PULLMAN, Wash. – Multiculturalism as a national phenomenon hasn’t improved American society significantly, a Washington State University English professor told a group of students, faculty and others Tuesday evening (Feb. 12).
Professor Victor Villanueva Jr., chair of the English department, was the keynote speaker for WSU’s Office of Multicutural Student Services 12th annual convocation in the Compton Union Building ballroom.
In a speech peppered with powerful poetry, Villanueva spoke about experiences in his life and in society that point to the continuing existence of racism. Instead of multiculturalism, he suggested focusing on antiracism and antibigotry. He argued that society has to acknowledge that “power and hierarchy are always involved in the representation of color, when we allow for the voices of those who are passionate about the realization that ‘making it’ always means making it as a person of color, that the color always remains.”
Although segregation is no longer legal, Villanueva said an economic segregation remains. White and middle-class flight from inner cities relegates African American and Latino students to schools that lack a strong tax base and thus are poorly funded. Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos and American Indians receive a fraction of graduate level degrees and faculty members of color are largely absent from college campuses.
“I have no patience with reverse discrimination,” he said.
There are fundamental differences between immigrants and America’s people of color, he said, describing immigrants as the “volunteers at assimilation.”
“Assimilation underscores the national metaphor – the melting pot. But America’s people of color are not immigrants who are somewhat resigned to assimilation,” he said. “America’s people of color are the formerly and the continually colonized; that mental colonialism that comes from having one’s body owned by someone else, the former colonies of the American West and Southwest, the former colonies of the Pacific Islands with its former Asian serfs, the present-day colonies of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean places, the colonies that are the Indian reservations.”
Economic success isn’t the indicator that all is okay, he said. “That there are more people of color in the middle class than ever before, at least economically, has allowed us to be less vigilant, to believe that the system is finally working. But the clichÃ© that money knows no color is wrong.
“Racism isn’t confined to the working class. Those of us who made it, those of you making it, don’t get to melt,” he said.
Villanueva said that students “of color as well as white” often resist hearing from the passionate or angry writers of color. However, resistance is a good thing.
“If they are exposed to our voices, they can, in their resistance, begin the questioning,” he said. “Questioning can not only lead to critical thinking, but to critical consciousness, realizing the problems that aren’t normally brought up.”