In Not Only for Myself , Harvard Law professor and leading critical legal scholar Martha Minow uses well-known incidents, such as the furor over the casting of Miss Saigon and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to explain the legal issues bearing on such incendiary questions as affirmative action, segregation, racial redistricting, and “identity politics.”
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About the Author
Martha Minow is a professor at Harvard Law School. She has written and edited many books, including Family Matters: Family Lives and The Law (The New Press).
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I. Setting the Stage
In August 1990, the producer of Miss Saigon, the hit London musical, decided to cancel its Broadway production because the actors' union denied permission for the English lead actor to perform the play in New York. Actors' Equity, the union, issued a statement saying that it could not "appear to condone the casting of a Caucasian in the role of a Eurasian." The conflict between the union and the producer triggered a cause celebre debated in the theater community, in the press, and inside Actors' Equity itself. A week after its initial decision, the union reversed itself, concluding it had "applied an honest and moral principle in an inappropriate manner." After weeks of negotiations securing complete casting freedom to the producer, plans for the play revived, but the issue continued to produce controversy and wide media coverage for months thereafter.
Several contexts help explain the controversy. Advance ticket sales put $25 million at stake. New York had recently elected an African-American mayor who wanted both to remedy discrimination and to preserve the theater industry. Further, conservative American officials and commentators had assaulted controversial art in a battle over federal subsidies. Pundits and public intellectuals debated "politically correct" sensitivities about racism, sexism, and homophobia. The U.S. Supreme Court seemed on the brink of repudiating most public affirmative action programs.
As I read about the casting of Miss Saigon, I could not help but draw connections toanother "casting" debate, closer to my home. The ongoing debate over why law school faculties remain largely white and male intensified with Professor Derrick Bell's decision to take a leave without pay until Harvard Law School hired a female law professor of color for a tenured or tenure-track position. Further escalating the issue at Harvard, a group of law students sued the school and claimed that discriminatory hiring practices hindered their education. Both Miss Saigon and Harvard Law School generated arguments about merit and symbolism, about overcoming discrimination and about risks of new forms of discrimination, about fairness and representation. In both contexts, one side argued that there must be someone hired from the minority community while the other side maintained that hiring must be color-blind and merit based.
The casting of Miss Saigon and the hiring at Harvard Law School thus exhibited clashes over identity politicspolitical claims made or resisted in terms of group-based identities, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The comic version is epitomized by a cartoon by Jeff McNelly, showing one bird at a bar muttering, "Seagull-Americans, peacock-Americans, mallard-Americans." In the next frame, the bird announces, "We all have something in common." "Yea," replies the bartender bird, "hyphens." The less comic versions appear not only on college campuses torn by fights over dorms for lesbians or majors in ethnic studies, but also in polarized responses to criminal trials in which a viewing public believes that lawyers and juries put racial loyalty ahead of evidence, and in urban violence sparked by conflicts among ethnic groups.
This book explores current knots of identity politics in hopes of framing more constructive approaches to the underlying issues. The knots entwine two strands of mistakes. We tend toward ignorance about the mistreatments along group linesand nonetheless participate in the constant, unthinking use of group categories.
Ignorance: Even highly educated people show remarkable ignorance about such histories. "What were Japanese internment camps?" a student with an advanced degree asks during a law school class. "Why didn't Martin Luther King get a parade permit before marching in Birmingham?" asks another. Ignorance about the present is also widespread. Law students return to school shocked by incidents of sexual harassment and anti-Semitism found at summer jobs. Some are stunned by the views expressed by their own fellow students. "I was happily talking the first week of school with others in La Alianza," the Hispanic student group, one student told me, "until they joined in gay bashing." "My classmates think that because I'm black, I grew up poor," says another. "Just because I have a Southern accent doesn't mean I'm a bigot" objects a white student. Higher education and workplaces permit daily exposure and encounters among diverse groups of people, who in turn often discover the depth of their ignorance about one another.
Routine Categorization: Each new human life is a bundle of possibilities and has miraculous potential; something terribly wrong happens when a society determines life chances by membership in groups of which the infant is not even yet aware.
Yet, sort we do. Parents, teachers, neighbors, strangers, the mass media, and advertisers all register and sort people by group traits. Old-style sorting, still present in many places, implements long-standing prejudices and privileges of white, able-bodied heterosexual male Christians. An old-style identity politics attacks others based on their identities; it resurges in the burnings of black churches, and in right-wing fundraising campaigns predicated on demonizing gays and lesbians who would like to formalize their committed relationships.
