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Beyond the canon, with great difficulty.

THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN I ARRIVED IN CALIFORNIA IN 1963, MY HOME IN NORTHern England seemed a million miles away and, compared to Oxford's medieval fortress where I had studied as an undergraduate, Berkeley represented the university of the future, bursting with activism, dissent, and relevance. Some 10 years later, when I wrote a manifesto for a radical criminology, I was confident that we were engaged in a project that would break the chains of the past (Platt, 1974). Now, another 20 years on in a much smaller and more interdependent globe, and in the wake of the collapse and disintegration of the world's Lefts, my mood is certainly less buoyant, my analysis more somber, my proposals hedged with a string of caveats.

Yet, in case you were hoping, this talk will not be an apology for youthful indiscretions or a plea to be allowed to enter the ranks of positivist criminology. I still think that critical theorists have produced some of the most insightful criminological literature -- from Rusche and Kirchheimer's Punishment and Social Structure (1939), to Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1977), the Birmingham Group's Policing the Crisis (Hall et al., 1978), and Mike Davis' recent (1990) critique of the "War on Drugs" in Los Angeles -- and helped to create dialogue in a profession that too often has been characterized by the clamor of one voice speaking to itself as loudly as possible.

It has been an eternity of three presidential administrations since Criminology has seen a good argument. Leftists and most liberals abandoned or were excluded from the public arena in the early 1980s. We sat out Reagan and Bush, nursing our wounds, leaving the stage to the cost-cutters, empiricists, efficiency experts, and neo-con consultants. Now we have a moment of opening once again, though we should not have illusions that "law and order" will be abandoned by the new administration. Just examine Governor Clinton's record in Arkansas and the campaign's platform on crime.(1) Yet when you promise change and a new deal, people's expectations get raised. And when President Clinton via Maya Angelou tells us "simply/Very simply/With Hope--/Good morning," then it's time to dust off our resumes and shelved ideas.

Good Morning?

It is a healthy sign that, once again, the university is at the center of ideological controversy. Not since the era of the Vietnam War have we seen such heated and volatile arguments about the purposes of higher education, access to universities, curriculum requirements, and civility and language on campus.(2) On the one side are the supporters (including myself) of "multiculturalism," trying to diversify the composition of student and faculty bodies, and the canons of required knowledge. On the other side are the critics of "PC," who regard the multiculturalism project as politicized, intolerant, and irrational. "If there is any doubt," notes Joan Scott (1992: 59), "that the production of knowledge is a political enterprise that involves contest among conflicting interests, the raging debates of the last few years should have dispelled them."

In previous essays (Platt, 1990; 1992), I discussed the legacy of racism in higher education and the roots of the current attack on "political correctness." In this talk, I wish to focus on the obstacles we face in implementing even the most modest reforms relating to "diversity" within the university. Before addressing the challenge, it is important to recognize some significant changes that have taken place within the last 20 years.

Academia is no longer the pure white, old-boys club that it was for a century. When I came to Berkeley in the early 1960s, the student body there was over 90% white, just as it was at every public and private university (with the exception of historically black colleges). Then, women were still intruders: 63% of students were men, 90% of Ph.D.'s, and 80% of faculties. By 1991, students of color had more than doubled their participation in the university; women made up more than half of all undergraduates, about one-third of all graduate students, and a third of university faculties (Scott, 1992: 68). At some elite colleges, like Berkeley, whites are now the new "minority" in the incoming undergraduate class (Duster, 1991).

Ethnic Studies and Women Studies, created in the 1970s primarily as a result of student pressure on reluctant and often hostile administrations, found enclaves in which to survive and endure. There has been enough of an increase in the number of professors of color throughout the university to make a visible difference because there were so few before; and there has been a little progress in challenging the gendered and racialized tracking of faculties. It is possible, though very rare, to take a course on Shakespeare from an African American man or on physics from a Latina. In addition, in recent years many universities have developed new programs -- multicultural centers, consciousness-raising workshops, mediation projects, etc.--designed to educate new students, symbolize a commitment to diversity, and arbitrate race-gender-sexuality disputes.

Intellectually, this is a lively time for theoretical work and engaged debates--about feminism and gender studies, essentialist visions of Afrocentricity and anti-essentialist theories of cultural identity, universal versus particularist conceptions of science, and postmodernist dismantling of canons, to name a few.(3) In many universities, curriculum committees are busy at work constructing new (or recycled), required (or strongly recommended) courses in multiculturalism and World Civ., or figuring out how to "infuse" existing courses with appropriate doses of Otherness. The voices of hitherto silenced constituencies can be heard more and more in texts and classrooms.(4) This conceptual renaissance is all over the ideological map and appropriately decentered but, wonder of wonders, academia actually resembles a marketplace of ideas. At times.

