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Waiting for White Magical Thinking

 

Like the great majority of American white people of earlier eras, slaveholder Thomas Jefferson and abolitionist Abraham Lincoln held the belief that (a) blacks probably could not hack it as free men in modern society and (b) white people would never tolerate them as equals, in any event.

Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, and the rest of the leadership of the civil rights movement had no illusions about immediately converting the great mass of angry/terrified white Southerners to the cause of equality so they always pitched their words and deeds to a larger national white audience.

What white people thought about black people largely controlled and constrained the lives of the latter for most of our history. One the perverse, unexpected consequences of that fact is the increasingly weird, magical thinking that what white people think still controls and constrains black lives. 

When a African-American cop (working under an African-American police chief) in a city where white supremacists in power are about as common as unicorns (Milwaukee) shot Sylville Smith, an armed African-American suspect who aimed a weapon at pursuing police, there was a three-day riot and a relative of the fallen suspect said “white people are the devil.”

Similarly, in Baltimore, Freddie Gray was killed in a negligent fashion in a police van with an African-American police driver after an arrest by three African-American and three white officers who worked under anAfrican-American police chief responsible to an African-American mayor and majority African-American city council in a country where civil rights complaints were referred to an African-American US Attorney General appointed by an African-American President. Yet for many, the incident was somehow about white racism.

White people actually have constrained and deformed black lives in the modern era but not from malignant racism so much as spectacularly bad social welfare policies designed by white liberals. Our national policies destroyed family life, natural social ties, and solid childhood formation. These programs have had the net effect of fostering crime, poverty, and substance-abuse and thus made clashes with law enforcement vastly more common.

White liberals also found various ideological means to crush substantive academic achievement just in case the deformative process of atomization was not sufficiently harmful.

For the majority of African-Americans who are not part of the poverty culture, white liberals also found a way to undermine their place in society with “affirmative action.” The previous presumption that an African-American with a professional degree is probably at least as good if not better than most whites because of what he or she had to overcome has been replaced with the nagging suspicion that he or she may be in that position only because of affirmative action.

The counterproductive stupid NFL protests seem like a manifestation of the fantasy that if only all white people could simultaneously think good thoughts about black people, all social ills would be cured. The hope that just maybe one more broad accusation of white racism (e.g., Eric Holder’s call for a “conversation”) will bring about social nirvana is an increasingly self-defeating delusion.

It is strange to be old enough to remember when white racism was part of the law, to have experienced the change, and now to see angry, ignorant young people raging against racist ghosts while remaining oblivious to real obstacles and causes right in front of them.

It will be painful and require mental and moral heavy-lifting to create a broad understanding of the facts that (a) the segregationists /supremacists no longer control or influence anything in this country; (b) the major existing harms to African-Americans have been done by allegedly well-meaning paternalistic policies, not by the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery, and (c) the magical thinking that it is all still about what white people think instead of what black people think about their own lives and communities has to go.

For 30 years, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP raced to any corporate site where racism could be alleged, however tenuously. It was as if they were saying, “Thank God we still have a one more chance to say that it is still somehow about white racism because we clearly don’t know what to do if any or all of this social pathology really has other causes.” And how desperate and pathetic were the 40,000 mostly white leftists turned out in Boston eager to protest the possibility that there might be a few dozen people who they thought might be kind of sort of like white supremacists. The very people whose ideological and political habits created urban hellholes need to pretend that these ills are the fault of long-dead racists and/or current loser fringe players.

Because the real issues really do require heavy-lifting and would upset too many vested interests in a very bad status quo, I guess we will instead tear down Confederate statues, disrespect the flag, and indulge other futile gestures. As long as we can successfully pretend the threat of white racism still exists we can avoid the real issues indefinitely.

There are 19 comments.