New-style sorting often emerges in response. Many of the routine categories are part of large-scale social efforts to redress discrimination along group lines. Using policies to remedy group-based harms makes the group identities seem all the more real and entrenched, but denying the significance of group-based experiences leaves legacies of harm and stereotyping in place. By now, Americans take for granted that they identify themselves, and others, in terms of group categories. The census, mortgage applications, student financial aid forms, consumer surveys, and public opinion polls ask for information on race, gender, and ethnicity. Government and other institutions make these categories the building blocks for perceiving and sorting people.
When are the uses of group categories a valuable remedy, and when a further mistake? Consider the example of education. The all-male Virginia Military Institute resisted applications from women and lost in the Supreme Court because it failed to show a strong reason to maintain its exclusion along gender lines. When school reformers planned an all-girl school for disadvantaged girls in Harlem, civil rights activists challenged the plan as a violation of constitutional and statutory guarantees of equality while other activists defended it as a thoughtful response to inadequate educational opportunities for poor, African American girls. In another case, Asian-American students sued a competitive-admission public high school for using higher test cutoffs for their racial group than for others.
A college appointed a new director of its Jewish Studies program who resigned under pressure of attacks that he should not serve because he is not himself Jewish. An appellate court decision rejected the affirmative action effort of the University of Texas law schoolbut observers worry that the school could quickly return to its not so distant all-white past. Learning-disabled students sue a university for creating a hostile learning environment by requiring recent expert assessments of their conditions before they can receive services; meanwhile, the numbers of students claiming services because of learning disabilities grows exponentially. At the same time, civil rights advocates investigate why such a disproportionate number of nonwhites are placed in special education classrooms.
Beyond the context of education, people turn to group identities to answer vexing problems. How should we frame elections of government representatives? How should juries be composed? How can claims be aggregated in class action lawsuitsalong what lines of commonality? How should a university, workplace, or a city respond to incidents of hate speech? Who should be eligible for United States citizenship? Who should be selected to adopt a child whose skin is "brown" or "black"or "white"?
If we do not sort people when we answer these questions, historic mistreatment along group lines will go unremedied. Denied the vote by this country's founding law and, in some parts of the country, by practices continuing into the present, African Americans cannot gain basic rights of participation without being recognized as a group. This does not dictate the form that recognition should take or the voting arrangements best designed to rectify exclusions, yet some explicit attention is needed if the exclusionary patterns are not to continue. Accommodating persons with disabilities in the workplace similarly requires identification.
At the same time, uses of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and other identity categories make leading public figures warn of the "disuniting" of America, or of distraction from more serious economic injustices. The sorting impulse is contagious. Identity politics seems to breed identity politics. "Kiss me, I'm Irish" once responded to "Black is Beautiful"; now "white men" become an identity group, confident of their desert and unembarrassed by their self-interest. As cultural politics take center stage, economic disparities recede from public view. Cynical politicians may even foment conflicts among groups to advance their own power. If this is true, then proud defenses by groups against group hatred may play right into the hands of those who would divide for their own selfish gain. Resources for personal meaning include group affiliations, but those affiliations also provide predicates for violence and subordination.
A close examination of identity questions in social and legal settings can illustrate the insights and limitations on each side of disputes. I will explore potentially more constructive approaches to the underlying concerns of equality, liberty, and overcoming old and new forms of oppression. The aim is not so much to advocate a new set of policies as to articulate a more productive philosophy about policies and problems surrounding identity themes.
II. IDENTITY QUESTIONS IN CASTING, HIRING, AND ELECTORAL POLITICS
Looking at the parallels between the law school hiring context and the Miss Saigon casting controversy reveals the passions as well as the conceptions that operate in conflicting arguments. Both settings occasion disagreements over the assumption that group membership serves as a proxy for shared experiences, and especially common experiences as victims of societal prejudice. Proponents of group consciousness at times advocate this strategy as a response to historic exclusion; another goal is to offer role models for members of historically excluded groups.
Opponents, styled as defenders of neutrality, resist such arguments because they undermine the commitment to treating individuals as individuals. Some opponents further charge that the call for hiring members of racial minorities is incoherent if the advocates' real motives are to hire someone who holds a particular, "politically correct" view. Skin color is no determinant of such views, this argument continues, and political litmus tests for hiring violate academic freedom. As for the role model argument, any individual should be able to inspire the next generation, claim the defenders of neutrality. Thus, Jonathan Pryce, the white English actor cast by the producer for the role in Miss Saigon, commented: "What is appropriate is that the best person for the job play the role, and I think it's completely valid that I play the role." Translated for law school hiring, this argument sounds like: "What is appropriate is that the best person for the job get the job; excellence must not be sacrificed for other considerations."
