Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Lessons From Fort Hood

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Fort Hood funeral i

Funerals were held around the country to remember those killed in the Fort Hood shooting. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Fort Hood funeral

Funerals were held around the country to remember those killed in the Fort Hood shooting.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

I have a few more thoughts about the tragedy at Fort Hood. In my commentary last week I talked about the feelings of shame such an event evokes when one's own group is implicated, particularly if one belongs to a minority group that is often tagged with society's ills. I was very moved by the response. Many of you, from a variety of backgrounds, wrote to tell me of your own experience of being painted with the group brush of dysfunction.

But of course we also had the usual side serving of what I call racism lite. One person wrote in to say she thought it was just fine that I was asked, in the wake of a scandal by a black colleague at the newspaper where I once worked, to provide proof of my college degree when I tried to rent an apartment, while a white roommate of mine — who worked at the same place — was not.

Really? Try this: Why aren't we demanding that all white men who want to work in the financial sector prove in advance they aren't dishonest or reckless with other people's money? It was mainly white men who were in charge of our financial institutions and made the decisions that led to the current economic meltdown, wasn't it? So it's their fault, right?

Sound ridiculous to you? Over the top, probably even illegal. But tell me, then, why there is always somebody around to try to justify suspicion of black and brown people or members of religious minorities because of the actions of one, or even a few.

Can I just tell you? There are many questions raised by the story of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan. A number of those questions, as Tom Ricks — a prize-winning writer on military affairs — told us last week, have to do with the way bureaucracies function. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the Fort Hood shooting, had been expensively trained by the Army in a much needed specialty, and he was an officer, a member of the club, so you can see why the Army was reluctant to let him go, even though he was sending all kinds of signals about his growing mental instability. You can understand it: Why were all these geniuses in all these financial institutions so reluctant to let go of those huge profits they were making from poorly underwritten mortgages and other speculative investments: The incentives were all in one direction.

But to the degree that Hasan's story does speak to ethnicity and religion and the experience of being a minority, the answer, it seems to me, is more diversity, not less. You have to wonder what the reaction would have been to the major's now infamous PowerPoint presentation if there had been several other Muslims in the room. The major's extremist and fundamentalist description of Islam in that presentation would very likely have been challenged. According to one report there was one other Muslim doctor present. But did he or she feel able to challenge him? Was he or she equal in rank and stature?

I see this in my own field, where on most days African-Americans are conspicuously absent from the most prestigious confabs about politics or policy — or now, because it's Obama time, there might be one. As for Latinos, Asians, Native Americans — you could be forgiven if you did not know there were any people of these backgrounds who have expertise in national politics and policy, although there are many. And thus the views of the one or two who manage to slip through the door become inordinately important, too important. They become the unelected spokespersons for their group, whether it's a job they've applied for or not, whether it's a job they are qualified for or not.

The only answer is more diversity, not less, so individuals can truly be judged by the quality of their work, not the color of their skin or the origin of their last name, or the name of the God they worship. That way, the range of opinions and attitudes and aptitudes within each group can speak for itself.



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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

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