Overall, however, the successes have been few, partial, hard-fought, precarious, and easily lost (Carby, 1992; Gates, 1992; Martinez, 1992). The situation for white women in the university is generally improved, yet they continue to get paid less than men with comparable backgrounds, to be tracked into gender-typed disciplines (nursing, education, social work, and the humanities), and to be overwhelmingly nontenured (National Education Association, 1993: 25--29; Daniels, 1991: 19).(5) With respect to ethnic diversity, aside from the slow increase in the number and proportion of Asian-born and Asian-American professors in selected disciplines, we have either held or lost ground in the last 20 years.(6) American Indians (less than one percent of all faculty) and Latinos (about two percent) remain almost as invisible on most campuses today as they did prior to affirmative action, while African Americans (three percent) risk sliding off the low plateau they reached years ago. In the 1990s, for both full-time and part-time faculty, the racial divide prevails: 90% are white (National Education Association, 1992: 19; National Education Association, 1993: 7).

The paltry statistics for African American intellectuals actually understate the problem. Many intellectuals categorized as "black" are Caribbean or African nationals. Moreover, most African Americans teach at historically black institutions, while the proportion of black professors teaching full-time at state colleges and elite universities has decreased in the last decade (Jaynes and Williams, 1989: 375; Carby, 1992: 188--189). In 1992, only two percent of faculty at predominantly white universities were African American (National Education Association, 1992: 18). Moreover, the situation only promises to get worse in the near future: 80% of all degrees earned by African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians are awarded by 20% of the nation's colleges (Ibid.); more African Americans received Ph.D.'s in 1982 (1,047) than in 1991 (933), and less than half plan a college career (de Witt, 1992: 15; Gates, 1992: 4); with a drop-out rate of over 35% in high school and a much higher one in college, it is no wonder that Latinos received only 3.1% of all bachelor's degrees awarded in 1990 (Celis, 1993: 13).

In sum, I would say that we are at a very difficult crossroads, where it will be easy to go backwards, but hard and complex to move ahead. The struggle for multiculturalism and diversity in higher education requires that we operate on a number of separate but interrelated arenas.

Beyond the University

We need to be politically active on a variety of fronts. We should not limit our activism to the university, which, after all, is the last stop in a long process of educational tracking. How can we accept the trappings of an undergraduate multicultural curriculum within an educational system that is structured on racial and class inequalities? Genuine diversity in higher education can only work if there is equality of opportunity and resources at the bottom of the educational ladder. It will take much more than Clinton's modest tax proposals to reverse more than a decade of malicious neglect. The return of "hyper-segregation" in many cities means that we are almost back to the pre--1954 situation of educational apartheid, with the overwhelming majority of African American, Latino, American Indian, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian students tracked into oblivion and failure. The Los Angeles County school district, for example, where students of color make up over 87% of the student body, is in financial chaos, its students lucky if they graduate, never mind make it to college (Gross, 1993: 1). When the Whittle project gets under way and if tax credits are granted to private education, the divide will widen even more and it will be impossible to distinguish between the metropolitan school, city jail, and homeless shelter. Hazel Carby (1992: 17) asks the hard question: "Have we as a society successfully eliminated the desire for achieving integration through political agitation for civil rights and opted instead for knowing each other through cultural texts?"

Hearts and Minds

Intellectually, the anti-political correctness crowd is winning the ideological wars of position. They have produced the pundits, the books, the Sunday magazine articles, and the sound bites. By now, we know their names as well as commercial jingles: Allan Bloom, Shelby Steele, Dinesh D'Souza, Diane Ravitch, Martin Anderson, George Will, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Camille Paglia, to name some of the celebrities. Their success no doubt is due to their financial connections, the conservatism of publishing houses, and the media's enthusiastic collusion. Yet an important part of their appeal lies in their capacity to engage the "politics of signification" and to cast their vision in populist terms (drawing upon images of meritocracy, individualism, and universalism). So far, we have failed to articulate an equally compelling vision of multicultural education. We need to translate our ideas about equality, diversity, and a critical pedagogy into what Stuart Hall (1988: 48) calls "the language of experience, moral imperative, and common sense, thus providing a 'philosophy' in the broader sense."

