On May 6, 1996, four members of the University of Massachusetts received the Chancellor's Award for Multiculturalism for 1996. The speech by Colin S. Cavell, recipient in the Graduate category, is reprinted below so as to contribute to the continuing discussion of Multiculturalism and its various meanings on campus.


Yesterday, May 5, marked the 178th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, that great thinker and activist of human freedom and liberation who saw the whole of human servitude involved in the relation of the worker to production, and who pointed out that "all relations of servitude are nothing but modifications and consequences of this relation" (Marx, 1844/ 1975, "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts," in Early Writings). Some of you may agree with this; others not. Nonetheless, this has been and continues to be my basic philosophical predisposition and political assumption in my work for which I am being rewarded for today.

In particular, the contention being made is that racism, sexism, national chauvinism, and other forms of oppression derive their determinate force from the relation of the worker to production. In short, as workers we form a class of people who must work in order to live. Those who own and control capital, the means of production, and have dominant influence over the state apparatus and its institutions do not want us to unite and challenge their monopoly of power. In order to prevent this, divisions—some natural, some artificial, though all manipulated for selfish, political ends—are utilized to divide workers, turn them against one another, restrict and blur their vision, and obfuscate the real issues at stake.

History in general, and U.S. history in particular is replete with examples of this tactic. In particular, racism has been one of the most consistently used tactics in this game of divide and conquer. Racism—whether that associated with plantation economic structures which involved the forceful enslavement of millions of Africans or its more modern forms which seek to caricature non-white persons as gun-toting, drug-dealing criminals—continues to divide U.S. workers from each other, U.S. workers from workers in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and allows corporate capital to reap unnaccounted for billions of dollars and play havoc with billions of workers lives due to the resulting racial conflict instigated by the powers that be for their own benefit.

Efforts to redress past racial policies are under attack both nationally and locally. For example, affirmative action policies which seek to open up opportunities for qualified persons of color, historically barred from multiple employment positions solely due to the color of their skin, their land of origin, or their accent are under attack by a coalition of white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, anti-Semites, and an alienated mass of white capitalists and workers who long for an America that is dying a well-deserved death. If we are intent on ringing the death knell on racism and white supremacy, then we must not shy away from defending affirmative action policies. On the contrary, we must affirm our commitment to a multicultural, multiracial, male/female society from the workplace to the chambers of government.

The great seal of the United States depicts an eagle holding a banner in its mouth stating "E Pluribus Unum"—which means, "from many, one". In defending opportunity for all through meaningful policies, we are defending the truest expression of what America is all about. The idea of a monocultural, monoracial, white only society of the past must be exploded for the fiction that it is. Had this country depended upon the contributions of only its European forebearers, we would have long suffered a stunted growth and a retarded record of development. The contribution in labor alone of non-white peoples is enough to balance whatever contributions our European ancestors made.

Our society has too long attempted to stifle the intellectual aspirations of its non-white citizens and those newly arrived on our shores. We too often forget that most of our ancestry is not native to this land. Moving forward and progressing as a nation requires that we begin to live with the rest of the world and not against it. And to begin with, we must realize that the majority of people of the world are non-white. Thus, the issue is one of the treatment of historically oppressed non-white peoples, and this is a major, i.e. a majority-oriented issue. And, it will not be resolved fully until we are able to get beyond the color bar, the white standard, the idea that white is not a color, i.e. is anti-color. Only when the white standard is exploded will the hues of pale to pink be allowed their full expression in a multicolor pageant of humanity.

Here at UMass, there have been ongoing efforts to address institutional racism, and some successes, though modest, in this endeavor can be seen. Naming of the campus library in honor of W.E.B. Du Bois was an important symbolic step in addressing decades-long neglect of the contributions of African American scholars. Many people, many of you here today, participated in this endeavor, and the members of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies should be commended particularly for all of their hard work and continuous efforts over the years in opening up the brilliant thought of Du Bois to each succeeding generation of students. Your efforts will not go unrewarded! One day, when this world gets past its infantile anti-communism, racism, and unwarranted prejudices, people IN GENERAL will begin to see that the intellectual acumen of Du Bois was first rank with the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Let us strive for that day together.

