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The Existential Dilemma of Black Anti-Racism
The finer points of enlightened self-interest.
You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing. — Richard Feynman
I hate being a raceman.
To the extent that I do such work, I do so out of a sense of both public spiritedness and noblesse oblige. So if you wonder why, on such serious subjects as civil liberty, I am often employing expletives, this is part of the reason. The last thing I want is to become is a famous black man for fighting racism. It begs the question as to whether or not I had any choice in the matter. I refuse to be a slave to anti-racist philosophy. That is simply because I am free man, not a soldier under orders. Racism doesn’t affect me any more than the War in Iraq affected you.
There’s a certain amount of what I do that runs afoul of my favorite aphorism of the great physicist Dick Feynman. He said, simply because one lives under the effects of gravity for the whole of your existence doesn’t make you a particle physicist. Similarly one’s ‘lived experience’ with racism only gets you so far. It lets you know there is a problem. For me, the reason I have come to some level of expertise has much to do with a couple of facts. The first is that I grew up in a bona fide black cultural nationalist family who was there at the first Kwanzaa. The consequence of that was that essentially the Negro Problem was solved for me. I had no dual-consciousness. I never defined myself in terms of some approximation of proximity to what I guessed was a white man. I simply did what was interesting to me. The second fact is that I did in fact think my way out of the black nationalist box in a different manner than the way I was instructed in. I recognized that there was no possibility for black American nationalist unity, except perhaps a unity of fear. I identified that fear and that unity as the previous condition of servitude, of the very Negro Problem my black consciousness surmounted. You might say I was cured by the Movement because it moved me, but once moved I kept moving. I’ve always considered MLK’s mountaintop as one in a series of mountain ranges, the important one of civil liberty, but hardly the ultimate struggle of life.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not a special victim in this. It is an American problem I inherit as a citizen. So I do my part as a citizen, just as I did over the issue of the War in Iraq. Moreover, my particular background gives me particular insights. So while I have ideas and values that may overlap with enlightenment liberalism, multiculturalism, conservatism or libertarianism I’m not the one swept up in the popular partisan movement, and I’m certainly not here to celebrate Juneteenth or have a moment of silence for Shaquanda Cotton. In other frightening and self-important words, I’m here because I’m a moral agent and because solving the problems of race are philosophically interesting.
There is a great irony in this work which has to do with the presumptions that racial stereotypes have based upon the complexion of the objectified person. If one is a ‘minority’, then one should presumably be grateful for any boot pressure lifted off the collective neck of the oppressed class which defines you. Toni Morrison made a memorable notation on what she called the problem of the rescued.
The problem of internalizing the master's tongue is the problem of the rescued. Unlike the problems of survivors who may be lucky, fated, etc. the rescued have the problem of debt. If the rescuer gives you back your life, he shares in that life. But if as in Friday's case, if the rescuer saves your life by taking you away from the dangers, the complications, the confusion of home, he may very well expect the debt to be paid in full.' -- Toni Morrison, 1992
Morrison makes an error in the identification of the nature of the save. Africans who speak English are not rescued from anything. Language itself is not a cage and enforces no ideology. Just mere yelling the word ‘freedom’ does not make one free. Slavers were not afraid to say the word within earshot of their captives. She is correct about the nature of debt, but even so, she misrepresents in a zero-sum scenario the mutual benefits of the resolution of debts. It’s good for everyone involved to be free and clear of the tethers and ropes of guides and guided at the higher ground to be achieved. Indeed there is something greater than ethnic nationalism at stake when we manage to mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Liberty is Non Zero Sum
It is this idea of a zero-sum game of liberty that misguides many Americans into believing that double standards are necessary for ethnic minorities. Not a few of them enjoy the halo they think they’ve earned by confessing their racist sins, encouraging all of us to follow suit, like some kind of perverted collectivist alter call. That’s not the worst of it.
Part of the worst of it is the kind of stilted tyrannical leadership such blinded thinking inevitably generates. For if you think you’ve identified the problem and ossify its priorities into political correctness, you end up policing thought rather than liberating it. This ought to be one object lesson of the failures of black nationalism itself, something many have attended to thoroughly. The necessity of being the top black dog led to a dog eat dog world. Murder is murder. Ask the ghost of Bunchy Carter. Why indeed is there no black nationalist leadership in America today? Why wasn’t it the programmatic agenda of the National Urban League that invented and funded the research behind Critical Race Theory? Such national organizational unity was not necessary. Indeed unity gets in the way of diversity. So we should be thankful and we should be about trust-busting when it comes to the reinvigoration of freedom. Freedom wants to be free and no one should be slaves to ideological conformity. Everyone knows how they are held back, and they must push accordingly. The price of freedom varies for every man. There will never be a singular plan to solve the problem once and for all.
However there will be an incremental plan, which will be sold just like Tide detergent. It promises to make you cleaner if you just buy in for your family. Then if enough families buy and put the sticker on their minivans, then you’ll have a clean vanguard. That’s what the Wokies consider themselves - the newest, latest and greatest who have always been at war with racist Eurasia, since Obama left office.
It is not ironic that the same existential dilemma is in effect for other moral agents. There’s nothing quite so pathetic as some Boomer who tells you how important it was that they marched with Dr. King. It has become something of a cliche, a buffalo nickel, an anachronism whose value has deflated over time. And yet it is clear to me that MLK’s vision was superior to that of the miserable Wokies and their neo-racist Critical Theorist enablers. Misery loves company, but it absolutely worships theoretical ideological company.
So you’ll excuse me if every once in a while, I tell people to take a long walk off a short pier. I am not hostage to this. The wages of sin is death. Grownups only need to hear that once. (sigh).
P.S. The earth is not flat.