I got into a bit of a spat with someone who demanded that I go to the first floor of the African American Museum on the Washington Mall. This came from me saying that I disagreed that America was built on the backs of black slaves.
There are a great number of assumptions that need to be cleared up. Let’s do that.
The first was that I, as a black American, would be so emotionally overcome by this experience that I would certainly have to agree that America was built on slavery. I asked this person to explain the wealth of the following: (Rockefeller, Mellon, Olin, Carnegie, Ford, DuPont, Getty, Hughes, Vanderbilt, Sloan) none of whom were slaveholders. Well, they were white and white was good enough correlation in her mind to be causation. It seems those convinced of the global operation of white supremacy can adjust and account for everything except the idea that racism doesn’t cause everything. No economic details would be discussed industry by industry, and I clearly was working from an ‘erroneous narrative’. After which she bugged out of the thread only to be replaced by someone who decided it was time to curse me out.
I am convinced that the new dialogs around race are regressive and chock full of “GTFOOH” and “go educate yourself” and other kinds of dismissive rhetoric. This is certainly the dynamic of Cancel Culture. From my point of view, there is a new wave of racial nonsense every 6-8 years or so and the people who were born yesterday tend to make the same mistakes. Those who made the mistake in the previous cycle of race-plaining are keen to backup the newest bleating naiveté by jumping on to say that nothing has changed.
They’re halfway right, none of their strategies and tactics of argumentation have changed. This is why we hear the constant demand for a ‘national dialog on race’ which essentially means nothing more or less than shutting down all arguments that disagree with such sentiments as “Racism built America.”
Just the Facts
Should Congress Remove Biden from Office?
A short list of indisputable facts are all that is necessary to keep these false hopes alive. Sometimes they are victims we are encouraged never to forget. Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd. Sometimes they are places we should always remember. Jena LA, Tulsa OK, Howard Beach NY, Ferguson MO. Sometimes they are slogans that should be burned into our consciousness. These include: “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “No justice, no peace,” “The people united will never be defeated,” and “I can’t breathe.” Sometimes it is a list of unstoppable politicians we are told are the enemies of progress. Ronald Reagan heads the list. On that note I wonder if people ever stop to consider the economic conditions of black Americans under Kennedy as compared to under Reagan. I don’t know, but somehow Kennedy always escapes mention.
People wonder why these performances fail to produce a change in the economic outlook or social capital of the mass of black Americans. It’s as if these rhetorical devices possessed magical power. Surely in my recent debate, and in many others, the failure of the opposition to say the magic words is proof of guilt in the conspiracy to destroy black America. As if we were vampires refusing a cocktail of garlic flavored holy water. I suppose I ought to try it just once in jest. I’ll say “No justice, no peace,” and ask if now there is any more justice, or do you just feel better?
The New Noir
Certainly feeling better or more accurately feeling justified is what animates a lot of these race-splainers. It certainly cannot be results. To show any economic progress among their pet victims or any ideological diversity in that group defeats their thinly veiled racial strategies. In my haste to slap these guys on the backs of their heads, I remember that there has always been a fraction of black America (plus their audience) that never want to let Whitey off the hook. So not only is there an emotional payoff, but there’s that special attention from another fraction of America in general. Together they are co-dependent and loud, morally self-justified and institutionalized all over the place. They take advantage over everyone who never bothered to think deeply or at length.
it reminds me of the other day when I went to hang out with my adult son who bought me lunch and ice cream for my birthday. It was a sunny day in upscale Manhattan Beach. Masks were off and people were chatting under the outdoor patio furniture near the ice cream joint. I could hear a couple suburban housewives chatting about some book about a young kid from Liberia West Africa who struggled and finally made it to the US.
They were gobsmacked by the tale of woe and triumph. “I had no idea that country even existed!”, were her breathless words behind her designer sunglasses. Of course she didn’t know the history. Isn’t it something to find out when you’re in your forties in flip-flops? It’s easy to captivate Americans with such tales because we love underdogs. So there’s an industry of finding and publishing particular underdog tales. It’s the new noir.
A Short & Unsatisfactory Answer
Since I’m not an academic, there are 2/3rds of a solution that I’m not part of. I don’t focus on a very specific body of work in history and I don’t spend year after year teaching that to young adults who pay money to hang onto my words. I do read a lot of books. Over the course of my life I’ve certainly read my share of books by black authors. Most recently I read the very thick volume by David Blight on Frederick Douglass. (You can buy all three of Douglass‘ own autobiographies for $1.99 on Amazon). The answer to slavery was war. It was the ultimate price for the ultimate crime.
Many Americans perpetrated that crime, and many Americans paid with their lives.
It was that deep. I believe disturbances in the force that deep are always paid for in blood and treasure. It’s certainly not a romantic vision of humanity. But there I just said it. If racism leads to slavery, then slavery leads to war. Everything else, you can walk away from. Even Frederick Douglass himself kept giving speeches during the bloody battles. We are not nearly so close to that level of conflict. And in point of fact, slavery came first and racism second. What we’re dealing with today is speech, not slavery and not war. The vilest racists in America won’t bring us to the brink of either.
You would expect people at this distance from such vicious conflict and destruction of humanity to do a bit better with their speech. Yet here we are stuck in a moshpit of nonsensical rhetoric that aims to convince us our burden should be as clear as that of Douglass. The people, places and slogans they have picked out as as examples beggars belief.
I have no doubt that there are sound ways to understand how various ideologies and concepts will point us to the origins of all this bad-think. It’s something I’m actually interested in. I’m starting to get a clue about who & what went wrong throughout our intellectual heritage and how we might correct those mistakes. Take comfort however, that these will take just a few adjustments to what passes for today’s flavor of common sense. All that will be required is the courage to speak your mind, and the willingness to improve your mind over time.
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