Transcending the politics of black and white

My dear Hannah,

I sincerely doubt that in America -- or anywhere else for that matter -- you'll be able to successfully avoid racial politics, so I'd like to give you a few tips on how to deal with them.  I'm writing this because there are people who think that we have a moral duty to avoid racial politics, and there are people who make their lives of them: the former I believe to be truly naive or stupid people; the latter have become nearly animals.  In different periods of my life, I have been both.  You must be neither.

Rousseau once wrote that the modern world is a place where everyone is dependent upon everyone else in a thousand different ways for their survival, but nobody is responsible when their neighbor dies of hunger.  The American world of black and white racial politics, in a similar way, hinges upon the idea that we've all been affected by something horrible that's happened, and which affects us in innumerable ways, but about which none of us can be really held accountable.  What we can be held accountable for, however, is whether or not we want to perpetuate injustice by accusing more people for things they haven't done, or whether we will accept the world as a mess and act righteously and justly to everyone we encounter.

As such, the first and most important thing you have to know about anti-racism is that it's founded upon the principle of responsibility.  The only reason why anti-racism has any moral validity is because at some point in our history, we began to believe what we really knew a very long time ago: that men should only be held accountable for what they've done; and you are not responsible for anything you haven't done, regardless of what anyone says.  Perhaps if this were the Middle East, we could stone someone's family to death when he commits a crime; but for the rest of us who've evolved beyond barbarism, we feel more comfortable persecuting the people who would have stoned them. 

Some people will also run in the opposite direction, thinking that because something horrible happened a while ago, people have an excuse to do wrong and behave obnoxiously; but the only way to ever stop people from doing wrong is by not giving them an excuse. A wrong yesterday never necessitates a wrong today.  So whether others want to give an excuse for behaving poorly, or they want to punish people who are behaving rightly, we stand in the middle: we acknowledge that we all have an ability to choose what we'll do, and that we should get what we deserve.

One problem that nearly every white person will have to face, especially if they speak openly about the hypocrisy of the so-called anti-racists, defend freedom of association, or reject the welfare state, is the question of whether they "like" black people.  Beware this question more than the others: you must not like any person for any reason other than their good character.  You cannot like or dislike people you haven't met -- unless they're working in an organization with a common goal.  You should dislike (and very strongly) any people who are unmannered, ignorant, immoral, inconsiderate, foul, untrustworthy, lazy, unjust, and impious.  Every man of upright conduct is your countryman, every Christian is your brother: whether 99% of black people are of this sort or only 1%, your stance must be that you maintain goodwill to all men of good standing, and that you wish to bring the the laws of nature and the arm of justice against the rest.  This is the only acceptable political position for any human being: consider everyone who disagrees to be unworthy of your company. 

Be especially on guard against propaganda of all kinds, because there will be lots of it. One of my favorite things about Black History Month is that it has almost nothing to do with history.  It has plenty to do with facts and tidbits, of course; but history isn’t made of isolated tidbits: it's a story.  And if it is good history – or even approaching what may be known as good history – then we can be certain that amongst those positive tidbits are found, oftentimes with equal frequency, tidbits which are equally condemning.  In this respect, we know what to call history which is neither a story nor contains any negatives, and it is the same thing which liberals (unfairly) call any American history which portrays the Founding Fathers, the English tradition, Christianity, and the Puritans in any reverent manner: they call it propaganda.  

And if this is the case, then Black History Month is certainly propaganda.  Black people are people just like the rest of us, in that we're all fallible: we should be asking why we hear about so many of their heroes and so many of their victims, while hearing nothing of their riots or their villains or their vices.  Ask yourself why everyone wants to talk about Martin Luther King, and everyone gives the cold shoulder to Louis Farrakhan.  I think the answer is obvious: because some people don't want us to think for ourselves.  They want us to have a kind of publicly-managed opinion, which happens to coincide with all kinds of policies for social-engineering. You are not a social-engineering project: you must be a rational human being, who learns first from the ideal found in Scripture, which tells us what we must be, and second from your and others' observations, which tell us what we have to do and how far we have to go.  We will never be able to live with anyone we miscalculate or refuse to understand: to assess them too highly is to make them an endless source of disappointment and frustration; to judge them too harshly is to make enemies for no reason.  We have an obligation to assess all men honestly; and to assess men honestly, we must be wary of all propaganda, whether from the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, or Christian historians. 

