October 28, 2022

Lawyers don’t get to define virtue

 Sam Smith - One of the ways in which the current scandals have altered our thinking is a broad acceptance of the notion that it  all is mainly a matter of law. What will judges and juries decide? 

We seem to have forgotten that virtue, fairness and decency are not legal matters but ones we used to go  to ministers, teachers, historians and philosophers for guidance. This doesn't mean that the Jan 6 committee shouldn't do its job but that their decision will not adequately define what happened on that day, much of which we already know. Regardless of the legal result, Trump and his mob engaged in an attack on democracy such as we haven't seen since the Civil War. 

For the media in particular to leave the judgement of what happened up to legal decisions is a gross misrepresentation of reality and actually contributes to the collapse of democracy. If we can't define it without the decision of lawyers, we have already lost it.

Jazz and democracy

Sam Smith – During four decades, most while engaged in journalism in Washington, I also played in jazz bands. I recommend this to any journalist who finds their work over-stressful. But the other thing I came to realize was that  jazz was also a metaphor for the sort of democracy we still hadn’t achieved.

After all, many musicians get to solo but have to spend the rest of the tune backing up other players. This blend of individualism and mutual support is what democracy is also about. A major cause of our current crisis is that we have turned this blend into a conflict.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Playing jazz, I found other players to be pleasant and cooperative and you were glad to help them when it was their solo because you knew they would do the same for you. Well functioning communities are much the same because their citizens know how to solo but also back up others.

Just a thought: What churches could do on Saturdays

Sam Smith – As a seventh day agnostic, I share most Christian values albeit regarding where they allegedly came from as far more myth than reality. The other day I heard of a minister describing churches as one of the few remaining institutions of real importance to community.  I think this is right. Certainly business, politics or media are not places to go to learn about ethics, fairness and decency.

It occurred to me that progressive churches could reach out to non-church goers by having Saturday programs for what might be called a community congregation, i.e. folk who share the church’s values  if not its faith. These programs  would be non-religious but centered on things like public ethics, financial responsibility, community needs and morals as part of education. How do communities get their needs met? What it the decent way to run a business? How should the media cover such matters? How could schools do a better job of teaching civics and ethics?

These programs would be predominantly run by those outside the church although its members would certainly participate.  It would bring churches and community closer together while bringing forward issues that we have let fade in our discussions.

Just a thought.

July 30, 2022

Some tips for young writers

Written by Sam Smith in 2017 as part of a local Maine high school writing contest

Writing isn’t about winning; it’s about saying things that others understand, learn from and appreciate. They may be your class mates rather than just some old judges. So just keep writing

Writing is a trade or craft not a profession. You don’t need to go to grad school to learn how to write. In one publication I edited, we ran a column by a guy in prison. In another by an old lady who just knew how to tell stories. Writers are all over the place.

Even if you don’t become a writer, writing can still help – assisting a lawyer convince a jury, explaining an illness to a patient, describing a research result. Good writing teaches you to speaka da United States, and avoid the foreign languages of academia, technocracy, and corporations.

Don’t use too many adjectives and, as an English teacher wisely noted, you are allowed only five exclamation points in a lifetime. Use them carefully.

If you're having a hard time, write for one reader: a friend, a relative, your child, Barack Obama. This helps remove the speechifying and makes the task less confusing.

If you suffer from writer's block, just sit down and write crap. Pay no attention to style, content, or spelling. Just write something from your heart. Then read it again tomorrow and save all the good stuff and try again.

Stories are almost always more interesting than opinions. Use the southern approach and argue by anecdote.

If you don’t enjoy what you’ve written, chances are others won’t either.

And if you want a worthy goal I offer AJ Liebling’s who said, “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”


July 17, 2022

The failure of liberal evangelicalism

Sam Smith, 2016 – Lately, I’ve been feeling real glad that I got into activism in the early 1960s because I’m increasingly getting the sense that I wouldn’t be good enough to be an activist by today’s liberal standards.

For example, Jesse Benn, writing in Huffington Post, said recently that “White people from across the political spectrum are overt racists, hold implicit biases, and/or harbor otherwise problematic, incomplete views about race. All white people fall into one or more of these categories, from vehement anti-racists to card carrying white nationalists.”

