Posts Tagged ‘racism’


Black History Month

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Across the country, as many schoolchildren and their parents are likely aware, February is Black History Month.  Started during the 1970s as an expansion of the former Black History Week, Black History Month is an opportunity used by schools to emphasize the contributions made by Blacks to the progress of American history.  As an opportunity to point out that Blacks have been involved throughout American history, Black History Month has proven itself to be at least marginally sufficient.  However, Black History Month misses the mark when it comes to showcasing the presence and importance of Black Americans in a way which is salient, long lasting, and fundamentally enriching to the lives of American students.

The evolution of Black History Month came out of a realization that Black history was consistently and systematically ignored by American historians.  Creation of the original Negro History Week, which would later become Black History Month, is credited to Carter Woodson, a professor of history and eventual dean of what today is Virginia State University. Dr. Woodson felt that a particular emphasis needed to be placed on teaching Black history, which at the time was seldom, if ever, part of the curriculum anywhere in America.  Indeed, Dr. Woodson noted that history would, at times, even be rewritten to exclude Blacks from the story of America’s past.  His hope was to overcome “the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

Now 90 years later, it’s hard to measure Dr. Woodson’s success to any level of certainty.  By and large, Black history is still not taught as an integrated part of the American story during the remaining eleven months of the year.  Outside Black History Month, the only inclusion of Blacks that I can remember being part of my history curriculum were Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and a few random mentions that Blacks occasionally did things other than be slaves up until the start of the Civil Rights movement.  Blacks were, of course, discussed as part of the Civil Rights movement — it would be impossible not to — including the mention of a number of Black  leaders.  Blacks disappeared again after the Civil Rights movement, although I imagine Barack Obama earns at least a mention in most classrooms today.

Black History Month itself seems to be something of a farce as far as actual history education is concerned.  Structured more along the lines of what one would expect of something called Black Trivia Month, my memories of Black History Month include mentions of a number of Black inventors, explorers, and scientists whose work remains valuable in today’s world.  Unlike the rest of my history education, which proceeded in roughly chronological order, my Black history education was set outside the curriculum timeline as a sort of encapsulated module which I would enter and from which I would emerge a month later in exactly the same place as where I began.  Nothing I learned was particularly inspiring, none of it made me want to learn more about Blacks, and most of it lacked any amount of context which would make it meaningful or memorable as part of a broader education.  Indeed, the only thing I remember from Black History Month is the fact that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter.

While the spreadable substance that goes great with jelly has had a significant impact on lunch boxes across America, I can’t help but feel that the importance of that memory rather misses a broader point.  Despite what Dr. Woodson may have hoped, Black history remains segregated from American history, and the separation is no more equal than the drinking fountains of yore.  Worse still, it seems that there are very few people who are even interested in having that conversation and there are no major proposals that I can remember for fully integrating Black history into the rest of the curriculum.  This is an area with an absence of leadership, but where a leader could likely make swift and decisive strides.

Black History Month needs to be about more than just history.  Blacks have been part of the story of America from the very first day and they will continue to be an important part of the American story long into the future.  This month should be a time to reflect on the place of Blacks in our history and in our society today.  It should be a time to talk about why we never learn the whole story of the founding and growth of our nation.

It’s time to fix the lingering inequities of our textbooks and rediscover the lost history of a third of our fellow Americans.  That is, after all, what Black History Month is all about.

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Of Cornball Brothers and Racial Insularism

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy

Making news during the middle part of last week was a comment by ESPN’s Rob Parker regarding the racial authenticity of NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III.  The comment provides a great living example of one aspect of racism in today’s America and underscores the challenges faced by the Republican Party in attracting the minority (and especially the black) vote in coming elections.

Here’s a quotation of what was said (emphasis added):

Rob Parker: “But my question, which is just a straight, honest question, is: Is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?”

Cari Champion: “What does that mean?”

Skip Bayless: “Explain that.”

Parker: “He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.

Champion: “Why is that your question?”

Parker: “Well because that’s just how I want to find out about him. I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about how he’s a Republican, which, I don’t really care, there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods was like, I’ve got black skin but don’t call me black.”

At its core, what we are witnessing is a brand of racial insularism which has been carefully cultivated by the left since at least the 1970s.  Conservatives will recognize it as the same web that is used to attack black conservatives like Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice.  It’s the product of a delicate web of skin color, culture, privilege, and overt racism which acts to ensnare racial minorities for the benefit of the Democrat Party.

To understand the web requires an understanding of how all four parts tie together.  At its core is a union of color and culture which provides its members with a sense of identity.  That identity, of course, does not enjoy white privilege, and so is disadvantaged in our society.  Overt racism, like that used by Mr. Parker, is used as a tool to keep dissenters in line.