About Miss Saigon, arts critic Frank Rich commented: "By refusing to permit a white actor to play a Eurasian role, Equity makes a mockery of the hard-won principles of non-traditional casting and practices a hypocritical reverse racism." Similarly, though perhaps less vividly, professors have argued that demanding the appointment of a professor because of his or her sex and race contravenes hard-fought principles of equal opportunity and color-blindness.
Even more directly on point were arguments over a hiring controversy at Harvard a few years back: when the administration invited one white civil rights lawyer and one black civil rights lawyer to visit the school and teach a course on civil rights, students protested the school's failure to hire a full-time faculty member of color for such a course. In its defense, the Harvard administration challenged the idea that a white person who had devoted his life to the subject could not teach about civil rights.
In contrast, Ellen Holly, a black actress, commented about the Miss Saigon casting debate:
Racism in America today is nothing so crass as mere hatred of a person's skin color. It is rather an affliction of so many centuries' duration that it permeates institutions to the point of becoming indivisible from them. Only when the darker races attempt to break out of the bindand inconvenience whites in the processdo whites even perceive racism as an issue. Only when a white is asked to vacate a role on racial grounds does the matter become a front-page issue.
Analogously, in law school faculties around the country, individuals argue about institutionalized racism. Some observers argue that implicit preferences for people who are part of the "old-boy network" go unnoticed, while preferences for someone from a traditionally excluded group provoke an uproar. Advocates for change assert that only changed demographics in hiring should count as evidence that historic exclusions are being overcome.
From this point of view, what may look like a preference for a member of a racial minority is really an effort to counteract a preference for whites. But another argument for preferring members of racial minorities simply views them as specially qualified people for the job at hand. In the wake of the Miss Saigon controversy, the distinguished playwright August Wilson defended his demand for a black director for the film production of one of his plays. He explained:
We are an African people who have been here since the early 17th century. We have a different way of responding to the world. We have different ideas about religion, different manners of social intercourse. We have different ideas about style, about language. We have different aesthetics. Someone who does not share the specifics of a culture remains an outsider, no matter how astute a student or how well-meaning their intentions. I declined a white director not on the basis of race but on the basis of culture. White directors are not qualified for the job.
Similarly, an African American professor is needed, many argue, because that person will bring cultural perspectives otherwise missing from the law school community. That perspective will enrich the classroom, the scholarship, the counseling of students who share that background, and the counseling of students who do not share that background. Similarly, some law school faculty members conclude that their school should hire a Hispanic professor, because the increasing numbers of Hispanic students need the knowledge held by that person and because white, Asian, and African American students need to see a Hispanic person in the respected position at the head of the class. Hence the slogan, "No education without representation."
An additional argument is that professors are role models, and only members of historically excluded groups can serve adequately as role models for students of those groups. This issue surfaced vividly when at Galludette University (for deaf and hearing-impaired students) students' protests over the nomination of a hearing president led to the hiring of its first hearing-impaired president. Some who support this role model idea maintain, somewhat differently, that only a variety of role models can serve the needs of all students. Thus the special pedagogical needs of students who are members of minority groups are distinct from and yet complementary to the benefit all students derive from diversity among the faculty. Further, in a distributive justice sense, the focus on race and sex in hiring should serve to shift resources, including the resource of academic attention, to new agendas for legal scholarship and teaching. Similarly, the presence of actors of color in a play can encourage young people of color to consider acting as a career, just as professors of color can inspire nonwhite students to pursue academic careers. Yet individualists would object that any person, regardless of race, gender, or other group trait, should be able to inspire members of the next generation to achieve, whether through academic study or artistic accomplishment.
Even more striking than these parallels in opposing arguments is the parallel between those who find the entire framework of debate unacceptable, whether in the context of Miss Saigon casting or law school hiring. Playwright David Henry Hwang, one of the first to complain about the casting choice in Miss Saigon, later said that he could not choose between minority casting and the producer's right to cast whom he wants, because that is "like asking me to pick between my father and my mother; I can't. It's real hard for me to pick between artistic freedom on the one hand and discrimination on the other." Similarly, some law professors argue that the choice cannot be between excellence and diversity because both are critical. In addition, many reject the implication that schools must trade or sacrifice some excellence in order to achieve diversity.
