College Follies of the Day. Part 2. Florida professor forbids students from describing the U.S. as a “melting pot”

August 14, 2016 • 11:45 am

About a year ago the Daily Beast wrote a piece called “The University of Californa’s Insane Speech Police,” which described UC President Janet Napolitano’s “invitation” for deans and department heads in the UC system to attend a seminar on suppressing free speech “fostering inclusive excellence”. These seminars were held at 9 of the 10 University of California campuses, and included a list of “microaggressions”: phrases that should be avoided because they constitute “verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Some of these are indeed offensive (“You are a credit to your race” or “I am not a racist; I have several Black friends.”) Others, however, can be construed offensive only if you’re a Pecksniff, including these phrases whose use shows that “a White person does not want to or need to acknowledge race”:

  • “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
  • “There is only one race, the human race.”
  • “America is a melting pot.”
  • “I don’t believe in race.”

These are more problematic, for at least two of them would have been endorsed by Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, and another—”America is a melting pot”—is intended to be a phrase of comity, where diverse people can share rights and liberties, and exchange bits of each other’s culture, leader to a rich national “culture.”

But the “melting pot” phrase has now become a “microaggression”, and the only reason I can see is because we’re supposed to not only remain balkanized by ethnicity, religion, or ideology, but admit constantly that we are balkanized. The phrase is inoffensive.

Well, not to everyone. One professor in Florida has not only banned the “melting pot” phrase from her classroom, but threatens to penalize students who use it.

You’re only going to see reports on this from sites like the conservative Washington Times or the even more conservative Campus Reform, but if you think they’re lying because they’re right-wing sites, provide me documentation to the contrary. Please to not discredit a story just because your ideology disagrees with that of a source. I’ll assume what the sources say is true because they provide documentation.

To be brief, I’ll excerpt Campus Reform:

Students enrolled in Art Appreciation at the University of Florida risk losing credit on assignments if they use the phrase “melting pot” in class.

Professor Pamela Brekka told Campus Reform that she has reprimanded students for using the term in the past, and even withheld credit from those who used the phrase on assignments, because in her opinion, “melting pot” is a term that “signals a Euro-White Colonial standard, point blank, period.”

The course itself, entitled Art Appreciation: American Diversity and Global Arts, fulfills UF’s general education requirements for both the “Diversity” category, which requires three credits for graduation, and the “Humanities” category, which requires nine credits.

The course syllabus, obtained by Campus Reform, describes the class as “an introduction to the visual arts from a global perspective with an emphasis on diversity in the United States,” adding that “to facilitate this process we will assimilate and use discipline[-]appropriate terms.”

According to Brekka, you MUSt to recognize that America is neither a soup nor a stew, but a SALAD. No soup for you!

Brekka told Campus Reform that she doesn’t want students to use the phrase “melting pot” because it is not an accurate description of diversity in the United States, asserting that “the reason we put less emphasis on the way cultural groups are alike is because of the historical disadvantages minorities have had compared to the white majority.”

She believes diversity in America can more accurately be described with a salad metaphor.

“It’s the difference between a soup and a salad…in the salad, the flavors remain distinct,” she explained. “Your romaine lettuce retains its flavor, the tomatoes retain their flavor, and so on. They are all living happily in one bowl.”

Brekka admitted that in past courses she would deduct a partial point if a student used “melting pot” in an assignment, although she also said it was not a “strict policy.”

Yet Campus Reform’s documents, apparently obtained from a student, shows that it does seem to be a strict policy. Have a gander at the policy and the Authoritarian Leftist ideology these students must obey—or get a lower grade.

On several online course modules, through which students submit assignments, a statement reads, “DO NOT EVER USE THE PHRASE ‘MELTING POT’ IN THIS CLASS. IN THIS CLASS WE CELEBRATE DIVERSITY, NOT SAMENESS.”



I remember the wonderful phrase that Martin Luther King used in his “I have a dream” speech:

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Whatever happened to that? Is that no longer the day we want?

Now when we say Dr. King’s phrase, we’re committing a microaggression! As noted above, you’re a bigot every time you say, “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”

But what’s the alternative? To say, “When I look at you, I always see color”? I suspect the alternative is something like this: “When I look at you, I see a black person, and acknowledge that therefore you have traits X, Y, and Z because you have been oppressed. And with that I recognize my privilege.”

Now I can appreciate the need to recognize bigotry and inequities based on “race”—although saying you don’t believe in race, which used to be a sign of ideological Leftism, has now become a microaggression! So yes, in that sense you can “see color” and recognize how it plays out in American life. We can’t eliminate these inequities without recognizing their existence. But they don’t have to be recognized every single time we interact with someone of a different ethnicity!

I’m not going to play by Professor Brekka’s odious rules. I will continue to try to judge people by their character and not their pigmentation, and, above all, I still believe in an America that can welcome people of diverse backgrounds, because—and maybe this sentiment is outdated and sappy—I think that’s been a major factor in whatever greatness America can claim.

