Whatever happened to America’s goal of a color blind society
The question of race relations is constant in our contemporary society. We hear a great deal about “white supremacy” and “white privilege,” and there are those who suggest that almost all white Americans are, to one degree or another, “racist.” Consider Ibram Kendi, author of the bestseller “How To Be An Anti-Racist.”
According to Kendi, any racial gap is racist by definition. Any intellectual explanation of its existence, whether it is sociological or cultural, is also racist. He has told us that anything that is not “anti-racist” is perforce racist.
The Kendi book is increasingly influential in educational circles.
He is critical not of the existence of a large Black-White gap in educational performance but any discussion of such a gap. He writes that,
“We degrade Black minds every time we speak of an academic-achievement gap…What if the intellect of a low-testing Black child in a poor Black school is different from—-and not inferior to—-the intellect of a high-testing White child in a rich White school? What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments?”
Assessing this unusual analysis, Matthew Iglesias, author of “One Billion Americans: The Case For Thinking Bigger,” writes:
“…if African American children continue to be less likely to learn to read and write and do math than White children, and less likely to graduate from high school, then this will contribute to other unequal outcomes down the road. Education is not a cure-all for labor market discrimination, and educational disparities don’t fully account for the Black-White earnings gap. But they partially account for that gap while also leaving people less able to organize politically, protect themselves from financial scams and otherwise navigate the modern world.
Stigmatizing the use of test scores and grades to measure learning undermines policy makers’ ability to make the case for reforms to promote equity—-from providing air conditioning in schools to combating racially biased low expectations among teachers…Identifying a racial gap and declaring it to be racist …impedes actually thinking about problems.”
Use of the term “racism” is increasingly widespread and seems to lack any context at all.
I remember racism all too well. I lived in the South during the years of segregation. Black men and women could not eat in the restaurants, stay in the hotels or drink from water fountains. They were confined to segregated rest rooms and segregated schools. People were forbidden to marry those of other races. When I was in college, if anyone suggested that we would live to see a black president, that person would have been considered mad.
But America had the extraordinary ability to change and move forward.
From the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act a decade later, the American society committed itself to provide equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race. Black Americans have achieved the highest positions in our society, from Secretary of State to Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff to Supreme Court Justice, to Vice President and President of the United States.
This is not to suggest that racism does not still exist. It does and has been manifested dramatically in the George Floyd case and other examples of police brutality. Still, the repeated charges of “racism” by some seem to lack an understanding of what that term really means.
A widely influential essay by activists Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones, “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” alleges that such things as “perfectionism,” “a sense of urgency,” and an emphasis on “measurable goals” are manifestations of “white supremacy.”
This challenges the normal conduct of work, where goal-setting and avoiding mistakes are important.
At the same time, many institutions are pursuing diversity training programs that Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi argues, meet public relations goals without accomplishing anything worthwhile. Furthermore, they may make it more difficult for people from diverse backgrounds to work together. You don’t need to “internalize left-progressive views on inequality and identity issues” to effectively collaborate on the job, al-Gharbi points out, and minorities may themselves not embrace the left perspective.
The goal of the Civil Rights movement has been the achievement of a genuinely color-blind society.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that men and women should be judged on “the content of their character” not the “color of their skin.” In the case of Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in 1948, Thurgood Marshall declared,
“Classifications based on race or color
have no moral or legal validity in our society.”
Making everything in society about race is destructive in many ways. There is at the present time an effort to remove the study of Ancient Greece and Rome and Western civilization from our schools, as well as such works of American literature as the books of Mark Twain.
All of this, its critics charge, is imbued with “whiteness.”
Twenty years ago the distinguished liberal historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote:
“Multiculturalists would have our educational system reinforce, promote and perpetuate separate ethnic communities and do so at the expense of a common culture and a common national identity.”
In his autobiography, “A Life in the 20th century,” Schlesinger discusses the case of Huckleberry Finn:
“What a marvel Huck Finn remains for every age! No book evokes more vividly the terrors and joys of childhood, or has a more exact sense of the rhythms of the American language , or uses more effectively an artless vernacular to convey the subtlest perceptions , or covers a wider ranges of American emotion and experience. The scene that sticks forever in memory comes when Huck, obedient to conventional morality, decides that the ‘plain hand of providence’ requires him to write a letter telling Miss Watson where she can find her runaway slave…Jim.
Huck feels suddenly virtuous, ‘all washed clean of sin.’ He trembles to imagine how close he had come to ‘being lost and going to hell.’ Then he began to think of Jim and the rush of the surging River and the storytelling and the singing and the companionship. He takes up the letter of betrayal, holds it in his hand, ‘I was trembling because I’d got to decide, forever betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’—-and tore it up.
What an affirmation of humanity against the absolutes!. The Concord Public Library banned the book, an action imitated in our own day by the New Trier High School Board of Education in Illinois and by other multicultural busybodies across the land.”
In his Wriston Lecture on “Universal Civilization,” V.S. Naipaul, contrasts some of the static inward looking, insular, backsliding “non-Western” cultures with that spreading “universal civilization” that he finds based, above all, on Jefferson’s idea of of the pursuit of happiness. Naipaul is the son of immigrant Indian laborers who grew up in post-colonial Trinidad and was educated in England,
Discussing the essence of Western civilization —-which sets it apart from others—-Naipaul characterizes it in these terms:
“The ideal of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectabiliy and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system nor generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”
It is a contemporary illusion of the advocates of ideas like critical race theory that particular works of art, literature or music are somehow the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Old Testament? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent may read Shakespeare, and only Italians can appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
It is in the best interest of Americans of all races and backgrounds that we return to our goal of a genuinely color-blind society. The divisive racial rhetoric of the present time is harmful to all of us and to the future of our genuinely unique society made up of men and women of every race, nation and religion.