When such sweeping generalities are applied to other ethnicities, isn’t it called racism?

Then there’s all this talk about “white privilege” which seems to be applied equally to whites out of work or underpaid as well as to Donald Trump.

Then we have the charge that critics of Hillary Clinton’s loud approach to campaigning are “sexist” even though Bernie Sanders also shouts a lot and eight years ago Howard Dean faced a similar critique as outlined by US News at the time:

Getting revved up by the crowd's cheers and chants, he promised to take his campaign on to New Hampshire, South Carolina, California, and a string of other states, the names of which he shouted out like a cheerleader at a high school pep rally. His face reddening and his right hand balled into a fist, Dean shouted: "And then we're going to Washington, D.C.—to take back the White House—YEEEEEAAARGH!"

The moment of exhortation was described in the media as the "primal scream" or the " 'I Have a Scream' speech." And it was replayed endlessly on national TV. It immediately became the target of ridicule on the late-night talk shows, adding to Dean's embarrassment.”

As Meghan Daum pointed out in the LA Times, “Clinton is a shouter. Not the bellicose kind, like Sanders, but the testy, scolding kind. Her rhetorical effect sometimes brings to mind a parent counting slowly to three in an effort to get a recalcitrant child to stop whatever it is she's doing right now.”

In fact, the problem in each of these cases is that politicians appeal to their immediately present audience rather than the even larger one watching it all on television. It’s a rational thing to note and talk about. And you might want to even add the nearly eight years of professorial lecturing we’ve gotten from the current president who seems to think we are all his students.

 And since substance and integrity no longer matter much in American politics, journalists should be at least allowed to cover it all more like the sporting event it has become

Finally, there’s the way that some of today’s activists seem more concerned about the meaning of a Harvard Law School symbol than they do with how the law is actually being executed against blacks in urban areas. Or that a sign on a university building has to be taken down but signs of poverty can be ignored.

Of course, back in the 1960s we had our problems as well. I was at a Student Non-Violent Coordinating meeting when Stokely Carmichael came and said we whites were no longer welcomed in the civil rights movement. Two of my activist friends went to prison and three committed suicide after losing their way in the movement. There were many activists who fought vigorously against the Vietnam War but didn’t have any time for ethnic discrimination or anti-poverty issues. And as a 220 pound iron-pumping 30-something, I was confronted four times at demonstrations by protestors who were certain I was an uncover cop or FBI  agent.  

So we could get it wrong, too. But lots of people were doing lots of different things in lots of different ways. And the point was to produce change, not merely to prove one’s own virtue. So you were active also because, with luck, you could actually change how people thought about things.

I knew early on that this was possible because I had changed. In fall of 1965 I wrote, “The public must be conditioned to the realities of the situation. They must be made to understand the necessity of the undramatic, sufficient, and lengthy application of American force in South Vietnam.” Less than a year later I wrote that LBJ’s “Vietnam escapade has been an abject failure.”

One thing I learned from that experience was not to be too hard on people who hadn’t figured it all out. Or who still believed the lies of those at the top.

Today, it too often feels like both liberal and conservative America considers politics an evangelical religion where there are those who have been saved and those who will go to hell. And the ones that don’t think like you are in the latter group.

Which is why so many liberals are willing to define their faith as encompassing things like gay marriage and abortion, while ignoring the economic issues that once made their politics powerful.

For more than three decades, as their own social and monetary status has improved, many liberals have been drifting away from concern over economic matters, creating a huge cultural gap between themselves and the middle and lower class. This has opened the way for the right wing success now peaking with the candidacy of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Liberals didn’t lose the support of the less successful white American; rather they tossed it away.

Part of the secret of successful politics is not to condemn those whom you’re trying to convince. Especially since there aren’t enough liberals around to have a majority just by themselves. They may get into heaven, but they won’t make it to the White House.

Besides, insisting on the rights word and right symbolism at best only gets you that. Picking the right issues and the right actions and forming alliances even with those who don’t think and talk right about everything can get some really important change.