Pamela Brekka, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Florida.

UPDATE: Reader Pliny the in Between has a cartoon take on this fracas:

Art Class.001

133 thoughts on “College Follies of the Day. Part 2. Florida professor forbids students from describing the U.S. as a “melting pot”

  1. It’s actually terrifying, what they’re doing. These idiots are all about reducing actual biological differences like gender down to a mere “social construct” for the sake of their own vanity, but absolutely refuse to recognize that “race” is, in fact, nothing but a social construct with no solid biological ground to stand on whatsoever. It is a prejudice born in ignorance that has had absolutely destructive consequences for this country. Consequences they are entirely happy to reproduce in upcoming generations (google elite schools in ny). Its sick, regressive, and frankly, abusive to the children it is inflicted upon.

    1. ‘Race’ is ill defined, but there are geographically defined regional varieties of humans. They are real, though blended as one moves from one region to another.
      There are also geographically defined varieties of other species as well. We are sort of stuck with the term ‘race’ for lack of a better one.

      1. I use the term “ethnic group”.
        Most of the differences are in cultural and social conventions. There are also biological adaptations to more/less sunshiny climes and malaria, etc.
        Race has also got connotations from centuries of use by racists and implies bigger proven differences than those above.

    2. Not only is Mark correct above when he mentions that there are geographically defined regional varieties of humans, but as an addendum I’d like to also point out that those regional varieties show physiological differences.

      For example, I’m a redhead. I have lower melanin levels in my skin than most people, so my skin simply cannot tan – I will get sunburns more quickly and with more severity than most (I’ve had numerous 2nd degree burns from sunlight throughout my life), and after those burns heal the new skin will be just as pale and vulnerable as the old, but the upshot is that I require far less sunlight than most for sufficient vitamin D production. Redheads also tend to be more sensitive to heat, while less sensitive to pain and anesthetics – and it seems to be a single gene mutation that affects all this (for 80+% of redheads at least). The Wikipedia article on redheads has more details and links to studies.

      These are real physiological differences between me and the majority of humans, and the majority of people who share this physiology come from northern Europe. Pretending this is not so is absurd. Gingers may not be a race, depending on how the term is defined, but we are a phenotype, and many other human phenotypes exist with real distinctions between them. I’m in no way arguing that we need to divide ourselves socially or politically among such lines, but we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist.


    …but we all have to use the same words when we express ourselves or we get punished.

    Now, there are good reasons for urging students not to use phrases like “melting pot”, or one that really gets on my nerves, referring to slavery as a “peculiar institution”. These are tired and overused phrases that need to be laid to rest. But that doesn’t require punishment, just a suggested rewrite.

    My favorite definition for a melting pot, by the way, was that of U. Utah Phillips: “A melting pot is when the people at the bottom get burned and the scum rise to the top.”

    1. These modern day speech police should love the phrase – peculiar institution. To say slavery would trigger all kinds of issues with them, possibly cause them to need a safe room. Peculiar institution is a less offensive phrase for those delicate ears.

      1. I’m mostly interested in how Classics departments are going to teach about societies that had slavery embedded into the whole culture.

    2. The description of slavery as the “peculiar institution” was commonplace in the South prior to the Civil War. As Wikipedia puts it:

      “(Our) peculiar institution” was a euphemism for slavery and its economic ramifications in the American South. “Peculiar”, in this expression, means “one’s own”, that is, it refers to something distinctive to or characteristic of a particular place or people. The proper use of the expression is always as a possessive, e.g., “our peculiar institution” or “the South’s peculiar institution”. It was in popular use during the first half of the 19th century, especially in legislative bodies, as the word slavery was deemed “improper”, and was actually banned in certain areas.

      I have seen little use of this expression after the Civil War except in its historical context. So, it shouldn’t really annoy you.

      1. Well, as a history major, I heard it multiple times in every course I took that discussed the US Civil War, it’s in every book that I read about the US Civil War,every documentary about the US Civil War, and in many if not all papers written in those classes that were shared in class. You’re right that I don’t hear it in everyday discussion, in fact, I don’t encounter it much at all now that I’ve completed my B.S. in history, but I meant this very much within the context of high school and university classrooms. It’s a phrase that really needs a one and done use in a history class, but it’s used so often as a way to spice up writing with a tendency towards excessive usage, at least in my experience.

        As for what should or should not annoy me…you are quite right, but there is so much in life that should not annoy me, but this is not the forum for discussing my many mental issues!


    3. LOL yes it does have that Life of Bryan “yes, we are all individuals” chant about it, doesn’t it?

      I’m fine with the ‘melting pot’ metaphor. But then again I’ve never considered it a drive towards sameness, but rather a metaphor for mixing a lot of different cultural traditions together. Tex-mex food is a result of the melting pot. Rock and roll and R&B music is due to the melting pot. As I turn on the Olympics, I see the discus throw, judo, and basketball. Know what that is? The global melting pot at work.

