Those who want to fight against ‘CRT’ and ‘wokeness’ are doing a good thing. But it should not be an excuse for going back and whitewashing our history [pun sort of intended].
I admire the efforts of those on the right [Chris Rufo], center [Andrew Sullivan, Bari Weiss ], and left [George Packer], who stand against the absurdities of ‘critical race theory’ and of ‘wokeness’ or ‘political correctness’ in general. I especially admire those African Americans like John McWhorter and Thomas Chatterton Williams who have the courage to take an unpopular stand. But I am concerned how this campaign might be misused.
First, ‘anti-wokeness’ does not mean we sugarcoat American history. No, we probably can’t list every lynching in our high school textbooks, but major incidents such as the destruction of the black business district in Tulsa in 1921 deserve coverage. And, all the more so, because the Tulsa episode was fairly exceptional. Under Jim Crow, blacks were usually allowed the freedom to operate their own businesses in their districts. The same is true with the American Indians – we don’t need to soft pedal our treatment of them, but we do need to point out that certain aspects of treaty-breaking were controversial at the time. Meanwhile, there were always whites who argued against misdeeds from the Trail of Tears to the occupation of the Black Hills.
At the same time, slavery and Jim Crow, while central to an important subgroup of Americans, is not the center of the American story. There’s far more to America than that.
Second, guilt is not inherited. It is unlikely that the book of Ezekiel, which goes to some length to make that point, will be read in public schools, but there are other ways to communicate this point. Maybe we can accept forgiveness on behalf of ‘our’ ancestors, if it is truly offered. I don’t, however, see that much evidence that forgiveness is being offered.
Actually, my ancestors, in the male line at least, were more likely to have captured and sold Russians and other Slavic peoples than any sub-Saharan Africans. [The word ‘slave’ comes from ‘Slav’.]
I think there is such a thing as white privilege, but since we didn’t choose it, the best thing is to be a steward of it for the benefit of all. [I speak as someone who has a lot of privileges besides just that white one. And there is a white working class for whom ‘white privilege’ is not doing a lot of good.] In fact, there are indeed a few pockets of our society now where white males are deprivileged, like the academic world and some corporations. And I don’t think that the answer to white privilege is merely flipping the hierarchy upside down.
Third, rhetoric we should not use is about sparing the tender ‘feelings’ of young children, including white ones, who might be ‘traumatized’ by hearing about these aspects of history. That is rhetoric that has been used by the left to shut down free discussion in universities and the corporate world, and we must not resort to it ourselves.
Fourth, we did not invent slavery. It was an internal African institution long before any slaves arrived in North America. Muslim cultures had been both buying slaves from Africa and raiding and capturing them from Europe, and on one occasion, Iceland . Portugal got sucked into this system, tragically, when they arrived in West Africa about 1445. The part that is uniquely ‘European’ or ‘white’, and tragic, was when Europeans got the idea that sub-Saharan Africans were somehow especially suitable for slavery, a belief that cannot be justified by the Bible or Christian dogma in any way. [The bit about the curse on Ham and Canaan makes no sense whatsoever.]
Actually, epidemiology enters into this. The ‘Old World’, that is Europe, Asia, and Africa, because it practiced a lot of animal husbandry and pastoralism, had developed a degree of immunity to a number of diseases. The two Americas and Australia had not. Therefore when Europeans conquered the most advanced American kingdoms in 1521 and 1533, their diseases spread like plagues more deadly than the ‘Old World’s’ Black Death among the Native Americans. For all the rapaciousness of the European conquistadors, this had not been their intent. Africa, on the other hand, was in the Old World, and its people had the necessary immunities, and were purchased in bulk to replace the rapidly dying Indians.
[In fact, Africa’s own tropical diseases protected them from European conquest until after 1880, when Europeans finally developed technologies that could protect themselves against African diseases and easily crush African resistance.]
Fifth, the things we call ‘structural racism’ actually are quite varied. For example, police are often unusually fearful of black males because of the behavior of a small subset of these. Tyre Nichols, in Memphis, was only the latest example of this. The police that beat him to death were themselves black, though naturally some are trying to blame ‘whiteness’ for his death.
Other manifestations of ‘structural racism’ are conditions, such as the redlining of areas inhabited by persons of color [including Asians and, in some cases, even Jews!] and denying home loans to people in those areas. Of course those areas may lag developmentally 60 years later, and they often do. There are other situations where rules were initially made for racist reasons, but the fruit of them today is to make things more difficult and out of reach for all lower-income people. And, at the same time, there are structures that may have been instituted out of simple social snobbery, not race, yet they still affect less affluent racial groups more. The belief that the less affluent are undesirable neighbors has been a motive for local public policy quite apart from race.
When Jesus and the prophets talked about the poor, they didn’t say ‘the poor of color’. In the last years before his assassination, Martin Luther King realized this, and started something called the ‘Poor People’s Campaign’. I admit I wouldn’t like a lot of the public policies they might have advocated! But, if he had lived longer, we might not have drifted into the ‘identity politics’ we have today – a game which both Left and Right play. And the Left might have kept its focus on income and class and not all the various racial and sexual categories.
And there’s another thing. The California legislature is working on a possible plan for reparations for the descendants of slaves. Yet anyone who has read Carey McWilliams or any other decent history of California should know that the California of old did not treat its blacks conspicuously worse than its Mexicans, its Chinese, its Japanese, and its Native Californians. We don’t need to cover up this history, and shouldn’t, but why should only African Americans be singled out for reparations in California? At the same time, the situation has gotten better; why else have so many Asians and Latin Americans in more recent times come to settle in California, so that ‘people of color’ who are not black are now the majority? And if Blacks are leaving, they often move to the South, for the same reason as whites do – housing costs are less there. It bears repeating that some of the laws that contribute to high housing costs may have been adopted for racial reasons, but they are now affecting everyone.
The Scottish pastor, John Baillie, in his popular Diary of Private Prayer, has some interesting observations in his chapter Tenth Day: Evening.
“I would remember before Thee all my human brothers and sisters who need Thy help. Especially tonight I think . . . of those who are suffering the consequences of misdeeds long ago repented of:
Of those who, by reason of early surroundings, have never had a fair chance in life:”
As I read this, it occurred to me that the bit about “suffering the consequences of misdeeds long ago repented of” might apply to the victims of these misdeeds as well as to those who perpetrated them.