I learned this as an admirer of the community organizer Saul Alinsky, someone who wouldn’t be too well regarded in liberal circles these days. A short time before his death in 1972, he was interviewed by Playboy. A few excerpts:

PLAYBOY: The assumption behind the Administration's Silent Majority thesis is that most of the middle class is inherently conservative. How can even the most skillful organizational tactics unite them in support of your radical goals?

ALINSKY: Conservative? That's a crock of crap. Right now they're nowhere. But they can and will go either of two ways in the coming years -- to a native American fascism or toward radical social change. Right now they're frozen, festering in apathy, leading what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation:" They're oppressed by taxation and inflation, poisoned by pollution, terrorized by urban crime, frightened by the new youth culture, baffled by the computerized world around them. They've worked all their lives to get their own little house in the suburbs, their color TV, their two cars, and now the good life seems to have turned to ashes in their mouths. Their personal lives are generally unfulfilling, their jobs unsatisfying, they've succumbed to tranquilizers and pep pills, they drown their anxieties in alcohol, they feel trapped in long term endurance marriages or escape into guilt-ridden divorces. They're losing their kids and they're losing their dreams. They're alienated, depersonalized, without any feeling of participation in the political process, and they feel rejected and hopeless.

They're the first to live in a total mass-media-oriented world, and every night when they turn on the TV and the news comes on, they see the almost unbelievable hypocrisy and deceit and even outright idiocy of our national leaders and the corruption and disintegration of all our institutions, from the police and courts to the White House itself. Their society appears to be crumbling and they see themselves as no more than small failures within the larger failure. All their old values seem to have deserted them, leaving them rudderless in a sea of social chaos. Believe me, this is good organizational material.

The despair is there; now it's up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change. We'll give them a way to participate in the democratic process, a way to exercise their rights as citizens and strike back at the establishment that oppresses them, instead of giving in to apathy. We'll start with specific issues -- taxes, jobs, consumer problems, pollution -- and from there move on to the larger issues: pollution in the Pentagon and the Congress and the board rooms of the megacorporations. Once you organize people, they'll keep advancing from issue to issue toward the ultimate objective: people power. We'll not only give them a cause, we'll make life goddamn exciting for them again -- life instead of existence. We'll turn them on.

PLAYBOY: You don't expect them to beware of radicals bearing gifts?

ALINSKY: Sure, they'll be suspicious, even hostile at first. That's been my experience with every community I've ever moved into. My critics are right when they call me an outside agitator. When a community, any kind of community, is hopeless and helpless, it requires somebody from outside to come in and stir things up. That's my job -- to unsettle them, to make them start asking questions, to teach them to stop talking and start acting, because the fat cats in charge never hear with their ears, only through their rears. I'm not saying it's going to be easy; thermopolitically, the middle classes are rooted in inertia, conditioned to look for the safe and easy way, afraid to rock the boat. But they're beginning to realize that boat is sinking and unless they start bailing fast, they're going to go under with it. The middle class today is really schizoid, torn between its indoctrination and its objective situation. The instinct of middle-class people is to support and celebrate the status quo, but the realities of their daily lives drill it home that the status quo has exploited and betrayed them.

PLAYBOY: Mobilizing middle-class America would seem quite a departure for you after years of working with poverty-stricken black and white slum dwellers. Do you expect suburbia to prove fertile ground for your organizational talents?

ALINSKY: Yes, and it's shaping up as the most challenging fight of my career, and certainly the one with the highest stakes. Remember, people are people whether they're living in ghettos, reservations or barrios, and the suburbs are just another kind of reservation -- a gilded ghetto. One thing I've come to realize is that any positive action for radical social change will have to be focused on the white middle class, for the simple reason that this is where the real power lies.

… It's quite true that the Back of the Yards Council, which 20 years ago, was waving banners attacking all forms of discrimination and intolerance, today doesn't want Negroes, just like other middle-class white communities. Over the years they've won victory after victory against poverty and exploitation and they've moved steadily up the ladder from the have-nots to the have-a-little-want-mores until today they've thrown in their lot with the haves. This is a recurring pattern; you can see it in the American labor movement, which has gone from John L. Lewis to George Meany in one generation. Prosperity makes cowards of us all, and Back of the Yards is no exception. They've entered the nightfall of success, and their dreams of a better world have been replaced by nightmares of fear -- fear of change, fear of losing their material goods, fear of blacks….

