Parades, like movies and commercials, are crafted products, rhetorical performances addressed to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Some parades are in fact quite as carefully crafted as artistic or pseudoartisperformances. Conversely, the kind of temporary resolutions of difficult dilemmas the next two chapters examine are themselves the result of complex improvisations. By separating the preceding set of essays from the others I have tried to suggest the usefulness of looking at certain types of cultural manifestations as somewhat under the control of apparent authors.
Parades, in this sense, are only a particularly striking example of a large set of everyday occurrences in which we specifically display something that is meaningful within the culture. In ethnic parades and in myriad other settings, we are specifically in the business of "doing ethnicity." Ruskin and Varenne (1983) showed how ethnicity is done in interviews "about" ethnic difference. Ethnicity can also be done in schools (what should a kindergarten teacher do on Columbus Day?), in cafeterias (green tablecloths on Saint Patrick's Day), and in churches ("Today our Jewish friends are celebrating the great feast of Yom Kippur. This should remind us . . ." - a sermon in a liberal Protestant church might begin). Ethnicity, like a host of other major symbols ("family," "love," "America," "religion," "education"), is an explicit theme. For a performance to be recognized as "ethnic," certain things must be mentioned ("difference," "values," ("blood ties to a country outside the United States," etc.), and others must stay in the background. From then on things are loose; we are free to improvise. Indeed, the themes are so well worn, the myths so well known, that the quality of the performance can affirm itself. People in the United States soon learn to "read" a float in a parade as, in our case, an "ethnic" float designed to recognize the "contribution of those who came from Poland." But some floats are "good" and others are not so good. Ray Charles's rendering of "America the Beautiful" may be offensive to some. To others it may have the power of putting back into a dead expression of trite nationalism the symbolic force that overuse has killed. And this power can of course be employed for ulterior motives: those who decided to use this rendering during the 1984 Republican convention knew very well what they were doing.
Such improvisations on a theme are part of everyday life. Foreigners and children may not learn for along time, if ever, the "true meaning of ethnicity," but they are soon taught to distinguish an ethnic performance from a nonethnic one. On Columbus Day in New York one must deal with the fact that the discovery of the Americas symbolically "belongs" to Italy (and not to Spain, Portugal, or Denmark) because it has been agreed that, in the scramble for appropriate totems for the various groups, Christopher Columbus and his odyssey were, granted to the Italians (just as the color green was granted the Irish, corn was granted the native Americans, etc.).
Writing the minutes of a Southern Baptist association and planning a floor party in a dorm are also improvisations on well-worn themes. But the emphasis in the next two chapters is put on the historical process that leads to the need to improvise. Like minutes and parties, parades are also answers to problems. Both Singer and Myerhoff and Mongulla mentioned the problems that were addressed. Greenhouse and Moffatt trace in more detail how the need to resolve a paradox arises. They detail the conversations that lead to a pattern for future events (Greenhouse) or to the single event (Moffatt) that answers, and perhaps lays to rest, difficult questions put to the groups involved.
In the chapter by Moffatt (chap. 8) we see black and white late adolescents try to deal with an altogether impossible situation. Both blacks and whites know that they are "doing" ethnicity and racism or rather, they hope, ethnicity and specifically not racism. They know that anything they do in relation to each other can be used as an example in any conversation about ethnicity and racism. This is all the more stark since they are part of a deliberate experiment in racial and gender integration designed to demonstrate the open character of a bureaucracy - Rutgers University. To the administration of the college, they are rhetorical proof that policies are color- and gender-blind. To a campus newspaper editor, they are proof of the failure of this policy. To us, they are an example of the way people in the United States deal with certain symbols.
To themselves, however, the students were a puzzle. They wanted to brush their teeth in peace, but they also knew that every time they walked to the bathroom they would also have to improvise on the themes of ethnicity and racism. And they were not so naive as not to know that such performances are never politically benign. Moffatt suggests that they also knew, though in a different way that they might not be able to articulate fully, that the symbolic framework being offered them, far from offering easy solutions, instead presented new difficulties. To address these difficulties they gave a party designed to demonstrate their unity as against accusations of mutual animosity. The party may have expressed some of their values. But the occasion and form of this expression was a rhetorical statement, an answer to the reporter's rebuke, framed within a general conversation the students did not control.
The chapter by Greenhouse (chap. 7) traces the historical development the apparent resolution of another classic American puzzle. When and where are free speech and the affirmation of one's personal conviction (and interests) appropriate? Where are unanimity and consensus needed? Here again the symbols that signal whether a statement is framed as either "free speech" or "consensus" are clear. But there are no mechanisms that describe which symbols are to be used at any one time. The "time" in Greenhouse's essay consists of the historical minutes of a Southern Baptist association. Should such minutes reflect the variety of opinion on matters doctrine and politics among and within the congregations belonging to the association or should they, as symbolic displays of the insiders to themselves and to outsiders, present a united, consensual front? Greenhouse shows how the association moved from the first to the second resolution of the question. She also emphasizes that such a resolution is necessarily a fragile thing. The display of consensus is not based on the absence of conflict. On the contrary, perhaps.
What is important is that, to this day, consensus remains an important symbol among church members. They know about conflict; they know about the institutional means at their disposal to deal with conflict. They can talk about it. However, their traditional answers to difficult questions about the response that must be given at times of conflict precludes their participation in both formal and informal displays of conflict (disputing and litigation) available institutionally.