Moving from anti-racism to pro-multiculturalism

Sam Smith – Although we have to keep fighting against racism, an aspect of this issue that gets lost is how to create a well functioning multi-cultural society in which our  relationships are considered assets and not just major problems to be solved. With considerable assistance from the media we have come to view ethnic relations by their negative aspects rather than as a better society for which to strive. 

As a anthropology major, jazz musician, uncle with four Puerto Rican nephews and nieces and as an activist who lived as part of DC’s white minority for five decades, this is not a major problem for me, but I’m conscious, especially in following the media, of how little attention is given to how multiculturalism makes folks lives better. So I thought I’d offer a few suggestions, not about ending racism, necessary as that is, but taking advantage of the multi-ethnicity that we are have. For example

Let’s hear more from and about bi-ethnic couples. The latest estimate is that 17% of new marriages are bi-ethnic. Black ethnicity, by contrast, makes up only 12% of the population.  But neither the media nor public seem pay much attention to inter-ethnic marriages. And what about the history of multi-ethnic effort. For example, one the things that helped DC blacks to power in the 1960s was their common support with whites for home rule and against freeways

Don’t just lecture your kids, tell them stories. What have been some of the happy cross-ethnic experiences in your life? We tend to forget that good tales can affect people as much as sad or bad ones. 

Let the kids tell their stories at school. One of the best assemblies I attended as head of the parents association for a DC public school was one in which a bunch of students got to describe their religion, ranging from Catholic to hippie Sikh. The same could be tried in class for students of different ethnicities describing how they were being raised in their culture. 

Offer courses in multiculturalism in grade and high school. How do we expect the young to understand other cultures if we don’t even explain them to them? I was blessed with what was then one of only two high school anthropology courses in the country and it helped greatly. 

Redesign the police. There are lots of things we could do to improve our police departments. For example we could get cops out of their cars a few days a week and have them work a neighborhood, and get to know people in it, while patrolling on foot. We could assign lawyers to every police precinct headquarters to train officers in legally acceptable approaches to their efforts. We could hire social workers to work with officers in handling mentally based problems. We could have neighborhood leaders meet with officers to discuss how best to handle folks in their ‘hood. In other words, we could bring police into our communities and not have them act like military overseers. 

Include black, latino and other cultures in high school history courses: And don’t forget to teach the multicultural history of your own town. It makes it more personal. For example, I became an even greater fan of Frederick Douglass when I visited his house and found he had a shed to which he escaped to write and think and called it his growlery. 

Emphasize the future over the past. One of the things that worries me these days is the emphasis on terrible things that happened in the past that tend to suggest we’re not going to do much better. It’s sort of like what you find in dysfunctional families where some of the children never overcome the bad things done to them when they were young. Yes, teach slavery but also teach about blacks who overcame bad times and what we could be doing now.


These are just a few suggestions to help start redefining the tone and techniques .our approach to ethnicity.  There are lots more, but I just thought it was time to talk about making things better rather than just dealing with the evil resulting from our failure to do so.