Know that unreasonable people from both sides will tell you that generalizing is wrong; none of them will follow their own advice.  If your own observation has led you to believe that someone -- of any race or gender or sexual orientation -- is untrustworthy, do not trust them.  If your own observation has led you to believe that someone is ignorant or lazy, they probably are.  If you're walking somewhere at night, and someone is in an alley, take proper precautions against attack regardless of his race: don't fool yourself into thinking that only racist people care for their own well-being.  Every person of every race is entitled to their own self-preservation; to say that certain people must never be considered criminal, when individuals show open associations with bad traits, is to declare war upon the races who can't make sensible decisions about them.  You must be above the race game, never controlled by it.  Sometimes this will make you appear to be a racist: let God be your judge.  He will judge those who label you unfairly.  And beware when people speak of "hidden" racism: if it is hidden, we don't know about it, or can't be sure about it, which means that they can imagine it and impute it, and never have to prove it. It should seem slightly strange that people can call Christians superstitious for seeing the hand of Satan in everything bad, and liberals enlightened for seeing the hand of whites in every form of misery.  I suppose we've lost the Devil, and now someone believes he needs a replacement.  I think the poor Jews had to deal with this for the last two thousand years.  Maybe this means whites and Jews will have more to talk about. 

Lastly, I would like to mention that there are a growing number of white people who think that because other people throw tantrums over stupid things, that we should too.  They believe on some level that it makes them equally protected, when in reality it makes them equally backward.  Is it offensive if a black man wears whiteface?  If so, ask yourself why -- and see if you can think of a single good answer. A hateful heart takes offense where none should be taken, because it imputes sins which haven't been committed.  It assumes the worst of every situation, as John Henry Newman wrote of his detractors, If I am natural, he will tell them, "Ars est celare artem;" if I am convincing, he will suggest that I am an able logician; if I show warmth, I am acting the indignant innocent; if I am calm, I am thereby detected as a smooth hypocrite; if I clear up difficulties, I am too plausible and perfect to be true.

Is it offensive for them to make fun of us for wearing beige shorts and black socks?  Is it wrong to put on a white accent, or say that we're poor dancers, or that we like to eat certain kinds of food?  Maybe we do, maybe we don't -- it makes no difference either way.  Unless I'm a glutton or immodest, what I eat and how I dress is not how I think and how well I behave: let everyone make fun of us for the things that don't matter, and laugh along with them if you feel like it.  But if a person says that white people are devils, or that white people are racists, or that white people only help themselves, then he has engaged in slander, and you have a right to self-defense.  This isn't to say that behavioral trends never run in races or religions or nationalities; if this was the case, then nearly all the black comedians -- who've based a large portion of their most popular sketches upon differences between races -- would be out of work.  But you must know the difference between an insult and a harmless generalization.  The former is an unfair moral imputation; the latter is anything else.

This is all I have for you today on the subject; I'm certain I'll be bringing this up again, because every few month something ridiculous becomes a matter of national attention.  In the meantime, stay away from white guilt films, which condition your emotions without building your ability to reason, and most usually involve situations that could never happen today.  Read good and classic history books, so you can compare western civilizations with others, so you can know exactly how far we've come, and how atrocities belong to every era and race.  And above all, remember that however backward and childish and irrational other people are, you have no excuse to be backward yourself: do good, and do your best to keep from getting caught up in the media sensations.  Your father wishes he was better; I'm giving you advice because these are the kinds of things which drive me absolutely nuts.