Curmie takes what he’s going to call the “Competitive Diving” approach to many such matters. That is, an athlete’s score in a diving competition is determined not by the average of all judges’ opinions (and also by degree of difficulty, but that’s irrelevant to this argument), but by that average after the high and low scores are discarded. Maybe we should ignore the foam-flecked ideologues on both sides, in other words.
Curmie, in some ways, represents the quintessence of privilege: white, male (and born that way), heterosexual, Ivy-league educated, at least culturally Christian. His grandparents weren’t rich, by any means: one grandfather owned a rocky New England hillside farm of about 100 acres; the other managed a neighborhood grocery store. But Curmie grew up in a decidedly middle-class environment. Nor has he ever been truly poor: falling further into debt because there isn’t enough in the bank account to cover the entirety of the credit card bill is different than having to choose between eating and buying needed medicine.
Curmie’s personality features an independent, libertarian streak; his personal Facebook page announces his politics as “contrarian.” This isn’t (merely) being cute. Rather, the more he sees of any ideology, the more the faults in that approach are highlighted. He’s never been ultra-conservative, but he was certainly more likely to vote for Republicans when he lived in the town with the biggest Democratic caucus in the state of Iowa than he’s been more recently. Indeed, he’s probably never been more liberal than he is now, in a time and place in which an idiot like Louie Gohmert can get re-elected without even any real opposition.
Curmie’s politics are, of course, (currently, at least) well
to the left of the national center. He voted
for Democrats against Donald Trump in the last two Presidential elections,
and indeed hasn’t voted for a Republican for any Congressional or gubernatorial
position since moving to Texas over two decades ago. (Kay Bailey Hutchison would have been a real
possibility, but she was defeated in the primary by the odious Ted Cruz; John
Cornyn, who is probably no worse than most other party hacks on either side of
the aisle, actually had a reasonable opponent last time out. Curmie would vote for Voldemort over Greg
Abbott, Ken Paxton, or Louie Gohmert.)
Having now entered semi-retirement, Curmie is no longer accepting new advisees, but is keeping the four holdovers who chose to keep him as their advisor. Three of the four are non-binary. Coincidence? Probably. But there’s no question that he’ll advocate for both their general and specific interests, as he has done for years for black and Latinx students. Still, he recognizes that terms like “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are not redundant, and that sometimes, for example, equity and diversity are in fact at odds. In such cases, Curmie will always choose the former; a lot of university administrators will choose the latter, primarily because at the moment it’s the path of least resistance (they’re intellectual cowards, and having actual principles is hard!).
Contemplations of gender, sexual orientation, and especially race are therefore far more complex and nuanced than the True Believers on either side would have us believe. So whereas Curmie feels no personal guilt nor any need to make amends with respect to what happened over a century and a half ago, hundreds of miles away from any of his forebears, acknowledging not merely that life isn’t fair, but that it’s often been more unfair to some groups of people than to others seems appropriate.
Curmie’s netpal Jack Marshall wondered this morning, “How many supposedly educated American[s] know about the significance of this date?”. Well, that depends on how you frame the question. If it’s about the date per se, Curmie would have struck out without getting the bat off his shoulder. But mention that it’s the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and I’ll do a lot better. Curmie learned about this horrific event in a world history class in high school—a class taught (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not) by a US Army WWII veteran with a German surname.
What Curmie didn’t learn about in high school were the massacres at Wounded Knee in 1890 or Tulsa in 1921, or the fact that the original GI bill was structured to deny benefits to black veterans, or the wartime internment of US citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent. Intentionally or otherwise, what we learned in history classes was filtered, sanitized and viewed through a very Caucasian lens. Of course, Curmie’s hometown was overwhelming white and overwhelmingly Christian, so these omissions and commissions were both more and less insidious than would have been the case in a more integrated environment.
Noticing the “other” in an increasingly more heterogeneous society is, of course, imperative. But what do we do with those now-foregrounded recognitions of subjectivity, which are at the core of CRT? Treating someone differently because they’re different from you may be an admirable exercise in empathy… or it may be a toxic cocktail of virtue signaling and condescension: “we can’t expect that person to compete on a level playing field; after all, they’re [insert demographic marker here].” This latter example is one of tolerance, the evil cousin of inclusion: “you are inferior to me because of objective factor X, but I will treat you well, ostensibly at least, because I wish to be regarded as a good person… all the while comfortable in my presumed superiority.”
Finally, of course, it’s important to differentiate between equal opportunity and equal outcomes. Professional sports are in some ways the ultimate meritocracy: teams want to win. (Perhaps the Colin Kaepernick case is the exception that proves the rule.) But it would take a real fan to name even two or three American-born white players currently in the NBA. The flip side is true in swimming, despite the presence of the likes of Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel. Socio-economic factors and availability of training facilities and venues account for some of the discrepancy… but all of it? Curmie can’t muster more than a “maybe” on that one.
Untangling all these strands is rather like trying to get the mats out of a long-haired pet: maybe it will work, but there are times we have to clip the tangle out rather than hoping to unravel it. A little good will towards our fellow travelers, who are as confused and fallible as ourselves would go a long way.