“Culturally Competent Daily Practice through Intentional Acts of Resistance” on Martin Luther King Day

by Lenore Broughton

Paul Gorski stood in front of the teachers and staff, who had for so long been awaiting his visit. Dr Gorski is a young, social justice activist who was invited to speak to the teachers in the Burlington Public School District on Martin Luther King Day. He bills himself as “an active consultant, presenter, and trainer, conducting workshops and providing guidance to schools and community organizations committed to equity and diversity.” His topics include “white privilege and racism, anti-poverty education and economic justice…”

Gorski’s visit follows the Burlington School Board’s 99 page attack on white, middle class, Judeo/Christian values, outlined in the Recommended Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Paul Gorski is a self-deprecating man, perhaps to a fault. He does not tire of referring to his “white privilege”. In his case it is the privilege of being, through no fault of his own, a white, heterosexual male. He seems, however, to have found a way to deal with it; according to his web site, Mulitcultural Pavilion, not by “blaming or developing guilt in white people, men, heterosexual people, Christians, or other non-oppressed people (sic), but instead by modeling an approach to multicultural education… which transcends a tendency to exclude the voices of those who most desperately need to be in the conversation.”

What all this seems to boil down to is discomfort. As long as one is feeling discomfort, one can assume one is on the right path to “cultural competency.” And Gorski is bound and determined to bring other people to this same place. Another term for this discomfort, or another route to it, is “cognitive dissonance,” which he happily recommends as a way to begin to acknowledge and learn to know the oppressed among us.Cognitive dissonance, he affirmed, happens when we encounter a new piece of information which clashes with the familiar, or as he might put it, the stereotypical information we have been fed.

It was at this point in his talk that Dr. Gorski laid out a series of examples, featuring certain historic figures who many of us have been taught to revere. The quotes below were features of a large-screen power point presentation. Once the quote was read (with high drama by self selected members of the audience), the names of three different historic figures were given as possible authors of the quote. The audience was asked to choose.

The first quote was: “And when one day we must ask the question why are there 40 million poor people in America….and when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth, when you ask that question, you being to question the capitalist economy.”

Guess who? Was it Franklin D. Roosevelt, Karl Marx, or Martin Luther King?

Who would have thought that the person in whose honor we had gathered that day had actually said this? If we weren’t cognitively dissonant right then and there, Dr. Gorski elaborated further. Dr. King actually “was not a peace activist”. He was an “anti-war socialist”, and a “racial justice activist”. He was in Memphis, supporting the trade unions, when he was shot and killed.

Another quote: “I will say, then, that I am not nor have ever been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races -that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people.” Abraham Lincoln.

A third quote: “I am a socialist because I believe that socialism will solve the misery of the world – give work to the man who is hungry and idle and at least give to little children the right to be born free”. Helen Keller said that.

And this last quote: “Who are the oppressors? The few: the King, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.” Mark Twain.

There is no doubt these words were said by the people to whom they are attributed by Dr. Gorski. There is no doubt that for many, a sense of cognitive dissonance had been amply demonstrated. But aren’t the examples a bit lopsided? Doesn’t this so-called presentation on diversity, smack rather of propaganda from a single-minded ideological perspective?

The teachers appeared only grateful. That’s because this is not new to them. They have been subjected to this kind of thinking for years now. The title of Dr. Paul Gorski’s talk included the words “intentional acts of resistance”. I suppose they were meant to refer to defense against the old “hype” about American exceptionalism. Would that the teachers were better at resisting the true hype!