I said some time ago that those who think “race relations are worse than ever” simply haven’t been paying attention. All that is happening is that the flat rocks are being turned over, and the ugliness that has ALWAYS been there is crawling out. The rats are being pushed into a corner, and getting desperate. Black people are finally able to speak clearly and forcefully about what their experience has been, without the sense of being the little orphan Oliver with eyes downcast holding his porridge bowl saying “Please, sir, I want some more.”
No, that’s not the tone. The tone is now “Explain to me why my children are not as precious and worthwhile as yours. And by the way, if you wish, we can have this conversation outside.” That is VERY different from anything that has happened in the mainstream in the 400 years previous. And certain people are quite uncomfortable about it.
Not a week ago, I actually had a reader ask “Well, what difference does it make if black people aren’t as smart?” I had simply drawn a line in the sand, saying “There are two positions, and neither can be proven ultimately. They are part of an existential discussion: does essence precede existence? Does existence precede essence? Or “is it Nature or Nurture”? Any educated person will know that the the most likely answer is: “It’s a combination.” But I think that in practical terms, everyone comes down harder on one side or the other. In our current conversation, it translates to: “is the playing field level, in which case blacks just don’t quite have what it takes? Or are they equal, but the playing field has been terribly skewed?” Those would be the two basic positions, and I submit that the Conservative position sides more with “nature” (level playing field, unequal players) and the Liberal position more with “nurture” (equal players, unequal playing field.)
Can you see the fantastic difference, why it matters so much? If you are surrounded by people controlling the legal system, the economic system, the political system by force of numbers, if every time you have to deal with them they ASSUME you are competent, then it is up to you to screw that up. If they believe you are relatively INCOMPETENT, or less competent, then in every interaction you have to prove yourself.
Don’t think this happens? It happened to me in FIRST GRADE, when the teachers broke us up into reading groups based on race, putting the white and Asian kids in the fast group, the black and brown kids in the slow group. I didn’t realize what had happened until they heard me read…and took me over to the white group.
Holy mother of God. I “got it” in that moment. At what, six years old? I knew that the world would judge me slow unless I proved myself at every moment, in every interaction. I had to be careful of every word, every action, watching and measuring myself. That additional level of care slows you down, like speaking in a foreign language. It gives a clear advantage to those who don’t have to jump through that hoop.
And that is assuming good will. Do you really believe every human being is coming from a position of “good will”? What percentage of people do YOU believe are assholes? Ten percent? Five percent? What happens when the “asshole” circle and the “Nature” circle overlap? Think that could be problematic?
I know what happens when the “I’ve had enough” circle and the “Nature” circle overlap. You get people who believe The Other is The Enemy. Inhuman. Dangerous. You get the church shooter in South Carolina. You get the sniper in Dallas.
This notion, that our basic human existence on a tribal level is a matter of “better” or “worse”, “more or less human or capable or worthwhile” is one of the most toxic creations of humanity. My friend the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler said that the thing she worried most about with human beings was:
- Our tendency to be hierarchical.
- Our tendency to place ourselves higher on that hierarchy.
And what is worse? The people who believe it is “Nature” have no answers. They see the world burning. They are filled with fear and guilt and anger. All because of a decision THEY made to have faith in a position that cannot be ultimately proven. If they are right, Liberals have wasted resources. But if they are wrong…they have destroyed the world.
When Steve King said what he did, that diversity in the Republican party didn’t matter because no one has contributed more to Western Civilization than white people, he was coming close, quite close, to saying that white people have contributed MORE to the world than anyone else. And that is perilously close to saying they are simply better. If we asked him the test question: “Under the same historical circumstances, would white people have suffered as much, for as long, and complained about it as loudly?” I think we can safely say that he could not answer a resounding “yes.” That he may be a good and decent man, but he is siding with monsters.
IS THERE AN ANSWER?
Yes, but it requires an acknowledgement that we need a Leap of Faith. This is, according to the Hero’s Journey pattern popularized by Joseph Campbell, the way out of the Dark Night of the Soul. And it is simple: faith in the universality of the human family. That without saying to yourself “in the eyes of God” or “in the eyes of the Law” but privately thinking: “well, blacks aren’t as smart” or “whites are more evil.” You accept all human tribes as equal to yours, but traveling through different territory and therefore expressing their essence differently.
What next? Simple: love yourself. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Know that at every moment of your life you’ve done the best you can with the resources you had. And extend that love and compassion to others.
Do this, and you can release all guilt about the past, or fear about the future. That’s all it takes. You needn’t approve of reparations or Affirmative Action. I know most people feel like they are barely holding on, and the idea of “some people” getting “special treatment” even if they were historically screwed over royally, is anathema.
So I don’t care how far to the Right you are, I really don’t. An attitude of “yeah, you really did get screwed over. And my ancestors may have benefitted from it. But I have my own field to plow, and you’re not taking resources from my children’s mouths. But I tell you what: I will never claim that you kicked yourself INTO that hole, but I would have had just as hard a time crawling out of it. It’s up to each of us to plow our own field.” That is a perfectly honorable attitude. You can be my friend.
You could go further, of course: “And furthermore, I will call out people who claim whites would have done better, and not let them piss on you as you work on climbing out. Any dysfunction we see is BOTH cause and effect, and I won’t forget that–or allow others to.” You know what? You’ve taken another step. You are treating others the way you would want them to treat you, and you can be a GOOD friend. You are a comrade.
But if you take the position that “I see myself in your eyes. We are all in this together, and I believe that if I extend a hand to you, you will extend one back to me in the future.Or to my children. Or your grandchildren will extend the hand to mine.” Do this, and you are family. You are tribe.
The police chief in Wichita was confronted with the reality of a Black Lives Matter protest in his city, and instead of telling himself the lie that these people were not sincere, that they were not afraid and therefore angry, he offered them a cookout. A chance to sit down and communicate in a relaxed environment. HE ASSUMED THEY WERE HUMAN, like him, that if people can communicate they can find commonality, see that we all eat, laugh, love, fear, and simply want a good life for our children. And that those who see that commonality are the ONLY ones who can solve this problems.
Those without faith will burn, and try to take the world with them.
Don’t waste your time arguing with the people on either side of the political divide who do not believe in the universality of Man. They will burn out your heart, even if they are sincere. And…among them lurk the Smiling Monsters, the ghouls who WANT the violence, and are just waiting for the armies to retreat to camp so they can come down and feast on the dead.
Rep. Steve King staked out his position, but like his famous namesake, he speaks of horror. Have faith. Either way you are simply making a choice. But only one of them provides a future for any of us.