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Friday, October 16, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

OK, this is about racism; but as with Robin DiAngelo, I am going to be talking to my fellow white Euro-heritage Americans. However, contra Robin, I am going to focus mainly on the “woke”, including Ms. DiAngelo herself. And less-so on the elite-but-not-yet-woke and the not-so-elite anti-woke, i.e. those who Robin DiAngelo would lecture to.

IMHO, it’s time for progressive-minded whites who worry about privilege and “fragility” (as per DiAngelo’s book) to stop the fashionable accusations and the hairshirt exercises, and get serious about the brass tacks of a public policy response to the historic injustices that have been done to African Americans on American soil since 1619. (But no, I’m not buying into the NY Times 1619 Project and its contention the primary inspiration for the British colonization of North America and the following independence of the United States was the preservation and expansion of African slavery – although slavery no doubt had some part in the thoughts and actions of the founding fathers. Even if 1619 is not what America is all about, which I believe, it certainly is the year when African slaves were first brought to American soil by the British – and isn’t that bad enough, in and of itself? Yes, it is bad — but that doesn’t mean that America is irreparably bad and beyond future improvement).

I’m tired of reading CNN articles or hearing progressive white scholars say “Liberal cities such as Minneapolis, and the liberals living within them, are not exempt from the disease of racism . . . we must resist all efforts by those who use implicit and explicit racism to divide us and to mobilize angry voters . . . let’s work together to dismantle racism in all its destructive forms.” Such as is said in a fairly typical piece by Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. His article ends right there, leaving you to wonder just what is this “work” that he wishes to see?

The last time the US seriously addressed this question on a national basis was in the early and mid 1960s, when the Johnson Administration established its “Great Society” anti-poverty programs. The only other historical response on the part of the American nation was the reconstruction program following the Civil War. As with the Great Society, reconstruction was attacked, diluted and eventually dismantled by conservative white political elements. Can we do better this time thorough our political system? And if so, HOW and WHAT?

IMHO, the conversation that we need to have right now is focused exactly around that question. Can we come up with something better than what the Republicans of the late 1860s and the Democrats of the mid 1960s came up with to address the social, economic and political injustices that blacks have suffered? Can we learn from the past and avoid the same mistakes? Can we successfully defend the next program longer than was the case for reconstruction and the Great Society? We know what was tried in the past, and some of these programs might well be adopted and improved for 21st Century conditions. We know that a whole lot more possibilities are in the mix today, some quite new (universal income), and some quite old (reparations). Actually, those two things have a lot in common — when universal income is finally instituted, I agree that African Americans should get a bigger cut on grounds that reparations are due for historical oppression.

Well, OK, I’m not doing such a great job myself of getting specific about how to address “systemic racism”. All I’ve said is that when a universal income finally comes around, blacks should be given priority status (although they won’t be the only people deserving of a little more; that’s where it will get really difficult, deciding who gets a better cut of the pie and who doesn’t). But how about better health care access? How about renewed focus on neighborhoods where a lot of blacks live in poverty, e.g. in better housing, better schools, better public transportation, better incentives for entrepreneurial job creation? How about more focus on police reform and professionalization; how do we prevent bad policing, which harms and kills too many blacks (but also takes its toll on other minorities and non-minorities too, albeit to a lesser degree)?

This still isn’t very specific. But at least these are some real policy directions (stuff that President-elect Joe Biden seems interested in, thank goodness). As to elite, “woke” whites thinking they should lecture each other and help teach less-woke whites to become more aware, more conscious and open-minded about the repression suffered by blacks and other minorities? Well, I still say that action and example are better teachers then condescending lectures.

DiAngelo and Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer and the various doyens of critical race theory seem to rely on a generic concept of “whiteness”. Under this view, all whites, no matter what their circumstances, are infected by a social malady focused around privilege (although DiAngelo and Nelson-Pallmeyer hint that the woken and enlightened may eventually find salvation through “work”, such as the work that Nelson-Pallmeyer ambiguously refers to). This seems to me to be a bit too simple, even though not radically untrue. This sort of over-simplification is what got us into trouble in the first place. Isn’t this what racism is grounded in? I.e. the notion that “they are all the same”.

So, should we fight racism with intra-white racism? Sorry; I know that historical racist oppression was very real, that despite the efforts of many good people it still exists and its effects are pervasive, and that we can’t ignore it. But does constantly “calling out” the non-woke really help? I remain dubious.

P.S. — I don’t want to throw out a baby with the bathwater here. If you tone down the volume on what DiAngelo and her like are saying, there is an important message that all of us, white or minority (but especially white), should remember. We do in fact need to remember that our minds are very complex and that we do get fooled by what goes on in our subconscious sometimes. With regard to racism, we may desire not to be racist, we may work constantly at that, we may try to be open to all people regardless of their body color or features or beliefs.

But we ain’t perfect. Our subconscious minds often go off in their own directions, despite our best intentions. People who say that they are not racist and who who intend to be anything BUT racist (like myself) might actually think and act in racist ways at times. And when it happens, they / we might not even notice it! (And yea, I have caught myself, mea culpa).

Yes indeed, we do need to be reminded of this. We cannot assume that we’ve got racist thoughts or attitudes fully in check. Those of us who hail from the early 60s grew up in a time when racism was more accepted, and some racist notions from childhood are probably still rattling around deep in our brains. Even those who grew up more recently might have been exposed in some fashion, however subtle. I agree with DiAngelo and her like that racism doesn’t die easy and like an iceberg, there’s more of it than what you might see.

So sure, we need to be aware of this and work to face it, and get past it as much as possible. Whenever we congratulate ourselves for not being racist, it’s time to look out for the racist within. But the accusatory tone that DiAngelo and others like her take with white people is a turn-off; it no doubt turns people off to a message that they might otherwise agree with had it been presented and explained in a more reasonable, understanding context.

And I still contend that those concerned with a more just America should focus more attention on real-world programs and policies and less on “what lurks in the hearts” of whites claiming not to be racist. But by the same token, let’s not forget that we can also improve ourselves and our attitudes on a personal basis, and that we have the obligation to do so. Let’s take both roads in search of a more just world.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:50 pm      
 
 


  1. Racism is largely invisible to white people. I realized that the only time I am asked for an ID when I use my credit card is when I am with a black person. In truth, this happens extremely infrequently, but I can’t even recall the last time I was asked to see my ID before I used my credit card was when I was alone. I bet it was several decades ago.

    We know that blacks are more likely to be stopped by the police. When they are stopped, they are more likely to be arrested. When they are arrested, they are more likely to be convicted. When they are convicted, they are more likely to receive a longer sentence. And they are more likely to receive the death penalty. This is a big problem.

    You are correct that none of us enjoys being lectured about race. But the reality is that we don’t like being lectured on anything. We know for example that our environmental footprint is enormous, yet almost none of us (certainly myself included) is doing what we need to do to save the planet.

    I don’t know how to reduce racism, but I’m sure that the answer is NOT to avoid talking it. At least, we have a chance when we talk.

    Comment by Zreebs — November 13, 2020 @ 9:57 pm

  2. Steve — all due respect to what you say here. Problem is, can we talk to those who most need talking to/with? Yea, people like you and me might harbor certain sub-conscious racist assumptions, but there are still too many people out there who hold these assumptions more broadly and consciously. Do they even know who Robin DiAngelo is?

    Comment by Jim G — November 18, 2020 @ 4:30 pm

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