      Good things can happen when neighbors coming from different cultural backgrounds get together and choose to mix their traditions, so why not celebrate it?

  3. When I registered for college in 1970, being an arrogant teen, when it came to the part of the application where I needed to check “race” I selected “Other” and wrote in “human”. I was subsequently offered membership in programs for “disadvantaged minorities”.

  4. Please let this numpty have two colleagues: Prof LOONCH and Prof DINNAH.
    Would she be the most important of the three of them?
    I apologise but the beautiful name Doris FROMAGE set me off thinking about unusual names.

  5. So tempting to bring an actual melting pot to class and talk about it. Also, instead refer to America as a “fondue pot”. 😀

    1. There’s a suburb of Cleveland, OH (where I lived for 10 years) with a fondue restaurant entitled “The Melting Pot”. Obviously, unless they change their menu, they can’t change their name to “The Salad Bowl”.

  6. On a more general point, what are they doing awarding or deducting marks according to which ideological stance is being espoused? Surely a teacher should be willing to give equal credit for any ideology, and award credit purely on the quality of argument presented?

    So, an economic professor should award equal credit to a paper arguing for communism as one arguing for free-market capitalism, if they presented the same quality of argument.

    Or am I being hopelessly naive?

    1. Me as well. Surely the quality of the argument is what should matter, and if the student can provide a good argument why th phrase “melting pot” should be used, they should be marked accordingly.

      I was also interested in the architecture thing where the description was of men enforcing a particular social/political order historically. Why isn’t religion getting a mention here? The dominance of religious buildings and the effect they had on the population is hugely important in architecture. For some a church might be the only stone, and therefore permanent, building they’d ever see. They were also dominant and were deliberately built in proportions to draw the eye upward.

    2. Given the utter failure of every communist state ever, an argument in favour of communism should have to be far more convincing than one for the free market in order to achieve equal merit.

      1. Yet many village / agrarian societies are, or were, essentially communist (though they’d probably not use that label), and they were quite stable until industrial development swept them away.

        I’d also point out that totally ‘free’ markets usually fail (subverted by monopolists) unless maintained by laws and regulations.

        Neither principle, taken to its ‘pure’ extreme, ever works for long.


    3. If someone can make a convincing case for a failed system like communism over a successful system like democratic free market capitalism, they should be given extra points for creative writing.

      1. Those successful democratic free market capitalists you refer to aren’t actually free market systems – they are regulated market systems with certain sectors of the economy being socialized to guarantee basic needs. Actual free markets end up being dominated and exploited by monopolies.

    4. Sadly, I think it will only get worse. Today’s ideologically policing college student becomes tomorrow’s ideologically policing assistant professor.

  7. Well, I’m putting balsamic vinegarette (containing fresh diced garlic and ground pepper) all over the Florida professor’s salad. Then we’ll see how distinct all the flavors taste.

    Melting pot terminology has been used since the 1780s and has been an appropriate metaphor ever since.

    1. It means she is part-time faculty working for about minimum wage with no benefits, no job security and an office in the basement behind the furnaces (if she has one at all). She needs to follow slavishly every ludicrous policy decided upon by clueless administrators (who have huge salaries, benefits, job security with golden parachutes and lush offices).

    2. An assistant professor is the lowest of the low in the American system, as I understand it. Just starting out on their career, no tenure (yet) and may never get it. After a while they may get promoted to associate professor, with tenure, or they might be out on their ear. In her case, I think she deserves the latter.

      Adjunct is, I think, just a fancy way of saying ‘temporary’ or ‘part-time’.

  8. People such as Brekka are totally ignorant of history and sociology. The melting pot ideal is to say that immigrants to America should be provided with an equal opportunity to advance economically and socially without being disadvantaged by bigotry or discrimination. In other words, all people have a chance to achieve the “American Dream.” When diversity is overemphasized, it results in people giving their primary loyalty to their ethnic or social group, not the country as a whole (which the melting pot expression implies). Such a viewpoint is extremely dangerous. In extreme cases it leads to social disintegration and civil war. Just look at the Balkans. In fact, Brekka should look up the meaning of the phrase “balkanization.”

    1. As far as I can see the Crit theory, Pomo ideal is pretty anti nation – So any nationalism and any recognition of territory is bad, along with “capitalism” which in their use is fairly loosely defined

    2. Here’s a nice Monday morning irony. Banning the ‘melting pot’ metaphor–and for god’s sake, people, that’s all it is, not a metaphysical principle writ in the heavens–would entail also denouncing Jane Addams’ Chicago-based (Hull House) social service theory and practice of Americanization. She who did perhaps more than any other person to ease the thousands of northern and eastern European immigrants into American life and citizenship would suddenly descend from hero(ione) to mere tool of the capitalist wage-slavers.

