Race and Morality:
Shaping the Myth
William H. Watkins
University of Illinois at Chicago
Morality continues to be an emotional hot-button issue in America's culture wars. Many see our nation in decline as they rekindle images of Babylon, the Roman Empire, and other “decadent” societies. For the general public, morality is most often associated with the erosion of the core values that made us “great. ” We have all heard that frugality, sobriety, piety, and chastity have given way to sloth, greed, and carnality. In the Western world this may be an eternal debate, as every generation demonstrates concern and fear that the young have abandoned the values of their forefathers.
Beyond those issues, our highly stratified industrial society faces other moral concerns with profound social consequences. An ethnically and racially heterogeneous society demands accommodation among diverse people if it is to function. The plague of racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice remain deeply embedded in U. S. history and culture. Serious and organized public discourse on racism is mostly lacking or absent.
Powerful political and religious groups are demanding that schools increasingly participate in moral “uplift. ” The concerns of the fundamentalists and “hard” right focus mostly on character. Although some character-building initiatives are being integrated into the curriculum, there is little meaningful excavation of problems on race and privilege. Sponsored school multiculturalism (Watkins, 1994) has done little to ameliorate hardened attitudes. Public education has substituted gimmicky schemes of diversity and