• Systemic Racism: What would Dr. King think?

    January 20, 2022 // 2 Comments »

    On this day, what would Dr. King think about critical race theory?

    As an educated man, he might recognize it has little intellectual underpinning. You just have to believe. Questioning is haram. He would likely disagree the force of jihad is necessary to end the white reign, or that non-believers are racial infidels, or that ends justify means. It is hard to see how King, who followed a very different theology, could agree with his intellectual and political successors.

    His intellect would almost certainly be offended by the latest woke gambit of challenging unbelievers (“opponents”) to word games, tricking them into not being able to “define” CRT so they can’t oppose it. The con is definitions believers use are squirmy. The simplest is everything good that happened to whites and everything bad that happened to blacks from 1619 up to this moment is because of slavery, which ended over 150 years ago. Passive victims are antithetical to King’s oratory.

    Whatever good ideas might sneak into any discussion of systemic racism are almost immediately squelched by some of the dumbest things ever said aloud. No matter which definition you write on the golden tablets, the result is people demanding more black sitcom characters with the same zeal as demanding we strip Jefferson’s name off of high schools, and believing both things accomplish something. As historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad put it “The Dr. King we choose to remember was indeed the symbolic beacon of the civil rights movement. But the Dr. King we forget worked within institutions to transform broken systems.”

    Most people who believe in systemic racism avoid questions. It’s all about empty faith, belief without the possibility of proof. Like any zealot, they simply know it is true because things haven’t worked out in their own lives and they cannot be responsible and they think we should reshape all of society based on their interpretation of lived experiences. They mostly just wait for something bad to happen to blacks, or on dry days resurrect some bad event from the past (how many times does Emmitt Till have to die?)  and say “There, that’s it, systemic racism.” If anyone objects, they shout that person down, deplatform or cancel them, smite them, or, as a racist, crucify them. That is all a long way from what King wrote to us all from his jail cell in sweltering Birmingham, saying the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

    Playing for Team Systemic Racism means the willful ruling out of bounds discussions which could lead to unwelcome conclusions. So, you must ignore cases of blacks doing well, and ignore cases of whites doing poorly (e.g., most of West Virginia.) You must ignore the spread of good and bads for all other races of color, brown, yellow, etc. You must also dump people as diverse as Hasidic Jews, 19th century illiterate Irish immigrants, and Louis C.K. into a category called “white.” You must ignore how actual avowed supremacist groups like the KKK and the Nazis treated people — the white Nazis killed the white Jews and white supremacist groups like the KKK violently opposed white immigration from southern Europe. You would think white-on-white would be counter-evidential to systemic racism.

    In the same vein, you must ignore the term Hispanic as racist itself in your quest for allies. It makes no sense lumping people from 32 countries who happen to speak a variant of the same language together, with a Disney-fied Lin Manuel Miranda as their leader in song. Systematic racism requires victims, the more the better, so you must search for them. For example, you can cite Japanese-American internment camps while without irony claiming Asians unfairly fill what should be black spaces in elite schools.

    As a systemic racism supporter you must not question why racist whites have “allowed” Asians, Hispanics, Persian real estate agents, Ghanaian princes, and others to succeed. You don’t want to talk about how all sorts of groups found success in America. If we are a white supremacist nation, we are quite bad at it. You must also not wonder why the racist police are equally poor at racism, failing to gun down in appropriate numbers the many non-whites who cross their gun sights in Asian, Indian, and Hispanic neighborhoods.

    To believe some sort of system underlies the state of blacks in America for four hundred years, you must also ignore in the supposed quest for white supremacy things like whites doing/voting for/supporting/paying with their lives to fight the Civil War to end slavery, the Civil Rights Acts, the A-Z of welfare and the Great Society, affirmative action, employment quotas, laws against redlining, and all the like. While not everything worked as it should, systemic racism deals in simplistic — forgive me, black and white — terms. You must insist no real progress has been made over hundreds of years.

    Belief in systemic racism also requires not asking a lot of questions about how of the 12 million blacks abducted into slavery out of Africa, only about 300,000 landed in the U.S. The millions of others went elsewhere, where apparently there is not systemic racism today. Also, you will not want to talk about how slavery was part of the economies of nations across the globe for centuries but none of them seem crippled today by systemic racism, just us. You would want to know why BLM isn’t protesting to defund the Dutch, Arab, or the British, who helped create the global slave trade infrastructure. Systemic racism demands you see slavery as a distinctly American thing when in fact that was hardly the case.

    You have to believe there exists a mass movement to not teach about racism to make room for the new theology. Even in my own lousy public high school 40 years ago we learned about Little Rock and Brown. All history classes are incomplete, most due to lack of time, some due to ignorance, some on purpose. That’s a good conversation to have, but since it doesn’t fit the meme we don’t have it. Since 1957 we’re still just shouting at each other. So in 2022 we get Martin Luther King Day without the values King embodied.