      1. … and thereby transformed them from a disadvantaged oppressed minority (which is inherently virtuous and can do no wrong) into members of the privileged white oppressors (evil).

        Her crimes are monstrous.


  9. Here’s my Horseshoe Theory Of Race (attempt)

    Far Right: Races exist biologically, the White races is superior and it must remain pure.

    Right: Races exist, but none is superior, thought the racial identity must be preserved.

    Centre Right: Races may exist, but let’s pretend they don’t. Also, ignore racism. People are just people (simple colorblind approach).

    Centre Left: Races are largely a social construction, even if genetic clustering exists. Racial identities arise out of racism, but ideally we get rid of this and view people as indivuals. (racism-aware colorblind approach)

    Left: Races don’t exist biologically, but exist as racial identities. Because of that, they must be affirmed and legitimized.

    Far Left: Races are social constructions only, that are however important identities which must remain pure. Everything but the White race are superior. Mixing and taking from other cultures is cultural appropriation and bad.

    – – – – – –

    I view this bent like a horseshoe, because the far sides are closer to each other than to the moderate views, and each believe strongly in the existence and importance of races, which must be preserved and even kept pure, but have a different take (the right thinks races are biological, the left cultural).

    It’s an armchair model, but maybe useful. For example, it’s true that straight colorblindness is not a good idea, because it paves over the fact that racism (and human in-out-group mentality) did create subcultures based on superficial biological traits. But the answer to that should not be straight identity politics that — to me — is mirror image of right wing racism.

    1. I should add that I reject the idea of races. The term is fraught with historical misconceptions and pseudoscience, and should be discontinued (as it is officially in Europe).

      I lean towards Lewontin’s take, but concede that genetic clustering exists, though that only geneticists have a business in conceiving humans as races (if this is their term and consensus).

      For everyone else, a better term is “ethnicity” which is more fine grained, based on origin, language, customs, culture and community and only indirectly factors in appearance and biology. It does the job.

      It also brings Italo-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Anglo-Americans and Afro-Americans on an even level without the weakness of the “colorblind” approach which pretends different communities based on origin-appearance didn’t exist. Ethnicity only assumes the obvious, and leaves everything else (identities or implications) to the individual. It does not force or impose categories on people beyond their origins.

      1. Paleo-Geneticist Cavalli Svorza argues that that race is a furphy as a category because to achieve the claimed degree of purity would require insane amounts of inbreeding which would seriously threaten the health of the group

      2. Personally, I’ve always regarded ‘ethnicity’ as just a euphemistic long word for ‘race’. Though I suppose ‘race’ does have a certain amount of baggage attached. Which, doubtless, ‘ethnicity’ will acquire in time, then we’ll have to find another.


        1. It is already in use for a long time, neutral and descriptive, and seems to not be on the euphemism treadmill.

          In Germany, it’s still rarely used. You don’t usually need a term for the set that holds all these groups. But it is certainly not a nice term for race.

          In Germany, “race” is so strongly connected to Nazism, that nobody in their right mind uses it, and it ceased to exist as an idea, too. It broke up, and either people refer straight to skin colour, with no apparent reference of a race concept (as you say “blonde” or “ginger”), or they go with ethnicity in the rare cases when needed. Of course, in my observation.

          But you need to take into account that with less than 1% and no slavery history (dogded that one for the most part at least), there is also no need to conceive a racial divided society.

    2. I think your spectrum on race is a decent one overall, but it should come with a similar caveat to the authoritarianism spectrum: it (probably, since we don’t have data) correlates with where political views fall on the political left-right spectrum, but not absolutely.

  10. There are many things that are confusing to me in that story. Let’s begin by this: can anyone tell me what is wrong with “There is only one race, the human race.”, please ?

    I confess I used to say that.

    1. I join you in befuddlement. I not only still use that phrase in response to what I consider racist remarks, and (mea culpa) have even used it in here in the recent past.

      Must we develop a list of topics (or have it imposed on us) in which there are no safe, acceptable or explicit terms with which to describe or discuss them? Wouldn’t it be better to investigate what the real intent/meaning of the language chosen by the speaker was? Why must we assume an intent (or not) of “microagression”?

      Why impose mythologies about the past on those living in the present? Why not tell the truth as to what really happened? Why not present humanity as it was (and is)? The beneficial changes we’ve made as human beings would be all the more commendable. Fairy Tales and bowdlerized histories do not benefit us.

      1. The word “race” is doubleplus ungood. It will be excluded from the next version of the Newspeak dictionary. Then no-one will be able to thoughtcrime it.

    2. I stopped saying that because I gradually realised I don’t know what “race” means, except in the animal breeding business.

      1. Star Trek has long used species and race interchangeably as synonyms – which may well have been a conscious decision by Roddenberry early on to try to promote Star Trek’s theme of inclusiveness.