One person struggling with these tensions concluded that at least the debate over the casting in Miss Saigon brought the chronic difficulties facing actors of color to public attention. Shirley Sun, director, producer, and writer of the recent film Iron and Silk concluded that "'Artistic freedom' should not be used to exclude any group. If the stage is a sublime place where any actor can play any role, why can't an Asian or Asian-American play a Eurasian role?" If theater offers the possibility that actors can entice audiences to suspend their disbelief and be transported by crafted illusions, why cannot more actors have this chance to transport the audience? The casting decision in Miss Saigon, on this view, was not about matching the actor's race with the character's race, but about the magical creation of an illusion of reality by whichever actor gains the chance to play the role.
Some producers specifically endorse cross-racial casting, not only to give the best candidate the chance with the role, but also to enrich and challenge the plays with the different dimensions that casting may afford. Similar arguments are offered for entire cross-cultural productions, such as the Cleveland Play House presentation of The Glass Menagerie with a black cast. Here, the parallels to law school hiring may become somewhat strained, yet faculties often consider it a "plus" to hire a woman or a person of color to teach business-related subjects, such as corporations, securities law, and taxation, as contrasted with civil rights and family law courses.
Arguments over the place of group identity also animate other debates. Should juries be selected to mirror the diversity in the population, with individuals representing specific constituencies, or should the selection be random, even if particular juries end up with members who all share a race, a gender, or an ethnic background? Should lawyers be able to exclude candidates for a jury because of group membership, and thus treat that membership as a proxy for viewpoint? Or should groups be protected from such jury exclusion, and if so, which groupsbased on race, gender, religion, occupation, primary language? Should a client pick a lawyer based on group membership? Should a gay attorney argue a case involving gay rights or would it be better, strategically, to select a heterosexual attorney? Should a male defendant charged with rape select a female attorney, and should a female attorney be willing to market her gender as part of the persuasive strategy of defense?
Perhaps most analogous to the casting and hiring debates are disagreements over electoral politics and voting rules. Should electoral processes seek to produce representatives who match their voting districts by race, or other features? The Voting Rights Act has inspired efforts to redraw district lines to prevent dilution of the effect of votes cast by members of racial minorities. Civil rights activists had supported enforcement of these provisions with the particular hope of increasing the number of minority representatives elected to office. Critics of race-consciousness attack the Act and its implementation for focusing on race rather than seeking racial neutrality.
Gender, ethnicity, and other group traits also trigger clashes in the design of electoral processes. In The Politics of Presence, Anne Phillips observes and defends a recent trend stressing a range of personal characteristics of representatives, along with, or even instead of, the ideas they advance. Differences among people involve not only ideas and beliefs, but also identities reflecting group experiences. These differences deserve representation.
As a result, "[a]dequate representation is increasingly interpreted as implying a more adequate representation of the different social groups that make up the citizen body." Representatives should "mirror" or resemble those they represent. The strategy pursued by some states under the federal Voting Rights Act carves up geographic boundaries for voting districts to produce districts with a majority of nonwhite voters in order to increase the chance of electing nonwhite representatives. Several European political parties use quota systems to produce gender parity in elected assemblies. Demands for political presence, as Phillips would describe it, grow from social movements against inequalities arising from traits other than class. Political presence becomes a growing concern in the wake of global migration patterns, producing more diverse local populations, and apparently waning national and class-based identities.
Leaders of identity-based social movements acknowledge that they cannot fairly speak for the interests of members until engaging with those members to discover who they are and what matters to them. Once again, actual presence is crucial; leaving it to others will not work. Yet the problem of "too many meetings" for too many people yields to the solution of representatives, matched by identity group. The mechanisms for consulting with group members remain far from perfect.
Those who demand attention to group difference anticipate and reject the alternatives of neutrality and indifference to group identities. Claims to neutrality in the past have accompanied group-based exclusions and degradations. Apparently neutral, abstract norms governing selection of representatives, and other features of government in operation, have frequently failed to reflect, or represent, the experiences, interests, and needs of the full variety of human beings. Equality under the law itself has been construed to benefit some, but not all, people.
