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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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Finally, 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 a 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 when 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 illegal.

But tell me, then, why there's always somebody around to try to justify why it's okay to cast suspicion on black and brown people or members religious minorities as a group because of the actions of one, or even a few?

Could I just tell you? There are many questions raised by the story of Army Major Nidal Hasan. A number of those questions have to do - as Tom Ricks, the prizewinning writer on military affairs told us last week - with the way bureaucracies function.

Major 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 a 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 are all these geniuses and all these financial institutions so reluctant to let go of those huge profits they were making from poorly unwritten mortgages and other speculative investments? The incentives were all in one direction.

But to the degree that Major 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 would have been the reaction 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 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues