Antiracism and Action

John McWhorter, in “Antiracism, Our Flawed National Religion“, makes a very good point (boldface mine):

For example, in the “Conversation” about race that we are so often told we need to have, the tacit idea is that black people will express their grievances and whites will agree—again, no questions, or at least not real ones. Here and there lip service is paid to the idea that the Conversation would not be such a one-way affair, but just as typical is the praise that a piece like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s elicits, openly saying that white people who object to any black claims about racism are intolerably mistaken and barely worth engagement (Eddo-Lodge now has a contract to expand the blog post into a book). Usefully representative is a letter that The New York Times chose to print, which was elicited by David Brooks’s piece on Coates’s book, in which a white person chides Brooks for deigning to even ask whether he is allowed to object to some of Coates’s claims.

Note: To say one is not to question is not to claim that no questions are ever asked. The Right quite readily questions Antiracism’s tenets. Key, however, is that among Antiracism adherents, those questions are tartly dismissed as inappropriate and often, predictably, as racist themselves. The questions are received with indignation that one would even ask them, with a running implication that their having been asked is a symptom of, yes, racism’s persistence

And too often, Antiracism doctrine loses sight of what actually helps black people. Ritual “acknowledgment” of White Privilege is, ultimately, for white people to feel less guilty. Social change hardly requires such self-flagellation by the ruling class. Similarly, black America needs no grand, magic End of Days in order to succeed. A compact program of on-the-ground policy changes could do vastly more than articulate yearnings for a hypothetical psychological revolution among whites that no one seriously imagines could ever happen in life as we know it.

Antiracism as a religion, despite its good intentions, distracts us from activism in favor of a kind of charismatic passivism. One is to think, to worship, to foster humility, to conceive of our lives as mere rehearsal for a glorious finale, and to encourage others to do the same. This kind of thinking may have its place in a human society. But helping black people succeed in the only real world we will ever know is not that place.

In rightwing circles, McWhorter’s post is being touted as “LIBRULS ARE DUM. NEENER NEENER.” But, as happened Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, where “the content of their character” line is lauded, but the specifics related to housing, education, and better wages were mysteriously disappeared, I’m not seeing a whole lot of love (or even attention) given to the link to the companion post (boldface mine):

However, the claim that America must “wake up” and eliminate structural racism has become more of a religious incantation than a true call to action. We must forge solutions to black America’s problems that are feasible within reality—that is, a nation in which racism continues to exist, compassion for black people from the outside will be limited and mainly formulaic (i.e. getting rid of flags), and by and large, business continues as usual. Here are some ideas for real solutions:

1. The War on Drugs must be eliminated. It creates a black market economy that tempts underserved black men from finishing school or seeking legal employment and imprisons them for long periods, removing them from their children and all but assuring them of lowly existences afterward.

2. We have known for decades how to teach poor black children to read: phonics-based approaches called Direct Instruction, solidly proven to work in the ’60s by Siegfried Engelmann’s Project Follow Through study. School districts claiming that poor black children be taught to read via the whole-word method, or a combination of this and phonics, should be considered perpetrators of a kind of child abuse. Children with shaky reading skills are incapable of engaging any other school subject meaningfully, with predictable life results.

3. Long-Acting Reproductive Contraceptives should be given free to poor black women (and other poor ones too). It is well known that people who finish high school, hold a job, and do not have children until they are 21 and have a steady partner are almost never poor. We must make it so that more poor black women have the opportunity to follow that path. The data is in: Studies in St. Louis and Colorado have shown that these devices sharply reduce unplanned pregnancies. Also, to reject this approach as “sterilizing” these women flies in the face of the fact that the women themselves rate these devices quite favorably.

4. We must revise the notion that attending a four-year college is the mark of being a legitimate American, and return to truly valuing working-class jobs. Attending four years of college is a tough, expensive, and even unappealing proposition for many poor people (as well as middle-class and rich ones). Yet poor people can, with up to two years’ training at a vocational institution, make solid livings as electricians, plumbers, hospital technicians, cable television installers, and many other jobs. Across America, we must instill a sense that vocational school—not “college” in the traditional sense—is a valued option for people who want to get beyond what they grew up in.

Note that none of these things involve white people “realizing” anything. These are the kinds of concrete policy goals that people genuinely interested in seeing change ought to espouse.

I would add to the list some policies about decreasing environmental pollution, especially in poor communities, equally funding public schools, and ending zoning laws that ‘zone out’ the poor (who are disproportionately not white). But I’m guessing the NEENER NEENER crowd really isn’t on board with any of this.

And, no, giving Mitt Romney another tax cut doesn’t count as a solution, nor does erecting more government bureaucracy to administer existing programs incompetent.

There’s more to the “Conversation” than if you’re prejudiced, bigoted, or racist.

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