The the ultimate key to acceptance by a community is respect for the dignity of the individual you're dealing with. If you feel smug or arrogant or condescending, he'll sense it right away, and you might as well take the next plane out. The first thing you've got to do in a community is listen, not talk, and learn to eat, sleep, breathe only one thing: the problems and aspirations of the community. Because no matter how imaginative your tactics, how shrewd your strategy, you're doomed before you even start if you don't win the trust and respect of the people; and the only way to get that is for you to trust and respect them. And without that respect there's no communication, no mutual confidence and no action.

… The middle class actually feels more defeated and lost today on a wide range of issues than the poor do. And this creates a situation that's supercharged with both opportunity and danger. There's a second revolution seething beneath the surface of middle-class America -- the revolution of a bewildered, frightened and as-yet-inarticulate group of desperate people groping for alternatives -- for hope. Their fears and their frustrations over their impotence can turn into political paranoia and demonize them, driving them to the right, making them ripe for the plucking by some guy on horseback promising a return to the vanished verities of yesterday. The right would give them scapegoats for their misery -- blacks, hippies, Communists -- and if it wins, this country will become the first totalitarian state with a national anthem celebrating "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

I got my activist start with help from an Alinsky trained Presbyterian minister, learning early not only good strategies but the importance of treating everyone  with respect, finding unity in specific issues rather than a general ideology, and approaching problems as a friendly human and not as a sociology professor sternly parading theories.

As I wrote some years later, “What if we were to start with the unhappy truth that humans have always had a hard time dealing with other peoples, and that much ethnic and sexual antagonism stems not from hate so much as from cultural narcissism? Then our repertoire of solutions might tilt more towards education and mediation and away from being self-righteous multi-cultural missionaries converting yahoos in the wilds of the soul. We could turn towards something more akin to what Andrew Young once described as a sense of ‘no fault justice.’ We might begin to consider seriously Martin Luther King's admonition to his colleagues that among their dreams should be that someday their enemies would be their friends.”

It’s not a bad way to start bringing middle and lower class whites to the progressive agenda. Dump self righteous liberal evangelicalism and find issues that, by pursuing, can make friends with those they have been trained by the right to despise. Talk about middle class white pain instead of white privilege. Teach ethnic commonalities. Find what we share. And choose issues that will make things better for most - regardless of the color of their skin.

One of the other ways the 1960s were different was that we believed that if we worked hard enough in the right way things would get better. We have to recover that sense. And working together on things you didn’t realize you had in common is a great way to start.

It’s not our own virtue that need protecting; it is our common goals that need to be discovered and acted upon.

 

 

July 16, 2022

From anger to action: dealing with ethnic relations

 Sam Smith One of the sad things about the ethnic conflict that has increasingly defined our land is the lack of movements that produce change rather than merely more anger. While the victims of such things as police brutality have more than enough reason to express this anger, that doesn’t mean the anger will produce results by itself.

Even when alternatives are proposed, the media continues to show its bias for conflict over resolution. For example a check of Google found that in the last month less than 5% of online news mentions of Black Lives Matter also included a description of the group’s list of police reforms it is seeking.

 

Then there are those of liberal bent who seem to prefer semantic and symbolic change over more substantial improvements. For them, to remove the sign on a building named after John Calhoun or to label a whole ethnic group as possessing “white privilege” takes the place, say, of actually changing how a police department operates.  

 

In fact, the number of whites in poverty is almost twice as large as the number of blacks and the number of whites earning a minimum wage or less is more than twice the combined black and latino figure. And because it is considered acceptable by many liberals to ‘dis lower class whites, it is not surprising that so many have sought salvation on the right.

 

Some two decades ago, for my book, Great American Political Repair Manual, I looked at some changes in income by ethnicity, gender and education. Here is what I found:

 

 

In other words, those typically seen as racist – less educated white males – were losing  economic ground along with less educated black males, a fact that is still widely ignored.  And these are some of the same people that Donald Trump is wooing so well.