    3. The objection as I understand it is that the phrase ignores the history of how groups of humans have interacted with each other throughout human history, and how specific groups (namely, those with pale skin of European descent) have used and abused others to secure their dominance. The objection maintains that because of this history, it is fallacious to act as if we are all one united whole, particularly since as things are in the present doesn’t reflect that ideal any more than history does.

      Essentially, the objection is that the phrase is utopian rather than realistic, a statement of ideology rather than an acknowledgement of the way reality works and needs to be changed.

      1. I used to say that when confronting a racist, a person who believes in significant differences of abilities between, I don’t know how to say that, groups sorted by ancestry.

        These people exist.

        That is not to say that different cultures doesn’t shape people differently or different skin colours do not influence one’s experiences in life.

        This is to say that racist discrimination cannot be justified (to the best of my knowledge) by biology. Correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge, the concept is empty.

        1. “This is to say that racist discrimination cannot be justified (to the best of my knowledge) by biology. Correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge, the concept is empty.”

          To the best of my knowledge, you’re absolutely right here. The difference, I think, between you and those who would object to the “we’re all one race” phrasing is that you’re looking at biology and ability, whereas they are looking at society and history, and they tend to feel that people who focus on the former are discounting or minimizing the latter.

        2. “This is to say that racist discrimination cannot be justified (to the best of my knowledge) by biology. Correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge, the concept is empty.”

          I certainly agree that racist discrimination (in the prejudicial sense) cannot be justified.

          I’m not sure if the concept of biological racial differences is empty, though.

          In New Zealand, Pacific Islanders are over-represented in over-weight statistics and associated health problems, and there is some indication that this is due to the effect of a high-fat Western diet on Polynesian metabolism. (I say that very tentatively because I’m not an expert).

          Sickle-cell anaemia preponderantly affects sub-Saharan Africans.

          I’m sure there are many other physiological examples.

          And appearance (e.g. skin colour) is certainly biologically determined.

          I don’t think it’s racist to acknowledge those factors.


          1. I am aware of these phenotypic traits found very commonly inside groups sharing common ancestors, however I am not sure biologists even have a concept of race.

    4. These folks seem oblivious to context or nuance. The problem with the phrase (as I believe they’re seeing it) is that the phrase could be used as a dogwhistle code for “I don’t think racial discrimination is important or worth fighting.” Of course, it could also be used sincerely to communicate the idea that we are all one family, and should treat each other with kindness and dignity regardless of our superficial differences.

      But thinking about context and intent takes brainpower; heaven forbid we require people to think to join in the conversation! Also, with nuance you run the risk that someone might occasionally read someone else’s intent wrong, and we can’t have embarrassing moments occur in our liberal utopia. Far better just to eliminate any language that could possibly be used to express bad thoughts. Amiright or amiright?

  11. I was taught by a college history professor in the late 70’s that saying ”America is a melting pot” was racist, and that the appropriate term was “salad bowl”.

    1. Please, no prejudice against we non-scientists just because some have some different ideas. We’re not all the same and should have the same right to be judged as individuals as everyone else.

      Going down the humanities path is not a reflection on my intelligence, ability to think logically, or an indicator of how hard I work.

      1. Actually, statistically it is. This sort of post modern mush comes from the humanities, which these days graduate most of the lower half of the cohort. The humanities in the abstract can teach you to think, but in modern American universities they mostly don’t.

        1. Not all universities around the world work the same way USian ones do. Many countries, like mine, have standards that apply to all degrees. You’d be hard pressed to even find one of the courses you’re talking about being taught in a university here. We don’t have, for example, so called “bird courses.”

  12. These seminars were held at 9 of the 10 University of California campuses …

    If this included UC Berkeley, let’s hope Mario Savio rolled over in his grave so violently that the resulting temblor registered on seismographs all over the Golden State.

    1. That phrase has been classically used by racists in America who really are racists. For example, you could be a white bigot and have some kind of friendly relationship that wasn’t a real friendship, like a business relationship. You could adduce those “friends” in such an argument. I’ve been “friends” with people who were anti-Semitic, and would say the most vile things about Jews either because they knew I was an atheist or were just oblivious. I’m sure they’d adduce me as a “Jewish friend.”

      1. Yes, racist people are supposed to say that in France too, although I have never caught one of them doing it, I ever only heard the sentence as a joke.

        But it is not because racist people say one thing that it should never be said.

        I am not sure a genuinely non racist person would not say the same thing.

        1. Racists are very good at using current ‘correct’ terminology to make their point. If you reject any phrase used by racists, they can successfully poison anything.

          But we are NOT thought police. Racism, in the old days consisted of violence, intimidation, restriction. Now we’ve expanded the term to someone who simply has a dislike, but likely would never do any actual harm. At this level it’s thought control.

          In a free society, people should be free to have their personal prejudices.

