There is no doubt that US society is deeply divided along racial, ethnic and religious lines. While schools, corporations and other institutions continue to embrace much needed diversity programmes, many such trainings are based on critical race theory, a misguided and dangerous ideological framework that holds that society’s institutions are inherently racist and that race is a social construct used by whites to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour. Diversity training based on critical race theory is detrimental to race and interfaith relations and has the exact opposite of the intended effect of creating a more just and harmonious society. Indeed, when diversity gurus such as best-selling author Robin DiAngelo insist that white people accept the way black people define their own oppression, and regard any disagreement as evidence of fragility, we despair of America’s national discussion on race.
It is increasingly common for members of minority groups to insist that only members of their own group should get to define prejudice and racism against their own community. Popular Jewish writer Sarah Tuttle-Singer, for example, recently tweeted, “Here is a complete and comprehensive list of the people who get to decide what is or isn’t anti-Semitic: 1. Jews.”
This is known as standpoint theory, which asserts that only members of the marginalized group know what it’s like to be marginalized and therefore only they have the right to describe and define the prejudices against them. Everyone else is supposed to accept any marginalized group member’s account at face value (although in practice this is impossible, given that individual group members often disagree).
We find it hard to imagine genuine engagement and social progress in the straitjacket of standpoint and critical race orthodoxies. People learn by questioning and challenging each other, not by accepting each other’s perspectives on blind faith.
Sociologist Musa al-Gharbi argues that the research shows that diversity training based on critical race and standpoint theories does not work: “It does not seem to meaningfully or durably improve organizational climate or workplace morale; it does not increase collaboration or exchange across lines of difference; it does not improve hiring, retention or promotion of diverse candidates. In fact, the training is often counterproductive.”
For the past three years, we have been part of a ground-breaking Muslim-Jewish engagement initiative called IJMA (Inter Jewish Muslim Alliance). Our collaborative, dialogue-based approach has proven very effective in deepening mutual understanding.
In our recent joint Muslim-Jewish sessions exploring antisemitic and anti-Muslim bigotry and stereotypes, we listened to each other intently. The Jewish participants all, to varying degrees, considered anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism. The Muslim participants all, to varying degrees, considered a focus on Islamic terrorism as furthering stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. But many of the Muslims didn’t agree that firebrand Muslim activist Linda Sarsour’s anti-Zionist diatribes are a form of antisemitism, and many of the Jews didn’t regard Jewish author Daniel Pipes’ numerous rants against Islamism as a form of anti-Muslim bigotry.
One group’s standpoint may therefore at odds with the other’s. Yet members of each community know that members of the other community experience real hate and bigotry. We recognise each other’s vulnerability. Despite our disagreements, therefore, we keep talking, planning joint activities and breaking bread together (virtually for the time being).
If Muslims and Jews were forced to abide by the dictates of critical race and standpoint ideologies, Muslims would be obligated to allow Jewish majority opinion to define what constitutes prejudice against Jews (and vice versa) and would have to pretend to accept those definitions, even if they disagreed.
What use is an ideology that requires people to say things they don’t believe? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening in most diversity training settings.
There’s a lesson for larger society here. True allyship does not mean constant unanimity. It does not mean that everyone must accept our entire narrative, describe society in precisely our terms, subscribe to our theories or repeat our pieties. True allyship requires that we listen to each other and dialogue in good faith. It means interpreting other people’s actions and remarks charitably, whenever possible. And it means protecting each other from hatred, violence and discrimination.
Today’s diversity trainings should emphasize finding our common humanity amid our differences. They should avoid models that dictate what we must believe about the other group, shame participants for disagreeing or coerce them into making false confessions.
We have many divides to bridge in our society. We hope misguided approaches that limit dialogue will give way to more meaningful exchanges resulting in deeper understanding and much needed reconciliation. In the meantime, our group of American Jews and Muslims will keep talking, engaging and shining a light on a better way.
“True allyship does not mean constant unanimity.” A problem is many now have an ill-defined sense of what an ally is. They confuse the respectful relationship of ally-to-ally (standing alongside one another on some but not all issues) with the narrower one of member-to-supporter (in which the member dictates terms that the supporter must follow). It is good however to see collaborations like yours returning to a more accurate understanding of alliance.
The (((folks))) that have facilitated the massive immigration to the US of people from all over the world, specifically since world war two, are the very same (((folks))) now using these immigrants to destabilize traditional american society, (which has been predominately european from inception). Nobody was asked, and nobody voted for this chaotic tossed salad, and the natural cohesiveness of the american culture has been upended by a bunch of strangers, most of which have been weaponized. It is a complex social psyop that most will never get their heads around, but it is an act of war. What this is all about are jews pre-emptively ensuring there’s never another homogenized in tact society to challenge their cult power (like Germany in the 20th century). Remember, these people tell you to your face “Never Again” and what they mean by this is they are going to collectively ensure that all… Read more »
I like the premise of your group, and I believe your efforts could heal wounds that have been open too long.
Linda Sarsour has other issues which don’t even involve anti Zionism but rather her support of Farrahkhan is what is concerning to me, and Pipes’ issue is that he connects all Muslims to terrorism, rather than criticizing Islamism which is even banned in Muslim countries, not that I support that ban necessarily, but Pipes has been connecting all Muslims to terrorism
David Bernstein and Suhail Khan define “standpoint theory” as the view that “only members of the marginalized group know what it’s like to be marginalized and therefore only they have the right to describe and define the prejudices against them.” This reminds me of an experience a friend of mine, a collage classmate who had gone to England to finish his graduate work at Oxford, once described to me in a letter. One afternoon at the Hyde Park “Speaker’s Corner” in London, he’d been listening to a militant feminist speaker, who declared in her speech that only a woman could fairly review or critique a book written by a woman. My friend asked her, “What about a mathematics book written by a woman?” She had no answer. My friend, basically, was pointing out her failure in her speech to distinguish between (1) the possibly defensible view that only a woman… Read more »