Discover more from Stoic Observations
A Proper Race Booklist
If you're sick of Critical Race Theory
The problem with being a conservative is that you keep looking back in time to see what you may have overlooked. Having been a conservative myself, I look back at what I used to think as a conservative who was looking back at a prior liberal life. That’s a whole lot of introspection. It can’t all be bad. Since it’s racial Friday let’s look back at a question I was asked in 2016, before Trump.
Q: Is America’s obsession with racial and gender diversity unhealthy?
The obsession with race, correctly implies ignorance. People talk and talk and talk about it, but they still don't know anything. I'm not going to call it “America’s problem”, because there are a lot of people in America who understand the right things. But there are certainly a lot of ignorant people in America who keep asking the same dumb questions over and over, as if there were no solutions. They are people in the TL;DR zone, forever.
If, on the other hand, you wanted to truly educate (as opposed to indoctrinate) yourself about race, there is plenty wisdom to be had. Ultimately what you learn depends upon your aims. The crazy thing is that for all intents and purposes, if your intent is integration and community, you can simply make a few friends across 'racial lines', and ignore the rest as noise. The difficulty is that people have what seems to be an irresistible urge to 'represent' their race, their racial theories, and their observations of people by race. They want to have an extended national dialog about race. Well, I can tell you from my personal experience, having had that extended dialog for decades on the web, that in the end, it really all comes down to whether or not you have decided to get along with people or if you try to hold groups of people responsible for everything that has gone right and wrong over hundreds of years of racial animosity. In short, my opinion is that Rodney King, as simplistic as he was, was right. "Can’t we all just get along?", is the most important question of all. You answer either yes, or no.
So like I've said elsewhere. everybody gets a racial identity. You decide what to make of it. It is an individual choice, period.
I would say that I've probably read something on the order of 50 or 60 books on race and racial subjects. I'd say the most interesting in the end are the following:
1. Faces at the Bottom of the Well - Derrick Bell
Almost nobody does what Derrick Bell did which is put together fascinating scenarios and logical frameworks that test philosophically what people actually believe about race. If you think Spike Lee made you think, you haven't begun yet.
2. Drylongso - John Gwaltney
Nothing has done more, before or since, to illustrate the diversity of black American ideas among ordinary folks than this book by a man who was actually blind. It destroys and I mean just wrecks the idea that black Americans need some kind of coordinated political leadership in order for them to understand and achieve their own best interests. You cannot read this book and ever expect anything of 'black leaders' or 'black agendas' again.
3. Black Judges on Justice: Perspectives from the Bench - Linn Washington
It's probably dated by now, but it is a point of view that almost nobody considers. People every day mouth off about police brutality and conspiracies to imprison black men and how the system is all jacked up. But have you ever asked a black judge what he or she thinks? Well, here's a book full of opinions.
4. Jazz - Toni Morrison
This is a novel that presents the ugly truth about interracial love. Society may have its pressures, but individuals are to blame for not accepting lovers into their families. The damage this does is massive no less on the black side than on the white side. People tend to forget that the one thing that has always been special about American racism was the idea at its heart about the 'purity' of the races and the 'evil' of interracial sex.
According to Pew:
More than one-third of Americans (35%) say that a member of their immediate family or a close relative is currently married to someone of a different race. Also, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say it “would be fine” with them if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group. In 1986, the public was divided about this. Nearly three-in-ten Americans (28%) said people of different races marrying each other was not acceptable for anyone, and an additional 37% said this may be acceptable for others, but not for themselves. Only one-third of the public (33%) viewed intermarriage as acceptable for everyone.
So there's that.
5. Neveryon Series - Samuel R. Delany
Now this is rather exotic and deep BUT. This is a series of mythological tales that illustrate the changeover from a pre-literate society and culture to a literate one. It shows what it's like at a very fundamental level to start educating people who formerly have no education. It raises some very deep questions about who knows what and the relationship between knowledge and power and what it means to be a slave who is liberated versus what it means to be a slave who liberates himself, consequentially what it means to be taught about a liberated slave vs what it means to witness a slave who liberates himself. So here you have the theory behind the very idea of consciousness raising and education, which the overwhelming majority of people never even think about. So think about it for a minute: you are being educated to think a certain way about race. Why? Who benefits?
6. In My Father's House - Kwame Appiah
So imagine you're in a West African colonial country and your father is part of the revolution to decolonize and wipe away the stains of European racism and domination. What do you teach the newly freed fellow Africans? How much racial theory should go into it? From where would you pick your inspiration? Well, Appiah is just that man, and having a bird's eye view, a mighty intellect and several hundred pages to describe it all, he absolutely destroys every racial theory ever. Everything illogical ever proposed about teaching something different about race to people of different races is destroyed by Appiah.
And oh by the way check out this dude. Charles Johnson
So basically in a year of reading, you could think your way out of any racial nonsense that passes for thought anywhere in the world. But only if it's your aim. Otherwise, obsess away. Americans have every opportunity to think more clearly and be better. I'm just giving you these pointers so that if you take the matter seriously, you have no excuse. But that's all on you.
All that was from January of 2016 and I think it still holds together. I note with some agreement with more recent commentators that Derrick Bell was a spoilsport and as the first black Harvard Law professor, he was carrying more racial burdens than anybody should. So of course he had to try and represent. But I also fondly remember Reconstruction Magazine edited by Randall Kennedy who had what I consider to be a more sophisticated approach, although I didn’t read any of his books. If you don’t know Kennedy, he’s right on this segment of CNN.
While I’m on the subject as I have been a bit more this year, the best person to understand the philosophically proper context of dealing with race is none other than Adrian Piper. I don’t think she has been engaging the subject and I haven’t attempted to chase her down since the late 90s. I seem to recall that she found herself interviewing or talking about the POV of rapper KRS-1 and, realizing the absurdity of the entire thing, took a chill pill and beamed into another dimension. But here (or here), with an article that I estimate entirely justifies the prominence of Thomas Chatterton Williams, I have been brought up to date.
I should say that this short list of books by no means exhausts the exhausting subject. Nevertheless should you choose to limit all of your thinking to Piper, you’d save yourself a headache or two and quite some time. Delany is worth reading for his own sake, and Jazz won’t insult your aesthetics. I had to read Gwaltney because I needed him to help me abdicate my own Talented Tenth inheritance. That wasn’t so easy in 1993, but it’s a great book taken with the right attitude.
Here’s to looking backwards. Cheers.