A white boy speaks of race

Yes, I know, political correctness maintains that white people have no title to an opinion on the subject today, but I’ve never been much for following rules – not back when conservatives were the cultural police and not now with liberals as the cultural police. So what the hell, here’s my view. It is not intended as the final word on the subject, not even my final word, as there’s a lot to hear before fixing my position too firmly. It is one voice among many, but it is a heartfelt one, and any tricky issue is navigated best when the widest range of voices, including those we disagree with, are welcome at the table.

As a white man, I feel sorry for my black brothers and sisters. Not only because they have suffered so deeply from historical conditions whose effects continue today, but also because the liberal agenda, which was “liberating” at the time of the Civil Rights/hippie 60s, has now become a constraining force. Conservatives, of course, are no help whatsoever. But liberals used to offer, at least in the vision, a way out. Now the liberal agenda, although split between residual Enlightenment liberals and emergent identity politics liberals, seems to have given the microphone to the latter. And the latter seem to hold that if you are black, every aspect of your identity must be defined by racism. You cannot speak, especially if you are a public figure, of any interactions with mainstream culture or white people without decrying racism as a driving part of the interaction. Forget about the collaboration, the good times, the connections that transcended race or racism.

Indeed, many of my younger liberal friends are probably already offended by the fact that I opened with a reference to “my black brothers and sisters.” That old liberal vision that says we are all in this together, brothers and sisters, regardless of race or demographics, that says we should measure each other by the content of our character and not the color of our skin, is now anathema to liberals. Where liberals once fought to break down the walls between races, liberals now insist upon those very walls. For white people to try to identify with blacks as brothers and sisters is considered presumptuous, overreaching, an affront to the black experience. There is a certain logic to this position but it gives us no way forward toward a harmonious multicultural society. When activists demand that the Whitney Museum “remove and destroy” Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till solely because it was done by a white artist; when universities demand that students treat each other not as fellow human beings but as instances of this or that race (“I don’t see race when I meet people” is widely listed as a microaggression); at this point, liberalism becomes a force that hardens the walls between races and blocks any collective path forward.

Few people at any point in the political spectrum deny that racism exists. But whereas racism was once considered a cancer to be removed from the body politic, liberals now conflate it with the body politic itself, and the treatment seems to involve killing the patient to get at the cancer. I believe this is a mistake. The truth is that many people, black and white, have been fighting against racism for a long time; that many people, black and white, still harbor race-based judgments against others; that blacks have suffered disproportionately because of their race; and that the solution is not and will never be to sharpen the line between white and black with the “us versus them” approach favored by conservatives in the 1960s and now favored by liberals. Better to search out and magnify the good in one another, not to search out and magnify the bad. What you focus on determines the fruit you bring forth.

(To my younger liberal friends [black or white]: Before you write me off, please note that beneath all the needless belligerence manufactured by today’s political players, there’s actually a lot we agree on and can work on together.)

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21 thoughts on “A white boy speaks of race

  1. Wow…excellent piece Daedalus! You point out clearly that the idea that “we’re all in this together” has now been supplanted by the idea that Us vs. Them has become the default position. This is very well-written. In my blog I’ve written a couple pieces on the African-American situation too. I commend you for your statements + I applaud your sentiments since you reflect the liberal sentiments I was raised with in the late 60’s + 70’s as opposed to the identity politic liberals of today.

    Since I was raised in a liberal test kitchen of sorts, I had kind of a front row seat to many of the happenings of the late 60’s + 70’s + see clearly what you talk of. Just as my family stopped off to see the happenings at Woodstock Festival of 69 just before it began, I was also one of the first young Americans bussed to a black school as an 8 yr old in 1968. And by the way…I’m a gray-haired white boy too! 🙂

    Back in 1968, my Father was a newspaper Editor in Syracuse, New York. At that point he became interested in anti-war + civil rights issues. For my Dad, 1968 was a brutal year. I’ll never forget his sadness when Dr King died. After that, I’ll never forget how our Senator-Bobby Kennedy was killed. At the time, we had pictures in the windows of Bobby Kennedy since my Dad supported him for President. Since my Dad had met Senator Kennedy, he was quite attached to him.

    During the summer of 68, there were letters sent out to kids in my suburban school that an inner city school in Syracuse was looking to see if any of us would attend a Martin Luther King Elementary School in the inner city. As I remember, the elementary school’s named was changed after Dr King’s assassination + Corretta Scott King commemorated the school.

    In actuality, this represented one of the early attempts at integration in America. Interestingly, it was totally voluntary. I would take a city bus at the corner + ride for about 45 minutes each way. Ironically, even though my parents lost friends over this since they thought I was in danger, I did fine. However, even though I did fine, I remember hearing “Honky…what ya doin here” more times that I remember. And yet no harm came to me. I was one of a handful of white kids there + I had a couple of black friends that’d watch my back.