The color-culture identity is something that’s relatively hard for white people to understand because they don’t experience their identity in that way.  Indeed, if asked, most white people would likely assert that there is no such thing as white culture at all.  Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky does an acceptable job of explaining why those people are mistaken, but for my purposes, it’s enough to note white culture is the America’s dominant culture and that blindness to white culture is an element of white privilege.  That said, for white people, understanding color culture may be easiest by considering a different cultural identity, such as religion.

Using Christianity as an example, consider the tenants of protestant Christian belief.  The price of entry into that identity is your belief that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  But there are other elements, too.  These include things like believing that the Bible is the word of God, living by the Ten Commandments, attending church regularly, praying, and marrying within your faith.  If you miss enough of the other elements — or even just one for a long enough period of time — and other Christians will likely doubt the sincerity of your Christianity even if you never stop believing that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  Once that happens, you will tend to find yourself isolated from your faith community and you may even find people saying hurtful things about you.

Color culture (in this case, blackness) is exactly like that.  The price of entry is your skin color (in this case, black), but there are also other elements.  Among those elements are the two pointed out by Mr. Parker: Not marrying a white person, and voting Democrat.  By missing those two elements, Mr. Griffin exposed himself to doubt about his blackness, even though the color of his skin never changed.

By injecting themselves into the black cultural identity, Democrats have secured an extremely powerful position within that community.  Indeed, while conservatives talk about wanting to encourage free thinking blacks, we neglect the reality that such free thought is an element of white privilege.  Blacks are decidedly less free in this regard because, no matter how conservative a black person may be, to actually vote Republican crosses a cultural boundary in ways which are unknown to white culture.  What’s more, voting Republican is seen as a threat to the cultural identity because Republicans themselves are seen as hostile to blackness, because Republicans are seen as the party of white privilege and as promoters of (structural) racism.
When viewed from that angle, it’s easy to see why people like Mr. Parker would have such unkind things to say about blacks who vote Republican.  Like any member of an identity group, he most likely feels a need to protect himself and his identity from attack.  That the attack comes from apparently within arguably makes it even more severe.  His overtly racist remarks can be seen as a sort of defensive strike or as a means of promoting a cohesive culture.  They are, in other words, the racial equivalent of telling someone they’re going to go to hell for something they’ve done.

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Racism, Sexism, Classism, etc.

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Racism.  Few words in the English language have the power to destroy all chance at intelligent conversation between the left and the right.  In too many places at too many times, charges of racism have been used as weapons by the left to silence the right about a myriad of subjects about which the two sides might disagree.  Weaponized charges of racism, however, are not what this post is about.  What this post is about is how racism, sexism, classism, and so forth (let’s group those under the word “identityism”) remain viable topics for discussion about which conservatives need to become more engaged.

Identityism comes in two basic forms.  The overt form of identityism is the type that most people are familiar with and is what conservatives typically think about when we hear the term.  Overt identityism is slavery, it’s Jim Crow, it’s women being unable to vote, and it’s the invectives that get spewed at people who look or act differently.  Overt identityism, in other words, is the awful stuff that we more or less knowingly do to people because of some identifiable difference.  The systemic form of identityism is less known, particularly in conservative circles.  Systemic identityism is girls staying out of science and math, it’s black people sitting as a group at lunch, it’s inner city poverty, and it’s the difficulty people who have been laid off have finding another job.    In other words, systemic identityism is any condition in our society which causes harm to an identifiable group of people and which perpetuates itself with little or no conscious effort from anybody.

As a society, we’ve made great strides against identityism during the past 60 years.  The landscape of racism, in particular, has changed dramatically since the 195os.  Overt racism has been largely eradicated and has become so stigmatized that whatever is left stays hidden mostly out of the public eye.  Success has varied with the other identityisms, but overt identityism in most of its forms is routinely discouraged.  Make no mistake, these are victories.

But while overt identityism is on the retreat, systemic identityism remains largely unaffected.  Systemic identityism is much harder to address because there is no particular individual, or even a particular group, which is responsible for its continuation.  The systemic problem includes a lot of inertia, where particular groups get trapped in situations because they simply don’t have the tools or experience to know how to get themselves out.  What’s more, some of the things that we see as problems may not actually be problems at all, but merely different outcomes than the ones that we are conditioned from birth to believe in.

The greatest problem that conservatives have with identityism is the belief that being identity blind is enough to create true equality.  Systemic identityism doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t matter, for instance, how sex-blind NASA is; NASA will have trouble hiring women because women won’t apply to NASA, because they never learned math or science, because their teachers didn’t teach them math or science, because we “know” women aren’t good at math or science, because NASA has trouble finding women to hire.  The only way out is to notice the closed logic loop and to then actively do something about it.

Of course, what must be actively done is a complicated subject for many other days.  The key for now is to realize that identityism, particularly in its systemic form, remains alive and well in America.  We have an opportunity to offer real solutions — the left offers only to replace one oppressive system with another, but they have at least noticed that there’s a conversation going on that they need to be a part of.  It’s time for conservatives to join in.

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