      2. If a person says that it sounds like they’ve chosen their friends on the basis of their race – they want a friend to be a member of a particular demographic so they can say they have a friend in that demographic. It’s also saying they see all people of a particular demographic as the same based on their friend/s.

        Besides, good friendship transcends race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, sexual identity etc. The demographics of a friend are irrelevant to feelings towards that demographic as a whole.

        1. “they want a friend to be a member of a particular demographic so they can say they have a friend in that demographic.”

          Just like companies and universities that practice ‘affirmative action’?

          1. I’m not sure that doing it on an organisation-wide basis to ensure diversity of opinion in a business is the same thing.

            I’m in two minds about universities – the whole situation with them in the US and also with some aspects of US society is very different from my experience. We never had slavery, or voting bans based on race, for example. (Though there’s no doubt that Maori feature too highly in several negative demographics and that is due to racism in the past, including institutional racism.)

      3. Ok, it’s become offensive through association. There’s nothing intrinsically offensive. Interestingly, in his latest podcast with Glenn C. Loury (“a prominent social critic and public intellectual, writing mainly on the themes of racial inequality and social policy”, Sam Harris asked Loury why a sincere “some of my friends are black”, or something similar, cannot be a real demonstration of not being racist. The reply was interesting and worth a listen.

        I like Sam’s approach on such matters. If it’s true that “some of my closest friends are black”, that is a real testament. And taking such a statement at face value, until proven otherwise, is respectful. Such a respectful stance normally comes from someone who is honest themselves.

        1. I’d agree with that assessment.

          One problem with judging racism is that it’s ill-defined. A person might be fine and genuinely non-racist with, say, Africans, Indians and Polynesians, and yet hate all Chinese. (Those categories chosen arbitrarily).

          Or he might dislike e.g. Africans generally yet make exception for some individuals who he knows personally and who are genuine friends of his. Because to him they’re not generic Africans, they’re people he knows.

          But having said that, I would think that having a number of genuine black friends is evidence (not conclusive proof) on the side of the not-being-a-racist category.


          1. Is it being racist to be e.g. distrustful of Nigerians in general (i.e. use caution until sure of them), or is that simply common sense given the number of scams (419 and other) that originate from that country?

            My sister used to work in foreign exchange for a major UK bank, and she once told me that absolutely *everything* they received from that country was a scam of some kind, and it was necessary to keep looking at anything they received until they worked out what the scam was.

            Genuinely curious about this.

          2. I’ve had my share of Nigerian emails, some of them couched in the most delightful ‘English’. Your sister is probably right. There must be some circumstance why it is so prevalent in that country (and I doubt that it’s because Nigerians are naturally more crooked than other nationalities). Some combination of education, Internet access, etc.

            Personally, I wouldn’t translate that into being suspicious of Nigerians in person.


    2. It’s not that the statement in itself is offensive. The sort of person who might use it though, might genuinely think that having a black friend means they are not a racist. However, one can harbour a lot of conscious and unconscious bigotry while having a “black friend”. A misogynist can be married to a woman and still be a misogynist.

      So the statement has become a sort of signal of unabashed ignorance.

      1. There is some validity to your point.

        However, being accused of racism is one of those prejudicial things, like “Have you stopped beating your wife’, that is very hard to refute without seeming to protest too much.
        How do you prove a negative?

        But I would think having a number of (genuine) black friends would be among the better arguments for ones non-racism. Not proof, but supporting evidence. That said, the “I have several black friends” has become a sort of meme for unconscious racism, which is unfortunate because it discredits what may be a valid argument.


  13. I get the point of her study questions, especially module 8 since context is important for understanding and appreciating art, but this is an art history class not gender studies/ethnic studies/sociology. This seems like a fake or ‘pet’ class too. The analogous course you’d find in a more sane environment would be Modern American/Western Art History.

    1. Her UFL profile indicates she teaches or taught History of Jewish Art. I wonder how well that one goes and what restrictions she places there.

  14. I think these make-work classes should be consigned to the dustbin. A broad education is a good idea in principle but students should pick that up from general reading, not being forced to pay good money for lolly water learning.

    1. We don’t have them in NZ. Students do an extra year of high school. Most students do that year whether or not they’re going on to university. That extra year isn’t compulsory to attend university either, though almost all intending university students do it. What you call four-year degrees, we do in three years.

  15. The phrase “Melting Pot” originates from a 1908 novel of the same name by Israel Zangwill.

    The novel is a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” with the two protagonists being a male Russian Jew and a female Russian Christian both living in New York City.

    It has a happy ending, but problems ensue when the Jew discovers that the Gentile gal is the daughter of an officer who engineered the pogrom forcing his family to flee Russia in the first place.

    Now I can see why the phrase has become problematic, insofar as it expresses a preference for cultural assimilation over multiculturalism. But docking points off in a classroom???


