Miami Was Once a Model for Diversity Training—But it was Always ControversialRoundup
tags: Florida, Miami, diversity, Ron DeSantis, DEI Training
Catherine Mas is assistant professor of history at Florida International University and author of the new book, Culture in the Clinic: Miami and the Making of Modern Medicine (UNC Press).
Earlier this year, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed House Bill 7 into law, calling it the Stop WOKE Act, or “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” The law seeks to restrict diversity trainings by forbidding the teaching of certain concepts, such as unconscious bias. One might expect this to have hurt DeSantis in diverse Miami-Dade County. Instead, he stunningly won the county by 11 percent — the first Republican to do so since Jeb Bush in 2002 and a reversal of 40 points from Hillary Clinton’s almost 30-point win over Donald Trump in 2016.
Miami-Dade has always been a battleground over diversity and inclusion. Even in the case of the “Stop WOKE” Act, the bill provoked strong reactions in both directions. Many scrambled to figure out how to comply with the new law. Others resisted through legal action, from students and professors in the public university system to private companies that wish to continue the workplace trainings they consider crucial to their businesses’ success. Meanwhile, the law’s supporters celebrated a victory for “individual freedom” — freedom from institutional policies designed to build awareness and competency around issues of race and inequality, which they condemn as “woke indoctrination.”
Decades ago, however, Florida produced a nationwide model for such trainings. Many called it the “Miami model” in the 1970s and ’80s: an approach derived from South Florida’s notably diverse population. This included training all kinds of health and human service professionals on how to be sensitive to the racial, ethnic, class and cultural differences among the populations they served. In other words, it encouraged people to become what diversity training critics now demean as being “woke.”
Looking to the history of the “Miami model” — an innovator in what was then called “cross-cultural training” — can help us understand why diversity trainings were created in the first place. It also sheds light on how and why diversity trainings have long since elicited strong opposition — way before “wokeness” became a pejorative term and a favored target for culture warriors.
The period of the 1970s in Miami was a “multicultural moment.” The previous decade had seen a dramatic uptick of Cuban refugees fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist revolution. Although many thought of their exile as temporary, it soon became clear that Cubans were there to stay, enhancing the city’s ethnic diversity. There were, for instance, Black and Afro-Caribbean communities that had a long-established presence in Miami. So too had Puerto Ricans who had arrived in large numbers after World War II, many to work in the garment industry. And by the late 1960s, thousands of Haitian refugees fleeing political turmoil also came to Miami. All the while, the number of “Anglos” was decreasing not just proportionately but in absolute numbers. Miami was and remains, conspicuously, a majority-minority city.
From mainstream media to local politics, Miami was on the leading edge of not just recognizing but officially embracing non-White and immigrant cultures. Take, for instance, the hit television series, “¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A?,” which follows the life of the Peña family in 1970s Miami and the wholesome, humorous collisions of Cuban and American culture as they adapt to life in a new country.
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