that our country is awash in personalization of things, where, perhaps unconsciously, we too often seek activities that massage our egos rather than attend efforts that seek to bridge differences. I've thought about this a lot, so perhaps the following doesn't sound strange to me: going for a walk attending rather exclusively to an IPod (or cell phone) and being oblivious to the neighbor mowing his lawn (etc etc.) seems part of this trend to wrap society around my needs, not others. You also see this is car-driving behaviors. Perfectly nice people get into their transportation unit and somehow (because of the enclosure?) get a little less polite or aware of that pedestrian.

On the other hand, I can only imagine the difficulties attending being gay (self-identity problems, etc.). I don't mean to sound insensitive to those issues, but I do believe that many of us like to have our own group -- to the hurt of the public good. We've seen this problem right on this blog.

 

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