State of Siege

Within academia, the multicultural project moved slowly and unevenly during the 1980s, impeded by the absence of mass protest movements and the general depoliticized nature of student and faculty life. At universities where progressive students were organized and active, or where a faculty group took initiative, or where the administration was receptive or committed to reforms, hard-fought changes in curriculum and student/faculty diversity were implemented and some space was created for projects such as a multicultural center or faculty retraining programs.

On most campuses, however, there has not been much enthusiasm for this kind of innovation. Political conservatism, bureaucratic inertia, and the fiscal crisis combined to keep multicultural projects on the defensive, fighting for legitimacy and scarce resources. Moreover, as Joan Scott (1992) has observed, the campaign for diversity of ideas and people within the university is framed largely in technocratic terms that reduce deep conflicts over power, authority, and privilege to the symbolic recognition of group cultural identity; or enervating campaigns to legislate the most modest curriculum reforms; or the mediation of conflicts between intolerant individuals.

In the past (for example, efforts to legitimize Marxism in the 1930s or the antiracism struggles of the 1950s and 60s), students could be counted on as an integral part of the leadership and base of progressive movements. For a generation who grew up during the unraveling of Leftism and the flowering of neoconservatism under Reagan and Bush, the situation is different and more complex. Today, especially in state and city colleges, most students are apolitical in the sense that they do not join specifically political organizations; they are more likely to express their politics and ideologies through cultural, religious, and athletic clubs. Moreover, the ideological lines are not simply or clearly drawn: there are gay Republicans, African American right-to-lifers, Latinos for military intervention in Iraq, homophobic antiracists, etc.

In addition, most of our students grew up in a highly segregated society, rarely working or living alongside people of a different ethnicity. The university is the first place where most Anglo students are forced to negotiate difference and diversity. For students of color and gay/lesbian students, the campus is often the first public institution to offer a place and a space for their identities. Yet there are no models for how to negotiate this diversity, so most students play it safe in the classroom and hang out in familiar social cliques outside the classroom. Students of color and gay/lesbian students typically describe their experience on campus as strangers in a foreign land, while many white students feel threatened by hordes of Others. A state of siege seems to be the most common metaphor used by all students who are self-conscious about their identities on campus (Duster, 1991).

Universities all over the country report an atmosphere of social unease, rumbling just below the surface or exploding in racist, sexist, and homophobic incidents. This results from several interrelated factors: the increasing willingness of "minorities" to speak out and publicize their grievances; defensiveness and anger among white students about "reverse discrimination" and the "privileges of affirmative action"; and the lack of a language and discourse of "race relations" that speaks to the new campus diversity. Some universities have tried to address these tensions through intensive workshops and training sessions for incoming students or the creation of multicultural centers. These are helpful, but insufficient. Most administrations still take a laissez-faire approach until "incidents" occur; then damage control and cooling out are typically the modus operandi. Meanwhile the social relations of the campus are becoming increasingly strained as more and more students feel that they are beleaguered and "on show," or that the only way in which they can assert their identity and voice is at the expense of others.

Multiculturalism has to be more than a special project or piecemeal reform to diversify students, faculty, and ideas. We need to engage the whole university in acknowledging that the existing institutions and discourse of race relations are inadequate to the crisis we face. The current model assumes that consensus is desirable and can be achieved through conflict management and a symbolic pluralism. In the short-run, it is important to create "ground rules for coexistence," but also we should not deny the persistence of deep divisions and conflicts over access, resources, and knowledge that cannot be solved by tokenism (Scott, 1992: 77--78). We are asking for trouble if we simply pretend that the university can become an island of inclusion and equality in a society that is obsessed by rece and divided by class, and becoming more so each day.

Canons and Cannons

The old white boys' club has put up significant objections to both sharing the faculty pie and diversifying the canon. Resistance to new ideas by entrenched faculty is in part political, in part generational, and in part a function of bureaucratic sloth. Real debate is rare in institutionalized academia; it takes some getting used to. Even assuming good faith on the part of faculty, the intellectual and pedagogical demands of multiculturalism also are quite daunting.