 

To deal effectively with the issues that confront us, we need alter our language, convert justified anger into effective action, and build cross-cultural alliances that are currently ignored or disparaged. At the present time, for example, blacks comprise only 13% of the population, far too few to achieve righteous goals without the aid of a large number of whites. Lumping the latter into a constituency of privileged racists is not only wrong, it’s not going to change anything for the better.

 

As the new book, Third Reconstruction, based on the important work of the Moral Mondays movement, points out:

 

Often the groups most impacted by injustice have been convinced that they are enemies. Fusion politics is about helping those who have suffered injustice and have been divided by extremism to see what we have in common. We do this by bringing people together across dividing lines and helping them hear one another. We have no permanent enemies, only permanent issues, rooted in our deepest moral and constitutional values.

 

Some of the authors’ other important approaches can be found here.

 

And here are a few other ideas we could be talking about and acting upon, some of them excerpted from my book, Great American Repair Manual.

Stop using the word race: There is simply no scientific definition of race. What are considered genetic characteristics are often the result of cultural habit and environmental adaptation. As far back as 1942, anthropologist Ashley Montague called race our "most dangerous myth."

Yet in our conversations and arguments, in our media, and even in our laws, the illusion of race is given great credibility. As a result, that which is transmitted culturally is considered genetically fixed, that which is an environmental adaptation is regarded as innate and that which is fluid is declared immutable.

Many still hang on to a notion similar to that of Carolus Linnaeus, who declared in 1758 that there were four races: white, red, dark and black. Others make up their own races, applying the term to religions (Jewish), language groups (Aryan) or nationalities (Irish). Modern science has little impact on our views. Our concept of race comes largely from religion, literature, politics, and the oral tradition. It comes creaking with all the prejudices of the ages. It reeks of territoriality, of jingoism, of subjugation, and of the abuse of power.

DNA research has revealed just how great is our misconception of race. In The History and Geography of Human Genes, Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford and his colleagues describe how many of the variations between humans are really adaptations to different environmental conditions (such as the relative density of sweat glands or lean bodies to dissipate heat and fat ones to retain it). But that's not the sort of thing you can easily build a system of apartheid around. As Thomas S. Martin has written:

The widest genetic divergence in human groups separates the Africans from the Australian aborigines, though ironically these two 'races' have the same skin color…. There is no clearly distinguishable 'white race.' What Cavalli-Sforza calls the Caucasoids are a hybrid, about two-thirds Mongoloid and one-third African. Finns and Hungarians are slightly more Mongoloid, while Italians and Spaniards are more African, but the deviation is vanishingly slight.

If we were to come to accept the fact that our social identity is best defined far more by the ethnicity and culture in which we are raised and live than by biology, we would, for example, pay more attention to the fact that our first “black president” spent considerably more time with the Harvard Law School then with a black parent. And that the color of his skin was not the best clue to who he really is.

The real reason race is important to us: Even as we talk endlessly of race, we simultaneously go to great lengths to prove that we are all the same. Why this contradiction? The answer can be partly found in the tacit assumption by many that human equity must be based primarily on competitive equality. Listen to talk about race (or sex) and notice how often the talk is also about competition. The cultural differences (real or presumed) that really disturb us are ones of competitive significance: thigh circumference, math ability and so forth. We accept more easily other differences -- varieties of hair, degree of subcutaneous fat, prevalence of sickle cell anemia -- because they don't affect (or affect far less) who gets to the top.

We don't spend the effort to separate facts from fiction because both cut too close to our inability to appreciate and celebrate our human differences. It is far easier to pretend either that these differences are immutable or that they don't exist at all.

The Catch-22 of ethnicity: It is hard to imagine a non-discriminatory, unprejudiced society in which ethnicity and sex matter much. Yet in our efforts to reach that goal, our society and its institutions constantly send the conflicting message that they are extremely important.

For example, our laws against discriminatory practices inevitably heighten general consciousness of race and sex. The media, drawn inexorably to conflict, plays up the issue. And the very groups that have suffered under racial or sexual stereotypes consciously foster countering stereotypes -- "you wouldn't understand, it's a black thing" -- as a form of protection. Thus, we find ourselves in the odd position of attempting to create a society that shuns invidious distinctions while at the same time -- often with fundamentalist or regulatory fervor -- accentuating those distinctions.

