Defusing racial and gender conflicts.

Author:Dziech, Billie Wright
SUMMARY

The 1994 Republican election sweep revealed a clear GOP preference among white males, by 63 to 37%, with the strongest cohort being men aged 23-29. The message they are giving is: it is time to put affirmative action, and its rhetoric of victimization, behind us.

 
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"It is time to turn down the volume, quit taking our gender and race temperatures, cease futile debates about who is most powerless and persecuted, and get on with the task of constructing an equitable society."

We live in an age of oversimplification and exaggeration, of narrow perceptions substituted for realities too complex and paradoxical to be explored on the evening news. For more than a quarter-century, gender and race relations in America have been defined largely from the perspectives of the most adversely affected and thus the most impassioned. Their pain and anger were so powerful that many were deaf to other voices, other expressions of alienation and estrangement.

The elections of 1994 changed that. A lopsided pro-Republican vote among white males, long in the making, sent a message that finally was too definitive to be ignored. White males rejected the Democrats--the political party most identified with women's and minority initiatives--by 63-37%. While other intervening variables affected voting preferences, the size of that victory and the intersection of major issues meant that discussions of race and gender in the U.S. never would be the same. Once white males "spoke" at the polls, they abandoned their formerly defensive position and opened the way for previously taboo discourse about the nation's obligations to them, as well as women and minorities.

Especially significant in the voting statistics was an MTV poll finding that Republican affiliation was most evident among white males aged 23-29. Since a majority of high school graduates now enroll in post-secondary education, many of these young men are the products of academia's intense emphasis over the last decade on diversity training and multicultural education. They also are among those most likely to have actual or perceived experience with affirmative action, and their message, at least in part, to politicians and academicians was as old as America itself: Yesterday has passed; it is time to move on to the future. Moving on has at least three implications for many white males with which others need not agree, but nevertheless can not ignore.

The first of these is refusal to accept collective historical guilt. Past generations of males who assumed without reflection their exclusive rights to vote or enter professional schools and whites who ignored the indignities of separate restrooms and drinking fountains share the burden of shame that still haunts the nation. Unlike their parents and grandparents, however, young white males have a less direct link to the past. They understand its bitter implications for the present, but do not see themselves as causative factors in the national struggle over race and gender.

"I didn't do it. I wasn't even alive when all that happened!" has become a rallying cry for those convinced they are being forced to pay for history in which they had no part. Angry and alienated, they have tired of classroom exhortations and political sermons about white-male, racist, Eurocentric power. Like Franz Kafka's protagonist in The Trial, they feel condemned for crimes they did not commit in a world they did not create.

"I argue ... from the fact," says Kafka's K, "that though I am accused of something, I cannot recall the slightest offense that might be charged against me.... I am completely...

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