Saturday, November 08, 2008

Racism = rust and mosqitoes; life goes on

John McWhorter:
The question is whether the total eclipse of racism is either possible or necessary. It is neither....

The new frontier, however, is apparently people's individual psychologies: Not only must we not legislate racism or socially condone it, but no one is to even privately feel it.

The problem is we can't entirely reach people's feelings. The social proscription has changed a lot of minds, especially of younger people who never knew the old days. But an America where nobody harbors racist sentiment? The very notion goes against everything we know about human hardwiring: Distrust of the other is inherent to our cognition.
Do we mean overcoming bias so thoroughly that a test looking for what's "out there" would not still reveal it? It's a utopian pipe dream.

Now, if this racism of the scattered and subliminal varieties were the obstacle to achievement that Jim Crow and open bigotry were, then we would have a problem. But yesterday, we saw that this "out there" brand of racism cannot keep a black man out of the White House.

Might it not be time to allow that our obsession with how unschooled and usually aging folk feel in their hearts about black people has become a fetish? Sure, there are racists. There are also rust and mosquitoes, and there always will be. Life goes on.
Some persons perceive something to gain from hyping racism. They may gain power, or wealth, or satisfaction of victimhood, or status, or other things. These persons, no matter what, will not let white people off the hook. An example, from Shelby Steele:
[Jesse Jackson] could have taken up the mantle of the early Martin Luther King (he famously smeared himself with the great man's blood after King was shot), and argued for equality out of a faith in the imagination and drive of his own people. Instead -- and tragically -- he and the entire civil rights establishment pursued equality through the manipulation of white guilt.

Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites "on the hook" the most sacred article of the post-'60s black identity.

They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently -- that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality -- took whites "off the hook" and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group's bounty of moral leverage over whites.
White people, for our part, will not stop acting like damn fools.

Hunger will always be with us. We will never stop trying to lessen hunger.
Disease will always be with us. We will never stop trying to lessen disease.
Racism will always be with us. We will never stop trying to lessen racism.

It's just: a little perspective, please.

Everyone: stop acting like damn fools. The time has come.

More Shelby Steele:
Possibly white guilt's worst effect is that it does not permit whites--and nonwhites--to appreciate something extraordinary: the fact that whites in America, and even elsewhere in the West, have achieved a truly remarkable moral transformation. One is forbidden to speak thus, but it is simply true. There are no serious advocates of white supremacy in America today, because whites see this idea as morally repugnant. If there is still the odd white bigot out there surviving past his time, there are millions of whites who only feel goodwill toward minorities.

This is a fact that must be integrated into our public life--absorbed as new history--so that America can once again feel the moral authority to seriously tackle its most profound problems. Then, if we decide to go to war, it can be with enough ferocity to win.

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