Roger, Elizabeth, Whoopie, Rachel, and Race


Arthur Caplan, PhD

Publish date

Topic(s): Cultural Race

Ken Belson provides a useful review of the challenges facing the NFL with respect to securing diversity in the ranks of coaches, general managers and owners of football teams. Staring at a class-action suit filed by a just fired African-American coach alleging discrimination, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that while the league had made strides in promoting diversity, “we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable.”

The battle about what to do to ensure more diversity in the ranks of leaders in football is worthy of attention and debate. But a neglected confounding issue is America’s inability to agree on, much less discuss, what diversity means—specifically racial diversity.

Belson in his article noted that in the current cycle of hiring new coaches;

“Two of the nine vacancies, or 22 percent, were filled by minorities: Smith, who is Black, and Mike

McDaniel of the Dolphins, who is biracial. That rate… brings the number of head coaches of color to five in the 32-team league. Smith and McDaniel join Ron Rivera of the Washington Commanders, Robert Saleh of the Jets and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers”.

What is interesting is the inclusion of McDaniel and Saleh on this list. I have never met either man. But, Saleh is identified in the media as Lebanese and a Moslem. Many Lebanese I know think of themselves as White. So is it his ‘darker’ complexion that qualifies him as a minority? Or his religion?

McDaniel may surely identify as multiracial but what allows such a claim? Can a coaching applicant claim mixed race if they had a great, great grandparent who was Black? Donald Trump spent endless hours sneering at Elizabeth Warren for claiming at one point in her life a connection to Cherokee ancestors. Rachel Dolezal was deemed by many to be mentally ill for proclaiming herself to be Black with no obvious genetic connection to any Black relative. On the other hand, many states recognized a classification rule for more than a century which was so racist that it held that, whatever one felt, anyone with even one ancestor (‘one drop’ of ‘black blood’) was considered black.

Whoopie Goldberg, who sort of identifies as Jewish, was sent packing for a period of reflection for claiming that the Nazi Holocaust was not racist because victims and perpetrators were both ‘White’. She ignored the fact that the Nazis hatred of the Jews ran so deep as to provide a biological view of the group that made them both a despised ‘race’ and subhuman.

America has a long, miserable history of racism and prejudice. The search for diversity in all walks of employment is commendable but what needs to be made clear is that the categories being used are constructs, value-laden, rooted in our history, imposed by the powerful and in need of continued analysis.

Arthur Caplan, PhD (@ArthurCaplan) is the Mitty Professor of Bioethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

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