Publication Date

September 1, 1994

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

Revive the White-Collar WPA

I wish to second the sentiments expressed in Andrew Gyory's letter ("Nothing Irrational about Job Fears," Perspectives, April 1994, p. 20) in the April issue. The fact is that there are not enough jobs for historians in need of permanent, full-time employment. The few jobs that do become available are increasingly reserved for women and minorities so that faculties can salve their collective consciences regarding past real or imagined hiring discrimination and also avoid legal action. It is policy in many history departments and historical agencies to forego further hiring of white males (especially over a certain age) until some sort of gender and racial equity in staffing is attained. This self-imposed system of quota hiring is the profession’s open secret. We all know it exists, but we don’t acknowledge it.

In the current economic climate, it is obvious that those unemployed historians who do not fit a politically correct social profile are in jeopardy of seeing their careers placed on indefinite hold or terminated. Perhaps the best way to defuse an increasingly unpleasant and divisive situation—in lieu of professional internecine warfare—is to actively work to create needed employment. Specifically, the AHA might consider petitioning the Clinton administration to revive and update some of the white-collar WPA projects of the 1930s, such as the Historical Records Survey. To paraphrase Harry Hopkins, historians (even white, male ones) need to eat, too.

Wayne M. O'Leary
Orono, Maine

Subtler Forms of Job Discrimination

This is in reaction to Andrew Gyory's letter to the editor in Perspectives (“Nothing Irrational about Job Fears,” April 1994) and Professor Nell Irvin Painter’s response (“Serious Job Problems Require Serious Attention,” May 1994). As the issue dealt, in part, with affirmative action (AA), I feel compelled to provide another viewpoint. I am a Ph.D. candidate, listed alternatively as Puerto Rican, Hispanic, or Latino. It is not labels that vex me as much as what appears to be a debasement of the term diversity by those who profess to champion AA. I can relate an event that highlights a problem both Gyory and Painter touched upon. While one should not base criticism upon a limited number of incidents, I know I am not alone in my feelings, “irrational” as they may appear. A letter I received read as follows:

X seeks candidates for an Affirmative Action position. The field is open, but preference for African, Hispanic, or Latin American. The position is open to qualified minority candidates.

I called the department and identified myself as an interested candidate. The conversation seemingly declined after I mentioned my fields: military history, American diplomatic, and East Asia. At that point, the chair stated that the community consisted of a large Hispanic population. As such, the department sought a Hispanic candidate for Hispanic/Latino Studies. I drew the conclusion that I qualified under AA only if I specialized in ethnic studies. Using such a rationale, a potential black/African American candidate would be appropriate only if he or she engaged in black studies/African history or an Asian candidate in Asian studies.

Though not proof of an unconscious practice, the end result might appear so. Observers might conjecture that academia seeks not diversity, but rather a return to categories once deemed stereotypical, racist, and outmoded. The scenario, as I can delicately define it, is as follows: only blacks/African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Asians/Asian Americans could work in their own cultures (the reverse would, of course, be racist; that is, only Caucasians can work with each other).

I feel that Gyory was wrong when he argued that "in the current climate of diversification, it is unlikely that a minority student will not be offered a job." His use of "diversification" conflicts with academia's current definition. Professor Painter wrote, "I do welcome the effort … to diversify." The existing mechanism does not seem to support that process. Minorities will get jobs, but perhaps stereotyped jobs, for the current usage of diversity supposes a single-minded and monolithic intellect for minorities.

If one genuinely sought diversity, then AA would mean an effort to increase the number of underrepresented minorities, not define appropriate fields of study. As a minority I am expected to be a model. Though I do not shrink from that duty, the current climate means that all I can offer is ethnic studies. As such, one could conclude that nonminority students could learn little from me.

Carlos R. Rivera
Columbus, Ohio

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