    Last night I saw the much-discussed new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” which transposed the action from a fictive mythical Japan to Renaissance Italy to avoid creating hassles with San Francisco’s large Asian community. I had a brief exchange about it with someone at WEIT here

    Now there are subtle hints in the program notes and the revised dialogue that they kinda sorta get the need for this, but on another level feel it isn’t strictly necessary.

    The program notes state that when it was viewed in England by the Emperor of Japan in the 19th century, he said he had expected to be slightly insulted but was instead delightfully amused.
    They also note that G&S used Japan in order to make coded messages about closer-to-home European society to avoid offending people directly. (Shakespeare used Italy and Star Trek uses the 24th century the same way to make coded messages about areas closer to home.)

    Finally, the lyrics to “They’ve got a little list” sung by the executioner listing people who could be executed “Of society offenders who might well be underground, And who never would be missed” were completely revised to include both references to Donald Trump (never directly named), die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, and…people who engage in cultural mis-appropriation of foreign ethnicities for the sake of light operatic entertainment. It seems a hint that they aren’t completely convinced resetting this show in Renaissance Italy is really strictly necessary.

    Although the show is billed as “The New Mikado”, the titular authority figure in the show is called the “Ducato”.

    1. “Shakespeare used Italy and Star Trek uses the 24th century the same way to make coded messages about areas closer to home.”

      Probably the most striking practitioner of this is Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld characters – trolls, dwarves, werewolves etc could all be read as an allegory on the treatment of ‘outsiders’ in a world of humans.

      But he’s entertaining with it.


  16. In some past discussion it was touched on that conservatives seem to be taking a stronger stand for free speech.

    What we are missing though is that ‘conservatism’ (the general term, not a specific political affiliation) can be something that we don’t adopt, it’s thrust upon us. As a person ages, he often becomes (to those around him at least) more conservative

    Jerry, as well as myself and others here have had conservatism thrust upon us. We are faced with a circumstance where the (alleged) ‘arc of history’ is turning on something we hold very valuable. We can see how this is potentially disastrous, though the youngsters (and their ‘liberal’ guides) cannot… what they see is continued expansion along a line of philosophic ideology.

    We are the dinosaurs, folks. Trying to stem the tide against this (and other) craziness.. but the younger generation sees us as an impediment. There are a number of social and ‘modern’ philosophic changes that I cannot accept, and I guess that applies to a number of us here. I have become able to understand (if not necessarily fully agree) with the feelings of people in the past when they see something they believe in (marriage, fidelity, for example) taking a hit.

    Jerry and I are up there in years (almost exactly the same age I believe), but in a generation or so, our culture will be very different. With the modern fight against free speech as well as a fight against even the search for objective knowledge, the value of science will be lost as well (while the young post reality generation may vaguely accept evolution, they fully reject quantitative analysis of data, especially when it contradicts ideology)

    Welcome the new conservatives, holding our fingers in the dike.

  17. This is positively Orwellian. Lets’ push back.

    Melting pot melting pot melting pot melting pot. Melting pot melting pot melting pot and…. melting pot. There. Now I am in big trouble for saying Forbidden Words.

    Most every person in the U.S. who had parents that emigrated to this country is to some degree ‘melted’ into the pot. If it was their grand parents that emigrated, they are pretty much completely melted in.

    1. True. I knew a guy, a second generation Mexican, last name Diaz who was as purely ‘American’ as people whose family dates back to the revolution. Even his father was quite assimilated and did not come across as ‘Hispanic’ in the common perception.

    2. The thing about “melting pots” is that it’s so difficult to get the bones to dissolve.
      On the other hand, melting pot – or dissolving it in alcohol – produces much less residue.

  18. We are all influenced by those around us to some extent. For artists, this is always represented in their work. If that’s not a melting pot, I don’t know what is.

  19. balkanized

    Just occurred to me that that’s probably a microaggression against those of us who trace our ancestry to the actual Balkans. (Or maybe it’s a “cultural appropriation” — grievance-mongering is hard!)

    Either way, I’ll take my reparations in bitcoin, you don’t mind.

    1. Yes, I know for a fact that people from the Balkans are very unhappy with how the term “balkanised” and “balkanisation” are being used. Especially since it is often easy to check that most people who use it liberally have little to no knowledge about the history of the region.

      1. will mark it on my calendar!! But pirates go Arrrrrr, not Arrrrgh. I’ve probably mentioned before that at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), when they post the anti-pirating warning at the beginning of films, the cognoscenti say ARRRRRRRRRRR;-) The newbies wonder WTF?

  20. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    — Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lincoln Memorial, 8/28/1963

    Nope, doesn’t seem Dr. King had any problem evoking the imagery of a “melting pot.”

  21. Why not just call the course – how to be a complete ponce, squish every meaningful discussion, kill every party and p of your (prospective?) employer.

  22. I liked Pliny’s use of Picasso’s Guernica in the background. It serves to remind us that art can provoke, confront, and perhaps even offend. An art historian would do well to reflect on the nature of artistic endeavor.