Still, much remains to be done on our campus. As has been pointed out recently in the pages of the Collegian, the Administration has still not fulfilled its part of the 1992 ALANA agreements, particularly in its hesitation to act upon increasing the number of enrolled students of color to 20% of the undergraduate population and providing economic and academic support to retain those students currently enrolled. The Administration should be reminded that the original demand of the student activists was for a 30% enrollment of students of color to offset the white domination of college life which is the major cause of racial strife on campus.

Symbolism alone is not enough. It must be tied to concrete changes in the makeup of the students, staff, and faculty of this University. Only when there is a substantial core of non-white students, staff, and faculty will there be some semblance of a balance to offset the gross disparity which still exists with the dominant Euro-American culture which pervades the campus. Only then will there exist, materially, the means to provide for the security (both psychologically and physically) of non-white students, staff, and faculty, and a relaxation of tensions which arises when 85% of the student body comes from one ethnic background ladened with a history of white supremacist beliefs and actions.

Is there a magic number which will satisfy the demands of progressive students, staff, and faculty indicating that the University is indeed striving for a truly multi-ethnic, multicultural campus, with the eradication of racism in all its forms as a top priority? Not necessarily. Nonetheless, when University officials representing the Administration of this campus sign an agreement to increase undergraduate enrollment of non-white students to 20% of the student body, then it behooves the Administration to follow through on their word. Otherwise, their word means nothing, and calls for "agreements" will be swept aside the next time students decide to act.

But, "Oh," some will say, "what about the criticisms of the Massachusetts Association of Scholars (MAS) from March of this year which, as their report title indicates, sees turmoil and tension at UMass resulting from a proposed 20% non-white undergraduate population goal?" As the report author Gary Crosby Brasor writes, "The admissions process, which ought to select college applicants with a reasonable chance for success, is being perverted to fulfill an arbitrary 20% minority quota." "And it's the minority students—sometimes given false expectations of success—who suffer financially, emotionally, and professionally when they drop out."

The presumed concern for so-called "minority" students by Mr. Brasor and his Massachusetts Association of Scholars must be exposed for the racism which it represents. Not only does his report fail to account for the years of racial violence which plagued this campus before current policies were put into place, that is years when "minority" students represented less than 10% of the undergraduate population but, moreover, the MAS report automatically jumps from students dropping out of school to tension and turmoil on campus. Images of the gun-toting, drug-dealing person of color are referenced here in the white psyche. As if to say, "We must save these poor children from their inevitable failure by making sure that they not go through the pain of rejection and fruitless struggle which will lead them to lives of crime and years of torment." White man's burden indeed!

As for campus tension and turmoil, one need only look at our rich white classmates over in the Greek fraternities to witness what rucus they've managed to create this semester. And indeed, the Collegian has been at pains to fix their tarnished image by showing frats marching side by side with women in a "Take Back Our Rights" rally. I hope they all shared a similar vision about which rights they respectively wanted to take back. In fact, the progressive spin being manufactured for the Greeks these days is becoming so fantastic, that I'm sure one morning I'll open up the Collegian and see a picture of a large Greek fraternity rally calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba!

And, by the way, when are these folks going to realize that they're not Greek?! Come on fellas, the toga party's over.

As everyone knows, there has been far too little action in pushing for substantive multiculturalism on this campus. Students of color and their allies are not going to sit around and see their numbers dwindle to more of a pittance than it already is by Trustee policies. At some point, you in the Administration are going to have to decide which side you are on, and which students and faculty you want backing you: those who will organize, fight, write, and agitate for the necessary and just policies of inclusion or those privileged few who issue reports from time to time with bluster and fanfare which are dismissed with derision by most thinking people. The choice is yours.

In conclusion, I want to thank all of my friends, colleagues, associates, and comrades without whose cooperation, collective spirit and unity, and guidance and criticism, I would not be here receiving this award today.

And finally, I accept the Chancellor's Award for Multiculturalism today in the spirit of inclusion, justice, and peace, in which I trust this honor was given.


        Colin S. Cavell, Ph.D.

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