The last decade's theoretical literature has provoked a great deal of rethinking about and re-visioning of the big three -- class/economics, race/ethnicity, and gender/sexuality. If faculty members are open to teaching multiculturalism (and that's a big if), they need an enormous amout of conceptual resources. Textbooks and readers on multiculturalism are very little help. Typically, they adopt an essentialist, ahistorical, and compensatory framework that, in Hazel Carby's words (1992: 13), does little to "reveal the structures of power relations that are at work in the racialization of our social order." They are not only a decade behind the times, they also reproduce some of the baggage of the hegemonic paradigms: underestimating or minimizing the damage created by racism; treating "whiteness" as an unexamined monolith; reducing ethnicity to a classless, genderless, and heterosexist homogeneity; romanticizing survival techniques; and reinforcing the viability of separatism.(7)

It is not enough to give faculty a recommended reading list or to add on a multicultural module to the existing course. A multiculturalism that goes beyond cosmetics requires rethinking the paradigms that we use and taking on some enormously difficult conceptual challenges -- how to capture the dynamic and relational aspects of ethnicity; how to understand the diversity, as well as unity, within cultural experience; how to go beyond the binary (and bankrupt) strategy of assimilation versus separatism.(8)

Moreover, once "multiculturalism" is unleashed in the classroom, it creates new relations of pedagogy that are often tense, difficult, and seemingly out of control. The instructor who infuses his or her curriculum with diversity must be prepared for a variety of responses: students of color who demand more than what is offered; hostile and defensive white students who do their best to sabotage the curriculum or instructor's composure; complaints by students who feel that their particular ethnicity is underrepresented or that African American concerns are overrepresented; women who feel that gender is discounted; gay and lesbian students who demand equal time for their identity and experience; and emotional arguments among students, leading to angry outbursts, crying, and recriminations. The gender and ethnicity of the instructor are also significant variables in how students respond to a multicultural curriculum. Women instructors and faculty of color report that they meet more resistance and antagonism from students than white men who teach the same content. Thus, it is not enough to give faculty conceptual direction. Equal, if not more attention needs to be paid to how to teach a multicultural curriculum and how to manage classroom conflicts.

Finally, faculty who commit themselves to multiculturalism often will find themselves patronized, isolated, or worse within their own departments. Nontenured faculty especially need support for trying to teach multiculturalism in required courses where the old guard sees innovations in the curriculum as a challenge to their intellectual property. Unfortunately, the individualism and arrogance of university life (protected in the guise of "academic freedom") makes it very difficult to require these defenders of the ca(n)nons to reconceptualize their curricula or, more modestly, to consider that there may be something new for them to learn.


Given the deepening economic crisis and cutbacks in public education, the outlook is not favorable to what is widely regarded as indulgent experimentalism. We need to work on many fronts: outside the university in defense of the public sector and for the economic resources that will make primary education accessible and equal to all students; inside the university to infuse all curricula with multiculturalism, to train and retrain faculty in multicultural competence, and to create new campus institutions that address changing relations of diversity.

Without political intervention, we cannot expect more resources or enthusiasm for diversity projects on campus. The mood is meaner and more self-centered as each unit comes under scrutiny for cost-effectiveness, student-faculty rations, and classroom prodctivity. We will need to organize ourselves to defend what few gains have been made. Yet, more important, we must try to infuse multiculturalism with the kind of moral idealism and authority that was evoked by the Civil Rights Movement. There is a temptation to be pragmatic and incremental, even to argue that higher education as currently constituted can absorb our demands. But we are not just another interest group trying to get our discipline into the curriculum or our faculty onto university committees. What is at stake is far more important -- broad access to higher education; the end of a system of educational apartheid; the democratization of guild-like practices in faculty hiring and promotion; and the creation of campus communities where a discourse of difference and debate is promoted and appreciated.


(1.)"We need to put more police on the streets and more criminals behind bars," promised Clinton and Gore (1992: 71).

(2.)See, for example, Asante (1992), Bloom (1987), Carby (1992), Denning (1992), D'Souza (1991), Garcia (1992), Gless and Smith (1992), Graff (1992), Schlesinger (1992), Steele (1992), Taylor (1992).

(3.)The literature is too massive to cite here, but for some notable examples, see Hall (1992a), Scott (1988), and Wallace and Dent (1992).

(4.)"We are in the midst of a renaissance of black scholarship, both individual and collective," writes Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1992: 3).

(5.)The percentage of Ph.D. scientists who are women doubled from 10% in 1973 to 20% in 1989, but they remain concentrated in the lower ranks. Of 121,400 scientists listed in the 1991 edition of American Men and Women of Science, only about 6% are women (Angier, 1991: 2). Similarly, while women constitute 36% of medical students, the health profession is still highly sex-segregated with 84% of physicians men and 97% of nurses women (Recer, 1991: 7).