    You have to be comfortable on the one hand of turning George Floyd into a hero without paying attention to George Floyd the drug addict, the thief, a guy who wasted his life becoming America’s Top Victim. At the same time, you must be comfortable recasting Thomas Jefferson as no longer the author of the Declaration of Independence but just another white rapist.

    You must disavow how blacks made economic progress after World War II, significantly closing the wage gap with whites while segregation was still widespread. And don’t ask why this progress stopped even though racial animus declined over the years. No talking about how immigrants from the West Indies and Africa, descended from slaves, fare better than U.S.-born blacks, even better than many whites. The median income for American households of Nigerian ancestry is $68,658, compared with $61,937 for U.S. households overall.
    Fixing systemic racism also means believing it is someone else’s job. No talk about low turnout rates for black voters, or how most shootings in our cities are black-on-black and not cop-on-black. Nothing please about individual responsibility, or single parent families and runaway dads, or fetal alcohol syndrome and teenage moms, or the scrounge of inner city gangs and drug use, and how all that self-affects the black experience. Nope, those things are caused by systemic racism we must believe, so they’re not black people’s fault or responsibility to fix. Dr. King believed instead in responsibility to act, and indeed based the soul of his movement on it — things could be made better, saying “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”
    We must dismiss the lack of action on systemic racism by a two-term black president with two black attorneys general, and later by a black VP, because somehow that was not their job or their responsibility except for that fact that they were the system in systemic, running the government of the United States. We do remember in 2017 Obama’s Department of Justice released a terrifying report describing the failures throughout the Chicago Police Department, the city then run by Obama’s own stooge Rahm Emanuel, saying excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged, and chiefly aimed at blacks. Not much was done, and Biden just appointed Rahm ambassador to Japan. Didn’t BLM then?
    It is maybe a bit unfair to put words in the mouths of the dead, and indeed there are people reading this who question the propriety of me, a Caucasian, even talking about Dr. King, as if that part of America’s broader story is not mine to tell. So let’s put it this way: what will happen when those who still understand Dr. King, never mind the oh-so-earnest creamy undergrads with purple hair, realize King’s successors, the critical race theorists, have built their message on a foundation of untruths, hypocrisy, lack of responsibility, hate, violence, and plain old carny talk? Will the followers pivot to a more righteous path, or will they give up, seeing fighting racism as just another meme that has run its course, exposing it was all just messaging? What happens to the work which still needs to be done when it’s revealed there was no message in CRT?

    A lot to think about on this day, remembering MLK.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy

    Renaming the Past to Cancel Thomas Jefferson, Rapist and Slave Owner

    July 10, 2021 // 5 Comments »


     
    Falls Church City in Northern Virginia decided in the midst of last year’s George Floyd open season to rename two of its public schools. On the block were George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

    George Mason was a Founding Father, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the basis for the full Bill of Rights. Nearby George Mason University is still named after him, but the city of Falls Church is stripping his name from its schools because in addition to all he did to create the United States, he was a slaveholder. Same for Thomas Jefferson, Founder, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President of the United States, and famously, rapist and slaveholder, Joker without the makeup.

    The people of Falls Church who made these changes probably mean well in a 2021-ish kind of way. The city is 72 percent white (and only 4.5 percent black.) An amazing 78 percent of adults in Falls Church have a Bachelors degree or higher, and most work for the Federal government in nearby Washington, DC (George Washington and six other presidents held slaves.) The city has a energetic farmer’s market with a proposal pending to add an “informational booth about how communities of color have less access to healthy foods” and votes solidly Democrat.

    The process of canceling the Founders was deliberate, with 13 meetings stretching over a year to come up with final school name candidates. For the high school, only one related to history at all, a name related to a local site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was located. The other choices were could-be-anywhere Metropolitan High School, Meridian (the eventual winner), Metro View, and West End. Same for deleting Mr. Jefferson’s name: the same local historical site came up, as did the name of a local white historical figure who started a school for special needs kids, along with a lot of geographical references  — the winner, Oak Street Elementary, “recognizes how trees are important natural elements.” No argument there, trees are good.

    What stands out is a devotion to keeping the point out of the renaming. As political the motivation was, it seems no one wanted an MLK high school, or a Rosa Parks elementary. Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s rape victim and slave, did not make the cut. Truth and Justice Elementary School was seen as a “nod” to Jefferson and thus rejected.

    Left undiscussed is how the renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary School still abuts George Mason Road. The renamed George Mason High School itself is located on Leesburg Pike, near Custis Parkway, named for the slave owning daughter of George Washington’s adopted son and the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is hard to get away from history.

