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The following is an introduction speech for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the occasion of his visit to Europe during Diversity Tour 2010, organized and executed by GrapeVine Promotions International. The speech kicked off a press conference held at the Steinberger Kurhaus Hotel, the Hague (the Netherlands) on 4 February 2010. I’m reprinting it in honor of César Chávez Day, 31 March, 2012

I was born and raised in California, on the west coast of the US, in 1957. When I was coming of age in the 1960’s, the most prominent civil rights leader for us was César Chávez. As head and co-­‐founder of the United Farm Workers, señor Chávez was the embodiment of the migrant workers’ struggle for basic human rights in California and the Southwest. He was, for us, the most visible figure in the struggle for human rights in general.

During his “Fast for Life” on August 21, 1988, Chávez was visited by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Of course, by 1988, I had heard of Rev. Jackson and knew who he was. But Rev. Jackson was “East Coast” (according to Californians, pretty much everything east of Las Vegas is “East Coast”). He was for the blacks; he was distant. Chávez was our man, la familia, the one fighting for la raza. Until that day in August, 1988.

There is an iconic photograph from that day that for many represents putting in perspective the local and regional struggle for migrant workers’ rights in the larger global struggle for human rights everywhere. It shows Chávez, weak and thin from 36 days into his hunger strike, sitting in a simple wooden chair in the dusty sunlight. Kneeling next to him in the dirt is Rev. Jackson. Chávez is passing a simple crucifix that represents his “Fast for Life” to Rev. Jackson. The two appear to be praying together. At this moment, not only is Rev. Jackson accepting the Imagesymbolism of shouldering Chávez’ struggle, he is also accepting the practice of the fast. From this moment, he himself begins a 3-­‐day fast, going from this time forward with only water to sustain him, before passing the cause on to others. This symbolic struggle was then assumed by leaders across the country, which gave enormous attention to the workers’ struggle that Chávez advocated. After this, the plight of migrant workers in California became a national issue, thanks to the intervention of Rev. Jackson. But even more, for we “nativos” it symbolized a joining of forces. Jackson literally and figuratively offering his hand to Chávez, and to us, with a simple, “Hermano, sí se puede.

And of course that gesture has now echoed across generations and across continents, to where, finally, a man also from a disadvantaged background and of color, ascended the steps to the White House using the same words, “Sí se puede,” – “Yes we can.”

And to me, and to millions of Latinos over the world, the circle was made complete when as one of his first significant and lasting decisions as Chief Executive, President Barack Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the US Supreme Court: Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor. The hand that Rev. Jackson reached out to César Chávez was then offered to Barack Obama, and then through him to maestra Sotomayor. The circle is complete, and we are all stronger for it.

It is with great honor and humility that I introduce to you the pre-­‐eminent civil rights leader of our time, the champion of the voiceless and disenfranchised everywhere: Reverend Dr. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.

Leo Salazar
4 February 2010
The Hague, the Netherlands

This posted on the LinkedIn group site, “Creating Results From Cultural Diversity”. The question, from Leah Smiley, was: “What are the differences between diversity practices in the US and Europe?”

Hello Leah,

I’m curious to see what responses you get here. I can give my perspective, but there are two caveats: 1) it is difficult to generalize about “Europe” in terms of societal trends and business practices, and 2) it is difficult to make a direct comparison between countries in Europe and the US. Dramatic differences in historical population and societal development make it clearly a case of apples and oranges.

Having said that, however, I can make a few statements about the Netherlands, the country in Europe that I am most familiar with. As in the US (or because of the US, depending on who you talk to), all economies in Europe are suffering in varying degrees because of the economic crisis. Because diversity policy is not firmly anchored and reinforced in government or business policy, many companies have simply ignored their diversity practices the past couple of years, arguing that their “priorities are elsewhere” and “it’s a question of survival”. The fact that the companies even have this choice says a lot about the state of diversity policy in this country.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Netherlands is comparable to the US in the late 1950’s in terms of awareness of the importance of a culture that encourages diversity. The Dutch constitution is clear when it comes to equal rights, but there are very few laws in place that enable diversity policy to the individual level. Most companies that do have a constructive diversity policy are the same ones that are busy with sustainability and CSR: it’s the morally right thing to do and it bolsters their image. Not because there is a legal imperative that compels them to do so.

The media reflects a society that is overwhelmingly white, and there are no charismatic leaders amongst minority communities. In fact, most minority communities are strangely silent when it comes to fighting for their equal rights.There is not a strong private litigation culture in the Netherlands and there are very few who take action if they feel they’ve been discriminated against. In fact, there is an active public service campaign that is currently running on Dutch TV that explains to people what discrimination is and what to do if you feel you’ve been discriminated against (even though it’s in Dutch, the pictures say a lot: This campaign seems to me to be clearly targeted towards those being discriminated against, rather than those doing the discriminating.

It will be interesting to watch developments in the coming months. The right wing politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party has gained significant ground by blaming minorities for the current problems in the Netherlands. Only now, after months of negotiating to form a new government, have any of the potential coalition partners said that the policies that the PVV espouses are anathematic. And then not necessarily because of the rights of minorities themselves, but more how it would look to trading partners of the Netherlands, most obviously Germany. In other words: there was an economic rationale rather than a moral or societal rationale.

