We tend to think of group identity as being more fixed than it really is. That's partly because one reason we create groups is to save ourselves...
We tend to think of group identity as being more fixed than it really is. That’s partly because one reason we create groups is to save ourselves the trouble of considering a million variations each time we think about human behavior.
Who wants to do all that thinking?
Reds think this, blues think that is easier than trying to keep track of the varieties of each side, not to mention the overlaps, and constant shifts. Even though we try to ignore it, complexity is always popping its head up like a prairie dog checking for eagles.
Remember the flap at Gallaudet University, which I’ve read is the nation’s top university for deaf students?
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The board picked for its next president Jane Fernandes, who many students thought was not committed enough to the deaf community. Fernandes was born deaf, but didn’t learn to sign until she was 23 years old.
Signing defines and holds together a core part of the deaf community. Some see a person’s level of commitment to signing as a litmus test of deaf brotherhood.
Every group has inclusion tests. Who’s a real Seattleite, a real man, a real Jew, a real sister? Just plug in the category and there is a test for it, do’s and don’ts and mandatory attributes.
Students who thought Fernandes wasn’t committed enough protested. They feared she would bring in more students who used hearing aids or were otherwise not deaf enough.
And within this crack in group identity, another crack opened. Some black Gallaudet students thought a black candidate who was passed over was more qualified. They said their fellow protesting students weren’t heeding their concerns.
The directors retracted their approval of Fernandes.
One of the reasons Gallaudet has broadened its outreach is that its student body has been shrinking in recent years. A lot of groups expand their definition of who fits when survival is at stake.
I think I mentioned once that some historically black colleges and universities have been giving scholarships to entice students from the former Soviet Union. Black colleges have lost students as obstacles to attending majority institutions decreased.
Now black colleges are trying to woo Latino students. The Hispanic population is growing a lot faster than the black population, and Hispanics, like black people, lag behind white and Asian students in college enrollment.
There are a lot of young people out there who aren’t being served, so these colleges are going after them.
Universities have hired Hispanic recruiters, and set up booths at predominantly Hispanic high schools. There are 103 historically black colleges and universities in the U.S., so competition for students is stiff.
Predictably, some black students have been as worried about maintaining their schools’ blackness as the deaf students at Gallaudet were concerned about remaining true to their core.
But mixing it up is inevitable in this churning cauldron of a society.
“Black Enterprise” ran a story about the increasing number of black students who are joining Latino fraternities or sororities. Some of the black students say Latino Greek organizations tend to be more diverse than black or white ones, and they like the diversity.
By one estimate, Latino Greek organizations are about 10 percent black, and that’s not just black Latino Greeks (OK, with that phrase, we can see why it’s easier to deal with simple groups).
And there is another trend: Latinos moving from Catholicism to Islam in the United States.
Things used to be so simple, or maybe just simple-minded.
Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
His column runs Thursdays and Sundays.