  23. Some kinds of diversity are more equal than others.

    In the noughties (not naughties) the University of SOUTHern California had no problem with hosting a site for “The Centre for Muslim-Jewish Understanding” Which had in english 3 translations of the Quran, collections of the sahih hadiths, but separate from that obnoxious commentary about women and jews, and the expectation that humanity will come to see the Islamic light, plus some interesting comments on how hadith are rated. The venture was originally agreed with some progressive jews (perhaps naive) and Buried in some series of links were collections of Jewish scriptures, set in between advertisments, but the Muslim scriptures are front and centre and well organised. The site began to be criticised in the late noughties and has repaired to somewhere else (not part of a university website anymore and calling itself something else)

  24. I think this person is trying to emphasis pluralism, but going about it all wrong. There are so many ways to discuss diversity, and while I like the pluralism model in a lot of ways, appreciating diversity is a lifelong practice that a person can experience in a variety of ways, from recognizing and appreciating differences to recognizing and appreciating similarities. To limit one’s students to one approach to diversity is to tell them MY WAY IS THE ONLY WAY. That’s not how you get people to form their own educated opinions. That’s how you get people to shut down, pass your assignments, and get the hell out of there as soon as they’re done.

  25. Another thing that puzzles me, and if there were any good soul to enlighten me, I would be pleased : what about “in this class we celebrate diversity” ?

    Doesn’t that sound odd to you ? Some classes are about celebrating ? Is that banal ?

      1. I understand it is a “meaningless feel-good buzzword phrase”, so much so that I wonder why such a phrase is accepted in an academic environment.

        Classes are not celebrations, I’d say.

        1. Unfortunately, in the current climate, nobody is going to nitpick the meaning so long as the sentiments expressed are of the approved flavour.


  26. While I agree with your point, I think Brekka also has a point–she’s using her heavy-handed classroom policy to draw attention to the fact that the “melting pot” metaphor is pretty much unconsidered, rather like the fact of “white privilege” is pretty much unconsidered by white people in the US. So to live under Brekka’s rules for a few weeks is a learning experience, and I’d imagine some eyes were in fact opened. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. was not enunciating directly onto stone tablets–and in fact he was in the I Have A Dream speech talking about a future–a dream. Perhaps it takes a dialectic to get there.

    Here’s a related example perhaps, if you get my drift:

    1. All sorts of things are unconsidered. Why that metaphor in particular? Why not consider the unconsidered fact that when these privileged students click a switch the light comes on, and when they turn a tap water comes out?

      And banning the metaphor is stupid, if it’s that important she should discuss it.

      As for ‘learning experiences’ all I can do is quote an old tagline –

      Oh shit – not *another* learning experience!


  27. I guess E pluribus unum must be out too. Alternately, the people who want to penalize students for using Dr. King’s sentiments can explain to me why it’s not.

  28. In the latest podcast by Sam Harris he talks to economist Glenn C. Loury.

    Mr. Loury talks about the statement “Some of my best friends are black”. He says it’s simply a way to accuse a person of being a racist without actually looking at what the person says or does.

  29. Another person who thinks they can criticize an idea by banning its discussion.

    “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

  30. Instead of the “melting pot” metaphor, we could use the one proposed by Stephen Colbert back in 2006:

    Talk of immigrants always makes me hungry. It’s partly because of the term “melting pot”–the delicious racial fondue. Then a few years ago I started hearing people call America a “salad bowl,” which is still a pretty good metaphor if you toss in enough bacon bits. Today our country is neither a melting pot nor a salad bowl. What is it? The answer is tonight’s word: Lunchables. Yes, Lunchables. Like the vacuum-packed snack tray, America should be patriotically divided into sanitary compartments of like-minded citizens, and we’re well on our way. We already know if we live in a red state or a blue state. Now you can know if you live in a God state or a gay state. Take the new town of Ave Maria, Florida, which is being built specifically to attract those who follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. . . .

    But Lunchables America doesn’t have to be just for religious groups. There’s a serving size for every lifestyle. For instance, it is now legal for gay couples to get married in Massachusetts but only if they stay in Massachusetts. . . . For all of us it’s a win-win. Now, traditionally I’ve been against gay marriage, but by attracting all the gays to one state, we can protect the sanctity of marriage in 49 others. Massachusetts will become like a gay Israel–a Gaysrael. The point is, like crackers and juice boxes, Americans may have their differences, but I believe we can come together by living hermetically sealed apart. If you disagree with your neighbor, just find a new neighbor–one just like you. And eventually we’ll each be in our ideal communities. And that’s the word.

    (“The Word: Lunchables,” The Colbert Report, May 15, 2006)

    Source –

    Colbert’s metaphor may also provide a better description of current-day American society where communities sort themselves into gatherings of like-minded persons.

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