60 SECONDS WITH . . .
Rupert Nacoste, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate
Professor of Psychology
Rupert Nacoste developed an interest in group dynamics, race relations and social psychology
while experiencing race riots aboard an aircraft carrier during his service in the
U.S. Navy during the 1970s. A native of Opelousas, La., Nacoste joined the faculty
at NC State in 1988. In 2013, the UNC Board of Governors recognized his work
with an award for excellence in teaching. Last year, he published his third book,
Taking on Diversity: How We can Move from Anxiety to Respect.
Is this generation of college students more accepting of differences
in others? They have experienced more desegregation than other generations,
but that doesn’t mean they’re more accepting. Yeah, it’s desegregated
institutionally, but is it desegregated interpersonally? Nope.
You mention in your book how casually young people use the N-word or other
derogatory terms about groups of people. Why is that? We went through horrible
times when it came to race relations and racial change. Riots all over the nation,
all kinds of awful stuff. We knocked the walls down and we knocked the legal
structure down, the legal structure of Jim Crow. And then we reached this
period where we just wanted it to be done. It was like, okay, it’s fixed. The people
who experienced all of that just got quiet and did not deliver the lessons to the
next generation about why this is, why this was so awful, why this is so
dangerous to live with that language of bigotry. That word [the N-word]
is not just a word; it has a history to it that we are dragging along.
You tell your students that you don’t use the term “white privilege.” Why?
Because it’s overused and it’s not a concept. It’s a very vague idea that’s used
to make white people feel guilty. There are all kinds of privilege in America.
You say that America finds itself dealing with something called neo-diversity.
What do you mean? We had race relations, right? We’re always talking about black
and white, and then we started adding a little bit of gender at a certain point, and
we started calling that diversity. But now there’s an explosion: race, gender, sexual
orientation, religion. What happened was 9/11 made us lift our heads up to stuff that
was already there. Nine-eleven happened and people started looking up, going,
“Oh my god, there are Muslims here.” Muslims have always been here. But 9/11
changed our psychology about that, and then we started looking at all these different
brown people, the explosion of Southeast Asian Indian students on our campus, wow.
So that new environment made everybody start trying to figure out what’s going on,
and then certain other big events started happening—the economy tanked and all of
that stuff. Whenever the economy tanks, there’s a scapegoating tendency that has
a lot of different targets, in a way that it didn’t in the past. —Bill Krueger
To read more of our interview with Nacoste, visit www.redandwhiteforlife.com.
KE Y WORDS: Rupert Nacoste