And this is the key to promoting positive approaches to diversity in the Netherlands, in my opinion (and that’s why I do what I do): prove diversity as the wise economic choice. Increases in innovation, creativity, added value and increased access to diverse labor and consumer markets; decreases in personnel turnover and employee health issues. These are the drivers the Dutch understand. Don’t tell them it’s the right thing to do; tell them how it effects their bottom line.

This Reader’s Comment, by Ismail Muhammad from Los Angeles, to a particularly narrow-minded editorial in the NY Times by Ross Douthat (in which Mr. Douthat, in short, portrayed historical

Next stop: Japanese internment camp, California, USA 1941-46

intolerance and the threat of discrimination in the US as “wisdom”), can be applied to many multicultural environments, including here in the Netherlands:

“I take issue with the idea that discrimination produces assimilation, and is excusable because it leads to unity. I’m curious to know your historical analysis of anti-black discrimination [in the US]. Discrimination does not result in assimilation. Assimilation is the result of being fully integrated into the native culture through the work place, social and government institutions, media, and popular culture. The more people are forced to recognize that they are different, the more likely they are to wield those differences as cultural weapons. In short, discrimination results in narrow-minded thinking on the part of the victim, who comes to see himself as irrevocably different and only finds acceptance in his own culture. This may even lead to dangerous interpretations of that culture, i.e. militant black nationalism, Islamic extremism, etc.”

It was a relief to read such a reasoned and rational view after suffering Mr. Douthat’s surprisingly provincial and black/white view of the world. There were many worthy comments, but the one by Mr. Muhammad I found particularly cogent.

This is, in my view, what is largely missing in the Dutch and broader European landscape: an accurate representation of  modern societies in “work place, social and government institutions, media, and popular culture.” Until this truly begins to happen, those who are new to the culture will continue to feel themselves underrepresented, ostracized, disenfranchised and “different.” It is not only up to them to make the changes: it is up to both the host society as well as the newcomers to reach out to each other.

In another outstanding editorial column in the NY Times, on “Özil the German,” Roger Cohen uses the metaphor of the absence of “the Big Man” in the 2010 World Cup in promoting not only teamwork, but intercultural teamwork.

Mesut Özil - Germany National team WC2010

First, the intercultural part: “My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game. The discipline, attitude and always-give-your-all is the German part,” Özil is quoted as saying. And isn’t this what it’s all about? Searching for the added value in the marrying of different cultures. Of course it can be different – it often is different. But by looking for positive examples and potential role models such as Mesut Özil, especially for the youth, we open the possibility for more to follow in his path.

Secondly, on the second theme of Cohen’s article: how the Germany of Özil and Aogo is such a victory over the Big Man who destroyed Europe, and how we hope that the rest of Africa, not just South Africa, as well can see this as a model. I find the reader’s comments instructive, and there is one in particular that is very appropriate:

“I would disagree that South Africa doesn’t have a ‘Big Man’ His name is Nelson Mandela.”

Is it too much to hope that this year’s World Cup can provide an impetus for global change and universal acceptance?

In reflecting on yesterday’s blog post, I realized similar references to “questions” similar, but different in important ways, to the Gretchenfrage, in idiomatic Dutch and American English usage. Goethe’s “Faust” is a work that “remains a resonant parable on scientific learning and religion, passion and seduction, independence and love,” as well as other subjects, and is a justifiably proud influence not only on German arts and society, but on much of the “Western” world. The Dutch and American references are, how should we say, somewhat less noble in their lineage.

When the Dutch refer to a crucial question whose answer addresses the essence of a subject, the question is called the hamvraag, literally, the “ham question.” This is a reference to a radio game show that ran in the Netherlands from 1953 – 1957, in which contestants were asked a series of alternating questions. With every correct answer they were allowed to climb one rung higher on a ship’s mast that was placed in the studio. At the top of the mast the main prize was placed, a smoked ham. No, I’m not making this up. The last, and most important question, was thus called the “ham question,” as the correct answer won the contestant the ham.

Even though this construction may seem curious to those from other cultures, there are two important cultural references in this game setup. First of all, the ship’s mast. As being a people whose country is largely reclaimed from the sea and whose history is one in which the sea played an enormous role in its development, many of the cultural references in the Netherlands are in one way or another associated with water. Having a ship’s mast, instead of, say, an ordinary painter’s ladder, is culturally significant.

Secondly, this program took place starting in 1953, a short eight years after the end of WWII. At the end of the war, the Dutch suffered a terrible famine, the hongerwinter, eventually killing more than 18,000 people and resulting in generations of resulting sicknesses and diseases. Even though most likely apocryphal, the stories of people resorting to eating tulip bulbs are still told and retold by generations of survivors. Good quality food, therefore, took on a special significance. A nice, smoked ham symbolizes well being, nourishment for the family, and the comfort of being well fed. Far more appealing to the Calvinist values of the Dutch than would be cold, hard cash.

The American reference also refers to a game show, this one being “The $64,000 Question.” Again the saying “that’s the $64,000 question” refers to the final prize in a television show that ran from 1955 – 58. Current usage of the saying also refers to a question that’s answer is of prime importance. But, frankly, I can’t find any significant cultural references in the format of the show or the use of the phrase. When one watches videos of the show, one is struck with the impression of how blatantly  the game show was simply a vehicle for selling products. But something tying it to the roots of American culture . . . ?

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