by Patricia McBroom
A dozen Berkeley scholars from disciplines as diverse as art, law, literature, sociology and geography take on the thorny issues of race and affirmative action in a special issue of the journal Representations, published by the University if California Press.
Their essays address the historical, legal, philosophical and sociological implications of the Board of Regents' decision last year to eliminate race, gender and ethnicity as factors in university admissions and employment.
Edited by Boalt Hall's Professor Robert Post and Professor of Political Science Michael Rogin, the special issue aims to offer a trend setting critical analysis of the regents' decision and also to provide new observations on the role of diversity in higher education.
The journal is aimed usually at humanities scholars, but publishers hope this issue, Representations 55, will appeal to leaders and policy makers outside the university.
Providing a view of diversity from inside the classroom, Barbara Christian, professor of African American studies, writes: "The classes at Berkeley, at least my classes, are like a United Nations, filled with students from a multitude of backgrounds -- Bangladeshi, West African, Canadian, East Asian, Latin American, European -- who are Americans. Scholars and students of color have generated new areas of inquiry on, for example, diasporas, sexualities, borders and languages. The young people I teach (including young, white men) are engaging each other in a conversation that is inclusive of ethnicities and cultures worldwide, the kind of conversation we need if we are to save this planet....
"Academics of color have not just performed a civil service. We have extended the landscapes of American and British literatures (to include, for example, Irish and South Asian traditions within the United States and Britain). We are forging ahead to transform the concept of American literatures as including the literature of South America, possibly the richest in the world today. And we are transcending the borders of disciplines to produce interdisciplinary studies."
In a concluding essay, titled "California's Collision of Race and Class," Richard Walker, professor and geography chair, warns that "Today's Californians face the profound task of integrating a plethora of non-European peoples into what is still overwhelmingly a white man's republic, and their success or failure will mark this nation's history well into the next century."
Walker urges Californians not to lay the blame for anti-affirmative action on simple racism, because, he writes, "This has not been a working-class movement, but an elite war of position. It has had its minions among the everyday folk, the Christians and faith-healers of the market, but it has been led, funded and imagined by the powerful, and the evidence of their backing and benefit is overwhelming.
"Despite the right-wing chorus of racial disharmony, the majority of white people in California have welcomed immigrants as fellow workers, neighbors and members of the commonwealth. It has been political opportunism and mass disenfranchisement, more than popular sentiment from below, that has turned Proposition 187 into a winner and threatens affirmative action programs."
Other Berkeley faculty contributing essays include Troy Duster, Jorge Klor de Alva, Judith Butler, Marianne Constable, Anne Wagner, Rachel Moran and Michael Omi.
Editor'' note: The introduction and excerpts of the essays are available at http://violet.berkeley.edu:7000