Thus, equal protection against discrimination on the basis of sex is not violated, according to the Supreme Court, when an employer refuses to include pregnancy in its insurance coverage, because not only men but also some women are not pregnant at any given time. Criminal statutes traditionally defined rape to require a victim to fight back physically, rather than merely say "No"; this reflects a traditionally male conception of sexuality and self-defense. A statutory guarantee of freedom of contract may look neutral. But if it lacks any prohibition against racially discriminatory treatment within those contracts, anyone in jeopardy of discrimination on the basis of race would view this as a perversely crabbed interpretationeven if it is the one adopted by the Supreme Court. Buildings open to the public but inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs are not neutral, but disabling; mass transit systems that are hazardous to people with visual or hearing impairments are also not neutral but instead prefer some people over others. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, and some judicial opinions look behind apparently neutral practices to find discriminatory effects and to advance a vision of equality as inclusion. Although these developments have in turn triggered opposition and resistance, questions about exclusion along group lines resonate and reverberate in public debate.
These questions are especially pointed in the context of electoral representation. Members of an historically excluded group therefore say to those outside their group who claim to speak for them: "You don't know, and you get it wrong." Or worse, "You do know, and you do us wrong," as in deliberate racism. Moreover, "we want to speak for ourselves"; or "only with a representative of our own group can we each have the vicarious experience of speaking and being there." At its base, the focus on group differences assumes sharp divisions among groups organized around sociological identities, and also expresses doubts about claimed comprehension or solidarity across these divisions.
Of course, others disagree. Color-blind individualists oppose race-based thinking, and assert that people can well represent those who look unlike themselves. For those with this view, concerns about equality are better handled by treating each individual as equal than by proceeding along group lines. According and enforcing rights to each individual through general commitments to neutrality and equality, in the best scenario, will overcome past group-based mistreatments. Using group-based categories would violate this vision. Many take the same position when addressing questions about ethnic and language minority groups. In this view, electoral districts should not be drawn along racial lines. Even worse would be proportional representation, for it would require identifying and installing group categories in the process of politics. Similarly, advocates of individualism and neutrality oppose gender distinctions in electoral rules with the added emphasis on women's position as often near, or more than, a majority across electoral districts.
Besides the defenses of neutrality and treating each individual as an individual, resisters to group-based electoral rules can draw on evidence of people's capacities to empathize, and change, regardless of group membership. People are malleable and can learn to share and behave altruistically in environments promoting those goals. Accordingly, representatives do not have to look like or even share experiences with those they represent. The messages from this perspective to those who emphasize group differences are (1) don't be so sure others don't care to understand or can't understand you; (2) people who don't look alike can still work together, even to advance the interests of those who have been excluded in the past; (3) people can learn from one another; and (4) the rules we adopt will influence whether we grow more self-interested or instead more altruistic and capable of empathy. Rules of representation therefore should promote intergroup dealings and deliberation.
Group-based categories thus offend those who are committed to individualism and also offend some who are committed to a deliberative community. For others, group-based categories are too large and crude to capture the variety and multiplicity of individuals' identities. A cascade of objections to proportional representation or other group-based strategies emerge from this perspective. How many differences now need to be represented? Can a Latina represent Hispanic men as well as women? Must the African American caucus divide along gender lines, and country-of-origin lines, and class lines? Must the gender caucus divide along racial lines, and then, ethnic, sexual orientation, religion, and disability lines? If so, how can any political movement emerge? Why should we assume that sociological traits of a person, traits like race or gender, match interests or preferences? Why, indeed, assume that an individual's identity is natural or fixed rather than chosen, constructed by society, or in flux?
With this last set of objections, debates over group identity come full circle. For worries that race and gender are too general to capture important dimensions of identity are inflected by contemporary preoccupations with identity, difference, and distrust. They do not reflect faith in neutrality or a focus on each unique individual; nor do they indicate Edmund Burke's confident elitism or faith in the objectivity of interests. Indeed, these questions express emphatic distrust along lines of differencebut because the differences are multiple and shifting, conventional groupings are inadequate. Given the crisscrossing arguments for and against group-based thinking in casting, hiring, and voting rules, is it possible to articulate what seems powerful, and what seems mistaken, in all the positions in this debate?
III. BOTH RIGHT, BOTH WRONG
An old story is told of disputants who consulted a rabbi. He listened intently to the first person's story, and then announced, "You're right." Then the rabbi heard the second person's completely opposing version, and concluded, "You're right." The rabbi's wife was listening through the door, and shouted back, "They can't both be right." The rabbi replied, "You're right, too."