    At this point it is tempting to drive over to Whole Foods, park among the herd of Prius’ and mock the earnest people of Fall Church with their PBS tote bags. A wealthy, nearly all white community making a splash about renaming two schools to cancel a couple of Founding Fathers while carefully avoiding any teachable moment by replacing the slaveholders with the blandest of non-political names. Everyone’s white liberal guilt is assuaged with few feathers ruffled. And did you see the new artisanal cheeses in aisle eleven? Carol sent another $50 to the ACLU for us after George Floyd, you know.

     

    The thing is that as hard as it is to take these people seriously, it is equally hard to not take them seriously. They really believe themselves. And that poses 2021’s question.

    America did not invent slavery, racism, or discrimination. We can point to a moral struggle hundreds of years in process including a civil war that remains the most costly conflict to Americans in body count and brutality. The Founders struggled over how to deal with a system most knew was unsustainable, Jefferson among them. We tried.

    Yet alone in history we haven’t figured this out. South Africa, with an apartheid system designed to be as plainly racist as possible, found a way to untangle itself. The ancient world was built on slave labor and made the transition. The Germans found a way to deal with their relatively recent attempt not just at enslavement but industrial scale genocide.

    We fail because we refuse to admit crying racism, and making faux-fixes as in Falls Church, is as profitable politically as doing racist things is. Getting yourself elected calling out racism with righteous rage is not far away from using racist voting laws to get yourself elected. There is too much to gain by maintaining and then exploiting a racist system. If you heal the patient, what’s left for all the doctors to do?

    There is also what we’ll now call the Falls Church myth, this near-idiotic belief that insignificant changes add up to something significant. Changing the name of a school, or tearing down a statue, does not change history. That is why everyone is still “raising awareness” about the same problems after decades. It feels good, though.

    Same for the “first…” people, the ones who celebrate the first black this or the first woman that. That we chased that idea all the way into the Oval Office and two consecutive black attorneys general to see nothing much come of it answers the question of what it is worth as a change tool.

    We thrive on polarization, thinking somehow calling someone a white supremacist based on little more than his skin color or political party is going to… help? The critical catechism of MLK and the civil rights movement — that race should not matter — is turned on itself to humiliate those who struggled. Sorry folks, it turns out it is all about the color of your skin after all, except that we mean black people should get stuff for being black.

    Alongside are the everything-is-racist scorekeepers. These people point out since about 13 percent of us are black, anything that has less than that (colleges, certain jobs, SAT scores) or more than that (prisons, poverty, police shooting rates) is racist. The simplicity is attractive but the reality of ignoring the complexity of every other factor and explanation is where the argument fails hard. At the risk of offense, it is not just black and white out there.

     

    I used to walk past the statue of Marion Sims in Central Park. When I first looked him up in 2012, he was the father of modern gynecology, the founder of New York’s first women’s hospital, the 19th century surgeon who perfected a technique that still today saves the lives of tens of thousands of third-world women. When I checked his biography again in 2018 he had become a racist misogynist who conducted medical experiments without anesthesia on enslaved women. His statue was removed from Central Park while protesters chanted their “ancestors can rest” and “believe black women.” I’m glad they just got rid of the statue instead of putting up a modern plaque “explaining” it in woke-talk.

    The thing is Sims did all that he was said to have done. He developed surgical tools and techniques still used today. He did surgeries on both free white women and enslaved black women, mostly without anesthesia in part because anesthesia was not in wide use at the time and in part because he subscribed to the racist theory of his time that blacks did not suffer pain the same way whites did. His often life-saving surgeries (on blacks) have been memed into “medical experiments” to connect them to Nazi horrors, purposefully ignoring the difference between non‐therapeutic and therapeutic procedure and leaving his white patients out of the story altogether. Easier that way.

    Left out of the ranting is primary documentation suggesting Sims’ original patients — black and white — were willing participants in his surgical attempts to cure vesicovaginal fistula, a condition for which no other viable therapy existed until Sims invented it. That meant they would have died without his surgery.

     

    I’ll confess there are times I, too, struggle with Jefferson. No one is anyone but a beginner on the road to Galilee, but Jefferson’s gifts make him among the hardest to understand. With such an extraordinary mind, he could turn on a pinpoint towards the cruelty of owning fellow human beings. Yet Jefferson the slave owner did not pass that portion of his ideas to our future. He, Mason, and the other Founders created a system which would eventually eliminate slavery and correct itself. The evil of slavery was defeated at great cost but we seem unable to let it die.

    We crave simplicity in our history when there is only complexity. It is ridiculous to ignore world-changing accomplishments thinking that will somehow fix our racial problems. We just don’t want to grapple with the questions of personal responsibility and the problem of intergenerational victimhood as a lifestyle. We want the simplicity of reparations, imagining we can buy our way out of racial troubles. We do not question the value of changing a school’s name or knocking down a statue because that promises a simplistic fix that protects us from hard questions. We like it that way and it is unlikely anything that needs fixing will get fixed until that changes.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy