Race Talk Doesn't Work
There used to be equilibrium. Not any longer.
The thing that’s mostly changed since I made this video during the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 is that we are no longer at what I referred to as a ‘racial equilibrium’. Today, 12 years later, the balance is tilting towards a toxic ‘anti-racism’ that is actually deeply racist. I am torn about whether or not to use the term ‘anti-racist’, but I think I’ll decide today that I will not. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I will call ‘personal deracination.’ The very essence of it is simple.
You remove your skin out of the skin game. You take your dog out of the fight. You cash in your chips and go home. You recognize that the game is rigged and the only way to win is not to play.
We have entered an era in which the relative neutrality of racial identity no longer exists in the mainstream of American life. The truce signed in the 70s by nominal blackfolks and nominal whitefolks has broken. Not by you and I, but by a collection of people who are determined to say that race matters, and that it matters more than you or I. It has broken over some truly phenomenally trivial bullshit which has been magnified many orders of magnitude into a symbol, perhaps the most incredibly weighty hot air balloon America has ever seen. It doesn’t matter that St. George has put more people and violence in the street than anybody short of Rodney King and MLK, it matters that the truce is broken and people are scrambling to do something. This is a poignant moment. Things are out of balance. It’s fair to say that so-called whitefolks and so-called blackfolks are at odds, or even at war. Sucks to be them.
So what do I mean by personal deracination? Well in distinction from the some of the talk above, it means that you abandon whatever it is you think your racial role should be in improving ‘race relations’. You must first grasp the fact that anything having to do with race relations is a game for which you must don a uniform and represent your team. You never will get to be the leader of your team, and every time you attempt to be an individual, you will not get recognized unless you are following the team playbook.
I am not a theorist. I don’t spend all my time overthinking American life. I’m a critic, an essayist, a writer. I’m not a journalist with an assignment from my boss. I’m not some activist with expectations to push an agenda. I’m somebody with great respect for ethics and virtue and very little patience for foolishness and wishful thinking. I am very comfortable with calling bullshit when I step in it. I’m somebody who has thought it through and made it work for myself and I have a lot of confidence that people can learn from my experience and writing. They tell me so. But you. You have no reason to listen to me other than that my reason sounds reasonable. Qualified enough? Good.
You have a racial identity whether you like it or not. You also have biology whether you believe in evolution or not. And because you have human biology, you also have human psychology. I am betting every bit of logic that can be extracted from my writing that human biology, therefore human psychology is universal across time and space, whereas racial identity is, as they say, ‘a social construction’. That means you have a choice. Here is a quote from James Baldwin that I find particularly useful in this regard.
Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which robes one's nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes. -- James Baldwin.
You are not white. You are not black. You are naked. But you have clothed yourself in a racial identity provided to you by the history of this nation. You may have, like I did when I was a young whippersnapper, gone overseas to bond with people you believed were part of your diaspora. It may or may not have worked. Doesn’t matter. What matters is, you know you had some of this uniform and you went to find others in similar getups. There is always that temptation - to make your race work somehow for you. That is the game you ought to give up. Says me.
Why? Because it doesn’t work. The faster you travel, the more your racial getup slows you down. You try to get out, but they pull you back in. Right now millions of people are accusing you of being typical of your race. You’re just another one, as far as they’re concerned. You’re an evil racist. You’re a dirty Jew. You’re an inscrutable Oriental. For every wondrous positive you’ve ever imagined yourself to be, there is its opposite in the minds of haters you may never see. Here’s another quote from Greg Tate that I find particularly useful in this regard.
Perhaps the supreme irony of black American existence is how broadly black people debate the question of cultural identity among themselves while getting branded as a cultural monolith by those who would deny us the complexity and complexion of a community, let alone a nation. If Afro Americans have never settled for the racist reductions imposed upon them -- from chattel slaves to cinematic stereotype to sociological myth -- it's because the black collective conscious not only knew better but also knew more than enough ethnic diversity to subsume those fictions. -- Greg Tate
In other words, every black American is an Uncle Tom at some level. Every white American is a nigger lover at some level. All of us at some level, defy our racial identity. Our getup doesn’t fit us perfectly. The trick, the point of personal deracination is to notice that itch on the margin until it becomes uncomfortable, then burdensome and finally intolerable. Leave it behind you. Be free.
Oh, that’s easy for you to say Bowen. You’re a magic Negro. You live in the suburbs, you went to Catholic school, your best friend’s a Jew, you have white in-laws, you’re affluent and smart, your brother is a cop and you know the secret handshake. Yeah yeah keep going. Tell me all of the reasons I’m different. I know I’m different. Do you know how I know? I know because racism hurts me. If I was perfectly happy living within the uniform, I could perform massive trickster subversions that would implode your brain. Because what I also know is how black Americans have survived racism from day one. I read the books. I listened to the folks. I watched and learned. Every American can. We all have our own racial tricks. We know how to play the game.
The question becomes this. What happens when the old strategies no longer work? I’m telling you now that this is Race Relations 5.0 and Critical Race Theory is the upgrade from Diversity Studies which was the upgrade from Multiculturalism which was the upgrade from Integration & Affirmative Action which was the upgrade from Crossover. Remember Crossover? Remember when everybody loved Lionel Ritchie? Well, most people in the mainstream. Funny how Race Relations 5.0 seems awfully similar to Race Riot 1969. It took a decade to get from there to Lando Calrissian. I’m telling you in no uncertain terms that your racial getup is getting more attention and it’s going to snag on something ugly.
Maybe you’ll feel a little bit naked taking off that uniform. Maybe you feel unsure. Maybe you think that just because some wild-eyed idiots think ill of your race is no reason for you to be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your inheritance. It’s not as if you can change it. You’re correct and the sky is blue. The question is, of all the things you happen to be, and all the things you’ve made of yourself and all the things you want to experience in the future, how much should you owe to your racial identity? My mother is an evangelical Christian. And being an evangelical, it is part of her obligation to give all glory and honor to God her heavenly father. So when she loses and then finds her house keys, you will hear her say “Thank you, Jesus.” Now it may sound silly or even trivial, but when are you saying a little prayer of thanks when something happens to somebody owing to their race? Maybe you’re a bit more evangelical than you think. My mother wants to be a Christian. She will never deny it. She will always literally bear that cross. I’m proud of her, but I don’t believe Jesus found her house keys.
You are not responsible for the behavior of people around you, nor for your race. You can be good or evil or mediocre or whatever you have been. Personal deracination is just you not caring and not expecting anything from the theories of race that are always out there trying to capture your attention and explain things in racial terms. It’s not difficult to notice, but it is all pollution. I’m not writing this ‘as a black man’ I’m writing this because I see the change and I know how to disarm the talk. I am hoping that you will possess the ethics and virtues and attempt to engage your own thoughts from that perspective. I’m a Stoic, remember? I have disengaged my rational self from the foolishness I encounter. It’s not about dismissing my emotions, but disciplining my response.
So if I’m not going to be black or white or any of that, what am I going to be? I’m dedicated to the American ideal. Simple. I mean what part of ‘black lives matter’ isn’t ‘liberty and justice for all’? Don’t answer - they’ll socially construct something.
I’m out of the race game. I have been for a while. I don’t find it a useful or virtuous distinction. I am from a small town called Black, and I don’t need to go home. I never really belonged there. Where ever you are from, what matters is how you survive this change. It won’t be easy, as new racial theories are constructed, and new kinds of ‘social justice’ are crowdsourced. Liberty and justice for all. Man, that’s something I can get behind.