The most important fact about prejudice - It's normal. That isn't to say that it's nice, pretty, or desirable. Only that suspicion, distrust, and distaste for outsiders is a deeply human trait. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote that "all primitive tribes agree in recognizing [a] category of the outsiders, those who are not only outside the provisions of the moral code which holds within the limits of one's own people, but who are summarily denied a place anywhere in the human scheme. A great number of the tribal names in common use, Zuñi, Déné, Kiowa . . . are only their native terms for 'the human beings,' that is, themselves. Outside of the closed group there are no human beings."

Many attempts to eradicate racism from our society have been based on the opposite notion -- that those who harbor prejudice towards others are abnormal and social deviants. Further, we often describe these "deviants" only in terms of their overt antipathies -- they are "anti-Semitic" or guilty of "hate." In fact, once you have determined yourself to be human and others less so, you need not hate them any more than you need despise the fish you eat for dinner. This is why those who participate in genocide can do so with such calm -- they have defined their targets as outside of humanity.

What if, instead, we were to start with the unhappy truth that humans have always had a hard time dealing with other peoples, and that much ethnic and sexual antagonism stems not from hate so much as from cultural narcissism? Then our repertoire of solutions might tilt more towards education and mediation and away from being self-righteous multi-cultural missionaries attacking yahoos in the wilds of the soul. We could turn towards something more akin to what Andrew Young once described as a sense of "no fault justice." We might begin to consider seriously Martin Luther King's admonition to his colleagues that among their dreams should be that someday their enemies would be their friends.

Telling stories: If we are to rid our minds of stereotypes, something needs to fill the empty space. Nothing works better than the real stories of real people drawn from the anecdotal warehouses that supply many of our deepest values, feelings and philosophy.

If you find your classroom, organization or workplace bogged down in cultural tension and abstract confrontation -- or perhaps feeling the silence that comes from being near one another and not knowing what to say -- why not take a break and let people tell their own stories?

How Mr. Platt did it: In the middle of the stolid, segregated, monolithic 1950s, Howard Platt taught one of two anthropology courses available in an American high school. I was lucky enough to be among his students. Mr. Platt showed us a new way to look at the world.

And what a wonderful world it was. Not the stultifying world of our parents, not the monochromatic world of our neighborhood, not the boring world of 9th grade, but a world of fantastic options, a world in which people got to cook, eat, shelter themselves, have sex, dance and pray in an extraordinary variety of ways. Mr. Platt's subliminal message of cultural relativism was simultaneously a subliminal message of freedom. You were not a prisoner of your culture; you could always go live with the Eskimos, the Indians or the Arabs. By the time the bell sounded I was often ready to go.

Mr. Platt did not exorcise racism, and he did not teach ethnic harmony, cultural sensitivity, the regulation of diversity, or the morality of non-prejudiced behavior. He didn't need to. He taught something far more important, something so often missing from our discussions on race, something frequently absent from college curricula. Mr. Platt opened a world of variety, not for us to fear but to learn about, appreciate and enjoy. It was not an obstacle, but a gift.

Be friendly and respectful: In a culturally varied society, it is easy to transmit signals that are misunderstood but, fortunately, kindness, friendliness and respect come across clearly. Make good use of them.

Learn about other cultures: We typically try to resolve inter-cultural tensions without giving people a solid reason for liking one another. Mutual enjoyment and admiration provide the shortest route between two ethnicities. Education is one thing that we know reduces prejudice. Yet for all our talk about diversity, this isn't so easy to come by. We could well spend less time on abstractions of racism and more on the assets of each other's traditions.

We could be teaching, in high school classes and college seminars, the variety of the world as something to explore and enjoy, not just as a problem or an issue. You don't have to teach diversity. Diversity is. You don't have to defend it in lofty liberal rhetoric. Studying humanity's medley is not a moral act; it is simply intelligent.

And you don't have to learn it all in school. France became a haven for black exiles in the last century in no small part because of French enthusiasm for jazz and African art. Similarly, jazz clubs and concerts were among the few places in segregated America that apartheid was regularly ignored.