The critics and the advocates of identity politics each have important and valid perceptions. On the one hand, there are dangers from people do not "fit" categories. Some people fall between categories. All people are artificially reduced to one feature when typed by race, disability, or any single category. Any given trait is both too limiting and too general to do justice to an individual. Every person has a race, and a gender, along with perhaps countless characteristics, and each modifies and inflects the others. A Caribbean American heterosexual male whose family has lived in Louisiana for two generations, an African American lesbian in Los Angeles, and a recent immigrant mother who left her children in Liberia may share some interests but not others; a first-generation Catholic Cambodian girl who is blind and lives in Minneapolis has some, but not many, things in common with the fourth-generation Chinese American boy who is a gymnast and an atheist, or the Chinese infant girl recently adopted by the Jewish couple in Ohio. Yet, in much of contemporary America, the fact that all of these people are not white will deeply influence their reception in dominant institutionsand affect how they themselves react to a range of potential self-affiliations.
Being assigned to categories and choosing to embrace a category involve complex interactions among people, historical settings, and events. No clear answer can be found to resolve who is in and who is out of any given category once we compare how people identify themselves, how groups identify their own members, and how nonmembers attribute traits to others. "Race" lacks any coherent definition. Ethnicities change, subdivide, and merge. An individual can shift, through his or her lifetime, across different stages of able-bodied and disabled experiences; some people also move through different sexual orientations, genders, and religions.
On the other hand, the weight of group identities is undeniable. Social institutions, such as law, work to make them seem real. So do long histories of enslavement, subordination, or other sustained maltreatment based on national origin, skin color, religion, and other group traits. Identity politics centrally responds to mistreatment along group linesmistreatment that has been and, too often, remains real. There is no rush to the front of the line by political voices from outside affected groups to name and fight discrimination and group-based National Council of Churches and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, representing other identity groups, organized an early response, and later Congress and white fundamentalist church groups joined in response.
It is no mistake to perceive a political landscape marked by countless people who deny, do not care about, or even endorse versions of racism, sexism, anti-immigrant, and anti-gay feelings, as well as tensions across religious and ethnic group lines. As long as race seems a problem for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians but not for whites; gender a problem for women but not for men; anti-Semitism a problem for Jews but not for gentiles; homophobia a problem for gays and lesbians but not for straights; then more intensive remembering, acknowledging, and raging will be pursued by those who feel they cannot leave the issues any more than they can leave their skins.
Moreover, it does little good to tell people to halt the preoccupation with group identity and past pain, defer to the common good, unite around economic issues, or let go of rage over racism. Such an approach does not work. Rather, it sounds like indifference to or complicity with historic and ongoing oppression drawn of particular groups. Those who feel continually demeaned and excluded cannot trust calls for neutrality, universality, and the common good.
Wishing away identity politics also neglects the hunger for memory and acknowledgment that people knowor believeafford a sense of place and meaning. Satisfying that hunger gives energy for joining with others. Finding a place where community and reciprocal affiliation seem obvious affords comfort and strength.
Against implicit and explicit put-downs, some people seize on the identity group as a source of pride. "Lo and Behold, here in our midst is dissimilarity that simply could not be squelched, and that now is insisting on its right to flourish"; an observer of the conflict between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians could be speaking of the United States. Asserting an identity group can give people a sense of place and connection that otherwise feel absent or beyond their control. For example, an Asian American student group forms, although one member says he never cared to identify as Korean American before leaving home, and another says she never felt any commonality between Japanese and Chinese Americans until so many people assumed she was one when she was the other. Not only do people find they share common experiences, they invent commonalities against the anonymity of larger institutional settings.
Meeting and working within groups that share a race, or gender, or other trait, does not end or reduce disagreements for those in the group. For example, women disagree intensely about regulating pornography. People of color disagree about restricting hate speech. Gays and lesbians disagree about authorizing same-sex marriage. In these disagreements, participants aver they are for the good of the entire group. They simply disagree about how to advance it. Yet members of groups also often disagree about who else should be a member, and about the meanings of group membership itself. American Indian tribes struggle over definitions of membership, and debate questions such as should blood, and to what degree, matter; how should intermarriage be treated; and should assimilation to the dominant culture affect one's status as an Indian. Jews have similarly disagreed among themselves about who is a Jew, with questions over whether the traditional prerequisite of a Jewish mother can be supplemented with the alternative of a Jewish father, as well as questions about whether Jews should accept external, and genocidal, attributions of Jewishness by the Nazis. Tactical judgments about dealings with outsiders may be part of the debates here, alongside issues of meaning, culture, and continuity.
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