Who are we and who are we not?

Writing Project 2: Who are we and who are we not?

(15% of Final Grade)




For this writing project we focus most closely on arranging our arguments, on being deliberate with each paragraph’s place in the discussion—so that our argument gathers energy and culminates into an elegantly formed, persuasive whole. Here your paragraphs will belong to one another, will move together in unified purpose.

Furthermore, this paper follows the trajectory of the first writing project by going even more deeply into challenging our given analyses of American culture—which result from the social constructs, the American mythology, all around us. So now we move to interrogate our postures concerning diversity. Our identities, our values, our deep beliefs about the world, even our epistemological convictions have been affected by our relationship with white supremacist heteronormative patriarchal abelist capitalism, and these in turn influence our postures toward diversity. In this Writing Project we will continue honestly to wrestle with these concepts. Because, well, at bottom—and forgive me!—this course (as well as this writing assignment) intends to bug you. (It must bug you; that’s how good learning happens!) I hope that soon enough I have given you enough reason to reflect on old assumptions, and interrogate them, and reconsider them—by doubting your beliefs, sure, but also by doubting your doubts—to move towards newly polished (or wholly revised) beliefs about what is and ought to be.




Isn’t it interesting?—in baseball, “right field” is to the left of the majority of players on the field. “Right field,” then, is a relative term, dependent upon a certain subject, named from a singular perspective: the batter’s. This kind of observation inspires questions in me, questions like:

When “We the people of the United States… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America,” who are “we”? Who are “we” not?

When in 1863 Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address appeals to a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” who are “the people” and which “the people” did he exclude?

From whom is the labor union separated?

Whose Southern heritage does the Confederate Flag ignore?

When Donald Trump wants to build a wall across the Mexican border; when Senator Rand Paul says that Native Americans “don’t do very well because of their lack of assimilation”; when Sarah Palin demands that people in America “speak American,” have they implicitly affirmed the history of genocide belonging to America’s westward expansion (encoded first in the language of Manifest Destiny—and whose destiny was manifest?) by noting not that the newcomers should “assimilate” with the natives but that the natives should “assimilate” with the conquerors? Does “assimilation,” then, have a point of view, an angle on power and conquest and empire; does it make agreements with certain historical perspectives while ignoring others?

Whom does it offend, and on what grounds, when President Obama renames Mt. McKinley to Denali?

Whom does it benefit, and whom does it harm, and whom does it hear, and whom does it ignore, when President Trump signs an executive order to renegotiate the terms (“by us”) of the Dakota Access Pipeline, on the grounds that it will mean, “a lot of jobs”? Who is “us”? Who does “us” make into “them”?

If across racial lines Americans use illegal drugs at the same rate, and yet one race is disproportionately searched, arrested, convicted, then sentenced with disproportionately longer sentences—who is fighting a “War on Drugs,” and whom is the war fought against?

In the phenomenon known as gentrification, a “revitalized” or “up and coming” or “revived” neighborhood—that which is “back again,” or “improving,” or “restored to health,”—has “returned” from…what? Where had it gone so that now it’s back again? Had it died, disappeared, been abandoned, become a ghost town? For whom has it been “revitalized”? To whom has it returned? That is, whose point of view is contained in “revitalize”?

Whose public safety is protected or ignored when houseless persons may not use public space, say, to sleep or to receive food?

Perspective, point of view: these seem to affect (and to be contained in) how we render and discuss social issues, how we name conflicts of values—then these renderings, these discussions, these names of conflicts of values seem further to influence our perspectives, our points of view. (That is to say, the more we say “right field,” the more we ignore the right fielder’s point of view, and the more we neglect diversity.) So the language we use to describe reality might also belie perspectives we might otherwise advocate for. Which forces us to ask, as Thomas Merton describes, a question that “might turn out to have no answer”: What does diversity mean truly?

Certainly, if racial essentialism is false (and it is), then we cannot rely on tokenism to provide us with true diversity, since one’s levels of melanin, or one’s eye shape, or one’ hair does not have an intrinsic correlation with one’s point of view, or intellect, or creativity, or ambition, or athleticism. What good, then, is racial and ethnic diversity? What is it really for?

Some might say that essentialism’s being false is evidence for why diversity is a hoax—“After all, since race isn’t real, acknowledging race is what makes you racist; colorblindness is the answer”—making those in favor of diversity the real racists—or, as they’re sometimes called, the “reverse racists.” If there weren’t more to diversity than essentialism’s being true or false—that is, if race were, in addition to being a scientific myth, not also a social construct that in part forms our histories and social and political identities—then the “reverse racism” folks would have a good point.

So again: what is diversity and what, really, are we being diverse about?

About 12 years ago I was hired on as a pastor at a majority-white church, among an all-white church staff. As I went into my final interview, one of the pastors patted me on the back, saying, “This is great! You’re going to be our colored pastor.” While his words were pretty icky, I think he meant well; he meant to congratulate his church on being progressive, inclusive, diverse. But besides his yucky word choice, what also stood out was that his joy in this moment rested on the notion of essentialism as an unstated assumption. For him, Diversity = (mere) Melanin; Diversity = (mere) “Carlos”; Diversity = (mere) “Colored.” He had not accounted for more than what Carlos is Brown looked like; he had not fully considered what Carlos is Brown might mean. He was just glad Carlos is Brown, since “Diversity = (merely) Brown!”

What does it take, then—if not whiteness gaining proximity to Carlos is Brown—for us to interrogate the notion of “right field,” and to move toward true diversity? What inward movements must we undergo to abide in diversity; what outward realities must come about for diversity, true diversity, to gain mythic power? These are important questions to bug us, to wrestle with, to let change us, and to act in solidarity with.



Required Readings



Writing Task


Consider the voices and arguments represented in the required readings. Take these various points of view seriously; interrogate them; follow them into their conclusions; bring your voice to bear upon the discourse that rises up; name and deepen the problems of diversity these (and possibly other) voices generate; complicate the complicated. Then, in a gift-driven essay of about 1,700 words, allow yourself to be guided by the following question as you engage the discourse that rises up from the readings:


Who are we, and who are we not?


Keep in Mind


  • I am asking you to uncover a discourse that rises up from several different arguments that have an academic audience—and then to speak back into that discourse. This is difficult. I think you’re up for it.
  • The prompting question contains many possibilities. I mean many, many, many. In order to address it well, you’ll need to focus on an aspect of the discourse that rises up from the readings and your discussions, develop both a robust perspective concerning whiteness, and gather the courage to respond creatively, while entering deeply into controversies.
  • It’s yours to show that your insights about the discourse are plausible and worth considering for an audience of intellectuals. You must, then, not only partner with some voices (to a degree), but also respond to naysayers, as you offer up your own original ideas.

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