Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lunchtime conversation yesterday
"Some would say that this is because the “system” still conspires to exploit, suppress and oppress black and brown people. I say it’s because some continue to look in the rear-view mirror, focused on yesterday’s realities, and serving up excuses and disempowering theories of victimization rather than exploring realistic answers to troubling problems."
That inner search took Hicks to a serious re-reading of the works of Dr. King. This time, he was "bowled over" by the "race-transcendent message" he saw in the writings of the slain civil rights leader. It was, he says, "another one of those ah-ha moments." He found a King who wasn't arguing for a society cleaved into racial categories, divided by competing ethnic identities, but rather a vision of a colorblind democracy. He found himself asking how activists had come from fighting for equal opportunity and rights for all to divisive identity politics.
"I saw how much I had missed," he says. "While I was playing revolutionary and running around with guns calling King an Uncle Tom, I failed to see how much he had accomplished. He was trying to build the American Dream, while I was trying to overthrow it."
Transformed by his re-assessment of King, Hicks began to chafe under the traditional left-wing notion of seeing American blacks and Latinos as primarily victimized peoples. Perhaps, 30 years ago, that was a proper view. But to persist on that track decades after measurable inroads against institutionalized racism had been achieved was in itself a sort of "soft racism," he says. It was not only patronizing, he began to think, but also damaging, to tell young people of color that their futures were de facto limited.

These quotes from Joe Hicks haunt me as I recall yesterday's lunchroom conversation. Yet again I was treated to conversation about "institutional racism", although no one could tell me exactly which institute they were talking about. "Society," perhaps? If so, isn't that just "racism"? Who, exactly, has it in for (primarily) blacks? And how? And why? I don't accept this concept of "institutional racism".

Of course, I was immediately castigated because as a white male (you knew it was coming!) I haven't experienced racism. I had to remind the gentle ladies that racism is only one small part of an over-arching umbrella of prejudice, to which I've been exposed many times. Being a male in Family Court, arguing custody of a child--anyone want to tell me there isn't a prejudice against me there? How about being a conservative in teaching, or a conservative member of a union?

My point about Family Court was that if blacks go into Denny's and are asked to pay beforehand (as happened a few years ago), they can sue, and they're going to win, and rightly so. The law is not stacked against them. When I walk into Family Court, though, it's the law that discriminates against me. And I have nowhere to turn for recourse.

I know prejudice.

But that isn't the point. This discussion about institutionalized racism--it's paternalistic, it's condescending, and worst, it offers no hope. And of course, it's up to the world to prove that it doesn't exist. How do you prove a negative?

So I've been thinking about Joe Hicks' words above. I've been thinking about how people vilify me when I argue using Dr. King's own words--how that makes me a racist, or so I'm told. We've come so far, yet have so far to go. And some don't think we've budged.

And those are the ones who make matters worse.

Update: Wendy McElroy wrote this column about a university event that was not open to white women (and probably men of any color). The entire column reminded me of the aforementioned lunchtime conversation so I include it here. Her closing sentences speak volumes:
It is difficult to be part of the only race for whom racial pride is a social taboo.
This is the ultimate result of people who want to open or close a public door based solely on skin color. They force you to think in racial categories, and that process can become a slippery slope into racism. It is a slide I refuse to make.

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