    Although I only attended this school a year, it left an imprint. Since it was a new, relaxed open-classroom school, we could listen to music or watch sports in our study room. It was there that I discovered James Brown + would delight at how the black kids would dance around singing…”Say it loud, I’m Black + I’m Proud!” And you’re right, it was so innocent back then. The kids would get a kick out of me trying to sheepishly shake my foot + join in a little too. 🙂 Also, at this school I remember watching sport events such as The World Series + its there that I realized the tremendous power that athletics represented for African-Americans.

    After being at the school a yr my Dad quit his job as an Editor in Syracuse + we moved to the country to have a self-sustaining farm + he started his own hippy newspaper.

    To me Daedalus, you’ve picked up on an important point. The point is that what originally started out as a movement of optimism + cautious hope, + one of establishing equality of opportunity for all, has now morphed. Thx for noticing!

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    • Thanks for the insights, Perry. I always like hearing your inside stories. I’d like to know more about your dad’s hippy newspaper and how the farm worked out. I stopped a couple of nights at The Farm in Tennessee a few years ago to hear some of their old stories.

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      • You’re welcome Daedalus!

        My Dad’s hippy newspaper called “The Country Flyer” was published from 1970 to 1978 in upstate New York in the Oswego area near Lake Ontario. In the small paper my Dad published articles of heavy political importance such as the Vietnam War, Solar Power, Watergate, etc. This was quite unusual for a rural newspaper.

        As for the farm, it was mostly a vegetable venture that worked out pretty good. Since we lived in the snow belt of the Great Lakes we often had long winters + sometimes received 3 ft of snow in a night. The vegetables we grew we often canned + froze to help us through the long winter.

        Regarding the famous The Farm in Tennessee, I knew a friend who moved there with his family for a few months in 1978.

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        • I googled “The Country Flyer” and all I got was a kind of rtf file of an old 1975 newspaper saying your dad was running for school board. The clip was pre-election so I don’t know if he won 🙂 For the record, a girlfriend and I once booked a bus from Poughkeepsie to Oswego, missed a connection in Syracuse, and hitchhiked the rest of the way to Oswego 🙂 Good times.

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          • Hey Daedalus,

            Yeah…my Dad ran for school board + County Legislature many times + lost many times. Alas, he used to try to talk too many in-depth issues. I must admit that he came close to winning at times. 🙂

            When you hitch-hiked to Oswego with your girlfriend what was the season that you travelled in? I imagine that it wasn’t winter since Oswego sometimes gets 300 inches of snow in a winter. The upstate New York area has a beauty all its own with many apple + dairy farms. Lake Ontario is something that I miss greatly.

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            • Interesting. That was a summer trip, but I did hitchhike 6 Christmases in a row from Austin, Texas, to Tivoli in Dutchess County in the 1980s. For winter weather, Tivoli isn’t Oswego, but it ain’t Austin either.

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  2. A few contrarian points:

    1) While the Blacks, at least the majority of them, have suffered from historical conditions, if those effects continue today it is only because the Blacks of today choose for it to do so. They hold dearly and jealously onto wrongs that were never done them as individuals and have created a culture for themselves that is both deliberately exilic and deliberately either antithetical to- or a twisted mockery of normative American culture.

    2) America was never, is not, and better never become a “multicultural society” because those are either completely segregated or disharmonious enough to destroy the nation, e.g., Belgium. No, America was and was meant to continue to be a melting pot, a culture that expanded to include those bits and pieces of other cultures that fit within it and were of value while encouraging the other to leave the bad and/or incompatible parts of their birth cultures behind.

    3) We’re not in this together. We haven’t been in this together for a fairly long while. There’s been to many “liberals” and Black grifters, e.g., Sharpton, who’ve made an industry of pushing the lines of what is racism – and any and every other -ism – in order to achieve “progress” and maintain a feeling of importance and/or continue to make money by being a grievance-monger. No, we’re not even only separate peoples; we’re conflicting peoples since one side – the left and their Blacks – demands that the other be brought low in order raise up their own and do not except any solution that doesn’t involve damage to the other side, even if that solution would improve the lot of their folk.

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    • Agree with the first few sentences of your third point, disagree with your first point (at least, what I’m able to understand… “twisted mockery”??), and have no clue why you consider Belgium a “destroy(ed)” nation.

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    • Interesting points Jonolan.

      I agree with your point about America as a melting pot. And yes, I can see why you may feel that we’re technically not multicultural. However…there’s an aspect of America’s melting pot theory, when combined with our respect for the rule of law + limited government, that actually, + unwittingly, promoted multiculturalism,

      What I sense that you’re disenchanted with regards pushing the lines of racism is how so much of the American Black + White dynamic has changed the past 30 years. I do agree that the lines of what are considered racist have been rhetorically tightened to the point that it’s getting hard to believe that we’re all in this together.

      As for the concept of “we’re all in this together,” that of course is a judgement call. What I consider relevant may not be relevant to you. However, having said that, I can tell you with certainty that there was an optimism back in the 60’s + 70’s about race relations, when I personally was involved in aspects of the movement, that seems to me to be absent today. Ironically, + you hint at this, it could be that racial tensions have declined partly because maybe we have tried to assimilate too much. In response to that, there’s been a backlash on both the white + black side that’s resulted in a dynamic that inevitably leads to a rebirth of segregation on both sides.

      In essence, as Daedalus hints at in his writings, it could be that a certain amount of cultural preference is after all necessary for peaceful co-existence. I think when you say that racist lines are pushed, its because some racially charged folk seem to some to be calling out those who seem to have different preferences as racist. This is sad…

      Basically, a pluralist society doesn’t require all of us to agree or like the same things in the same measure. The main thing that a pluralist society demands is respect for the rule of law, + respect for a certain amount of equality of opportunity.

      And yes Jonalon, maybe if we would adhere to these ideas more, racial tensions could ease.

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      • Per Jon’s #3, I think he falls into a fairly common trap – what’s sometimes called the “hasty generalization” fallacy. Some blacks perpetuate the problem just as Jon says, but most are starting out in bad conditions, struggling to find a way up, and hitting a lot of obstacles. Jon magnifies the miscreant element and obscures the larger whole. Likewise, some whites today are racist, but most want things to be fair and equal. Jon’s opponents might magnify the “racist” element and obscure the larger whole. In both cases, the result shuts down any way forward. In Jon’s case, it leads to some unfortunate generalizations (in my opinion) in his #1; on the other side, it leads to the conclusion that all white people (at least all who disagree with the party line) are inherently racist, and we all know that you can’t make friends or compromise with a racist. Both sides lead to a segregationist conclusion that I think is false. There is a conservative element that has generalized about “black” to the extent that integration seems impossible. There is now a liberal (identity politics) element that has generalized about “whites” to an extent that matches the zero-sum us-vs-them approach of the anti-Civil Rights conservatives of the 1960s. I think Perry and I (and probably Greenpete) all recall going out in the 1970s with motley collections of black, white, Latino, gay, straight, grad students and working-class rowdies as optimistic times rich with cross-cultural pollination. In my current location in Germany, my ten closest friends are from seven different countries, including all continents. I can’t imagine a richer or more interesting lifestyle.

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        • Yeah…it seems like the idea of moving forward is pretty difficult with racial issues today.

          Regarding the 1970s + our assumptions that it was more optimistic, I agree. And I think that it was more optimistic because the entrenched aspects of identity politics and the conservative backlash, hadn’t been established.

          One of the clearest thoughts I had about the late 60s + 70s was that there was indeed a strong cross-pollination mixed in with a healthy respect for other cultures traditions. Its all a question of balance. Back then, the idea of having preferences was not really thought of in a negative light. It was more along the lines of agreeing to disagree. Now, many people balk at the idea of preferences + sometimes use the racist tag as a way to call out those who prefer things that they don’t.

          One of the most negative aspects of human nature is the trend towards trying to establish some form of thought control. This is stifling to true cross-pollination. True + healthy cultural cross-pollination doesn’t necessarily grow out of having everyone agree emphatically on issues of preference. Cross-pollination occurs when we’re exposed to different ideas + can come to our conclusions individually about how much we’ll assimilate these ideas. For instance, when I was a teenager in New York I had a black girlfriend. Although we had differences of tastes + opinions, we got along well due to a sense of respect + curiosity about those differences.

          Likewise Daedalus, in your experience with your friends in Germany, I’m sure that you’re pleasantly surprised by what you’re exposed to.

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  3. My first point was that the Blacks’ problems at this point are of their own making because they refuse to behave like the rest of us. Indeed, they consider being anything like us, e’g’, marriage & raising children together, speaking normally, or dressing appropriately for society to be being “Too White” and examples of “Cultural Genocide.”

    As for Belgium – It literally broke down over the differences between the two major ethnic groups, Flemish and Walloon. The King – yes, the King – had to actually take back power enough to appoint an interim, caretaker government. It’s just strong evidence that “multiculturalism” doesn’t work unless it’s only superficial or if the minority groups are very insular and not involved in trying to get anything from the dominate culture, e.g., Chassidim.

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  4. To add my own experience of Belgium — not well-informed by politics but I’ve hitchhiked through most of Belgium in the past year, the lovely cities and the small towns, north and south, east and west. The economy is not the strongest and the core identity seems split between the Flemish and French speakers, with about 10% German speakers in the east. Still, culturally it seems to hang together quite nicely despite bumps in the political superstructure (this is my street-level view anyway). Hitchhiking, I was picked up by people from North Africa, West Africa (Ghana), Germany, Italy, Albania, and Afro-British, as well as Belgians — several times it was a mixed couple, a Belgian and a foreigner. The multiculturalism (or pick your word) made it a quite rich experience. The only people who offered me food, by the way, were both North Africans, and one of them offered to drive me miles out of his way (it was getting dark) to a train station and to go in and get me a ticket. These are the North Africans you never see in the US media but they are most typical of the North Africans I meet traveling around Belgium and Germany.

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