Diversity within cultures counts as well as that between them: Just because jazz is important to black culture doesn't mean all blacks like jazz. Or that colleges shouldn't recruit black cellists as well as black forwards. Or that just because someone's white, they have to be Anglo-Saxon or a Protestant.

Find something in common that's more important than what's not: It can be a political goal, a sport, an avocation or a business. I've seen it work in situations as diverse as a project to train church archivists, a kid's team headed for a playoff, the creation of a city’s major third party, and the stopping of one of the largest planned freeway systems in the country. The importance of ethnicity is often inversely proportional to what else we have on our minds

Stop being shocked by prejudice. We have attempted to exorcise racism much as Nancy Reagan tried to get rid of drugs, by just saying no. It has worked about as well. Once we recognize the unpleasant persistence of human discrimination, once we give up the notion that it is merely social deviance controllable by sanctions, we will be guided away from puritanical corrective approach towards ones that emphasize techniques of mitigating harm, and towards activities and attitudes that become antibiotics against prejudice.

Talk about it but not too much: At a meeting called to discuss racial problems, a black activist said, "I don't want to talk about race unless we are going to do something specific about it." It's not a bad rule for every public discussion of race. Unproductive talk can leave people feeling more helpless and frustrated than when it began.

Diversity includes people you don't like. Even liberals don't talk about this but a truly multi-cultural community will include born-again Christians opposed to abortion, Muslims with highly restrictive views on the role of women, prayer-sayers and atheists, Playboy readers as well as Seventh Day Adventists. Remember that you're not required to express -- or even have -- an opinion about everyone else in the world. Encourage reciprocal liberty: I can’t have my freedom unless you have yours.

Don't sweat the small stuff. Common sense is a great civil rights tool. Even in a multi-cultural society, loutish sophomores are going to use tasteless language, fundamentalists will sneak in private prayers on public occasions, and eight-year-old boys will grab girls where they shouldn't. Hyper-reaction to such minor phenomena hurt and trivialize the cause of human justice.

Try to avoid putting virtues in competition: School bussing placed the virtue of integration in direct conflict with the virtue of neighborhood schools. Often such conflicts can be avoided or mitigated by choosing other tactics. For example, why was there so much attention to bussing and so little to residential integration?

Attack economic discrimination, too: After every ethnic or gender group gets its rights, the powerful among them will still discriminate against the weak and the wealthy against the poor. As Saul Alinsky said, "When the poor get power they'll be shits like everyone else." Opposition to affirmative action might have been much less had the programs been based on zipcode as well as on race and sex. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in 1964 that "the white poor also suffer deprivation and the humiliation of poverty if not of color. They are chained by the weight of discrimination, though its badge of degradation does not mark them. It corrupts their lives, frustrates their opportunities and withers their education." And bear in mind that slavery was not just ultimate ethnic discrimination, it was also ultimate economic discrimination as well: the master had all; the slave nothing.

Be tough on leaders, not on followers: Those with tightly defined ideas about how we should behave often make little distinction between people who merely accept the values of their culture and those who control, market and manipulate them. It helps to remember that we are all creatures of our cultures and often speak unconsciously with their voice. This may not be an admirable characteristic but it certainly is a human one. After all, if it weren't for Rush Limbaugh, dittoheads would have nothing to ditto.

Recognize that we are all part something else. By dint of exposure to TV alone, it is virtually impossible to live in America and not have absorbed aspects of other cultures. We all, in effect, belong to a part-culture, which is to say that our ethnicity is somewhat defined by its relationship to, and borrowing from, other cultures. There are almost no pure anythings in America anymore. The sooner we accept and enjoy this, the better off we'll be.

Remember that everyone is an ethnic something. There are no unethnic Americans.

If you are in a minority you can still lead the majority –There are all sorts of ways. The moral leadership of civil rights activists, political leadership,  leadership in the arts and literature, or in a high school.

Or creating cross cultural spaces such as the traditional Irish bar As one politician said in Chicago many years ago
, “An Italian won't vote for a Jew and a Lithuanian won't vote for an Pole but all four will vote for an Irishman.”

Create new alliances:  A long needed black-latino alliance representing approximately 30% of American would shake up our politics. Create a black-latino-labor alliance and politics could be changed forever. You don’t have to agree on everything; just go for the goals you all like.