(6.)In 1993, four percent of all full-time, university faculty were classified as Asian or Pacific Islander (National Education Association, 1993: 7).

(7.)For critiques of this kind of unquestioning multiculturalism, see Carby (1992); Garcia (1992); Hall (1992a; 1992b; 1990); Scott (1992); Sollors (1986).

(8.)For examples of this kind of complex, theoretical rethinking, see Carby (1992); Hall (1992a; 1992b); Rushdie (1991); Scott (1988); Sollors (1986). For application of this new thinking about race and identity, see the innovative historical studies of Gutierrez (1991) and White (1991).


Angier, Natalie 1991 "Women Lag in Top Science Posts." San Francisco Chronicle (May 21): 2.

Asante, Molefi Kete 1992 "African American Studies: The Future of the Discipline." Black Scholar 22,3 (Summer): 20--29.

Bloom, Allan 1987 The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Carby, Hazel 1992 "The Multicultural Wars." Michele Wallace and Gina Dent (eds.), Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay Press.

Celis, William 3rd 1993 "Colleges Battle Culture and Poverty to Swell Hispanic Enrollments." New York Times (February 24): 13.

Clinton, Bill and Al Gore 1992 Putting People First: How We Can All Change America. New York: Times Books.

Davis, Mike 1990 City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. London: Verso.

Daniels, Lee 1991 "Diversity, Correctness, and Campus Life: A Closer Look." Change (September--October): 16--20.

Denning, Michael 1992 "The Academic Left and the Rise of Cultural Studies." Radical History Review 54 (Fall): 21--47.

de Witt, Karen 1992 "Rise in Number of Black Ph.D.'s Is Reported." New York Times (May 5): 15.

D'Souza, Dinesh 1991 Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. New York: The Free Press.

Duster, Troy (ed.) 1991 The Diversity Project: Final Report. Berkeley: Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California.

Foucault, Michel 1977 Discipline and Punish. New York: Pantheon Books.

Garcia, Mario T. 1992 "Multiculturalism and American Studies." Radical History Review 54 (Fall): 49--56.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. 1992 "African American Studies in the 21st Century." Black Scholar 22,3 (Summer): 3--9.

Gless, Darryl J. and Barbara Herrnstein Smith (eds.) 1992 The Politics of Liberal Education. Durham: Duke University Press.

Graff, Gerald 1992 Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Gross, Jane 1993 "Los Angeles Schools: Hobbled and Hurting." New York Times (February 16).

Gutierrez, Ramon A. 1991 When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500--1846. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hall, Stuart 1992a "The Question of Cultural Identity." Stuart Hall, David Held, and Tony McGrew (eds.), Modernity and Its Futures. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press. 1992b "What Is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?" Michele Wallace and Gina Dent (eds.), Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay Press. 1990 "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." Jonathan Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart. 1988 The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso.

Hall, Stuart et al. 1978 Policing the Crisis. London: Macmillan.

Jaynes, Gerald David and Robin M. Williams, Jr. 1989 A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Martinez, Elizabeth 1992 "Campus Racism Part II: What to Do?" Z Magazine (September): 26--29.

National Education Association 1993 The NEA 1993 Almanac of Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: NEA. 1992 The NEA 1992 Almanac of Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: NEA.

Platt, Anthony M. 1992 "Defenders of the Canon: What's behind the Attack on Multiculturalism?" Social Justice 19,2 (Summer): 122--140. 1990 "Racism in Academia: Lessons from the Life of E. Franklin Frazier." Monthly Review (September): 29--45. 1974 "Prospects for a Radical Criminology in the United States." Crime and Social Justice 1 (Spring--Summer): 2--10.

Recer, Paul 1991 "Report: 'Sex-Segregation' in Health Field." San Francisco Examiner (September 8): 7.

Rushdie, Salman 1991 Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticisms, 1981--1991. London: Granta Books.

Rusche, Georg and Otto Kirchheimer 1968 Punishment and Social Structure. New York: Russell and Russell.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 1992 The Disuniting of America. New York: W.W. Norton.

Scott, Joan Wallach 1992 "The Campaign against Political Correctness: What's Really at Stake." Radical History Review 54 (Fall): 59--79. 1988 Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sollors, Werner 1986 Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Steele, Shelby 1992 The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Taylor, Charles 1992 Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition." Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Michele Wallace and Gina Dent (eds.) 1992 Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay Press.

White, Richard 1991 The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650--1815. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
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Title Annotation:Rethinking Race; multiculturalism in higher education
Author:Platt, Anthony M.
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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