  1. Member

    People don’t like being told that they aren’t the protagonist in their own lives. “You didn’t build that,” etc. One of the ways you can still feel like you’re the hero of the story when you’re living a crummy life in a crummy area; when you work long hours at a crummy job but still somehow are just keeping your head above water; when you’ve made lots of mistakes in your personal life that haunt you; is to fall into the old narrative trope of the hero oppressed and shunned by society. Even better, there’s more than a grain of truth to this story! Slavery REALLY DID happen. Black people really do have bad run-ins with police. Black people really have been treated very badly at the hands of organized white movements. It’s REALLY EASY to take those historical and societal truths and balloon it out into something monolithic, something oppressive. Most importantly, something which is turning you into a martyr. Your weakness isn’t your own fault, it isn’t even just what happens to ordinary people dealt a bad hand. No, it’s some titanic evil! You’re not weak, you’re not even ordinary…you’re JESUS; a hero struck down by the cruel darkness, no wait, WHITENESS! And it’s not even a lie! At worst, it’s a bad exaggeration and willful misreading. It’s a powerful, seductive narrative.

    Lest my meaning be confused, this isn’t a black thing, it’s a human thing. Nerds, obsessing about how they never got the girl in high school, turning everything into a conspiracy of “normies” repressing their obvious intellectual superiors. Richard Nixon had a huge dose of this; blaming everything on the Georgetown set who looked down their nose at a Whittier boy with dirt under his fingernails. It led him into massive paranoia. Most of Christendom at one point or other (though Russians and Germans are most famous for it) got a massive dose of this when they blamed everything on the evil Jewish conspiracy. Turks blaming failure in WWI on the Armenians. And on and on.

    • #1
    • September 25, 2017 at 11:40 am
    • 15 likes
  2. Inactive

    It’s not easy to follow a clear, logical argument that runs counter to the pablum we have been fed since we were younger. But as the OP amply points out, the modern concept of racism doesn’t comport with history and does even less so with currently available facts.

    Some may disagree that a meritocracy is the best basis for society. But if it’s not the best, surely it is better than any system based on a dumb construct like race. Whether it’s My Race Is Better Than Yours or Your Race is Inferior To Mine, common experience shows us the universal approaches are dead on arrival. Also who gets membership in an arbitrary grouping like race? Who gets to decide this? If the statement “He’s not [Black/White] enough,” doesn’t illustrate how bad a basis race is, we can always visit the claims where race and nationality are conflated (references to a Mexican race) or numerous alternate errors in logic and common sense (paging Rachel Dolezal fans).

    If it’s just a question of how you self identify, which can be undone just as easily, how long before somebody else gets the “right” to declare your in-ness or out-ness of a particular group?

    I tip my hat to you @oldbathos. Thanks for the hard truths on a “conversation” about race.

    • #2
    • September 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm
    • 6 likes
  3. Thatcher

    Old Bathos: Because the real issues really do require heavy-lifting and would upset too many vested interests in a very bad status quo, I guess we will instead tear down Confederate statues, disrespect the flag and indulge other futile gestures. As long as we can successfully pretend the threat of white racism still exists we can avoid the real issues indefinitely.

    OldB,

    Right on target. If they admit the present reality they’d be forced to admit they haven’t a clue what to do about it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #3
    • September 25, 2017 at 12:14 pm
    • 3 likes
  4. Member
    Old Bathos Post author

    Adam Koslin 

    Agree except to say that this particular ‘seductive narrative’ has enormous policy, social and political consequences.

    My grandparents had stories of dealing with anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice but their narrative did not involve an express need to wait for the hate-driven bastards to change their minds.

    Making demands that your alleged oppressors start loving you and taking care of your needs precludes constructive forms of self-reliance. I don’t want to sound like I am channeling Malcolm X on this point but he was not entirely wrong.

    • #4
    • September 25, 2017 at 12:16 pm
    • 6 likes
  5. Member

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Adam Koslin

    Agree except to say that this particular ‘seductive narrative’ has enormous policy, social and political consequences.

    My grandparents had stories of dealing with anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice but their narrative did not involve an express need to wait for the hate-driven bastards to change their minds.

    Making demands that your alleged oppressors start loving you and taking care of your needs precludes constructive forms of self-reliance. I don’t want to sound like I am channeling Malcolm X on this point but he was not entirely wrong.

    No he was not. A shame he got shot, actually. For all that some of his ideas were horrifyingly toxic, he was a brilliant man.

    • #5
    • September 25, 2017 at 12:28 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Contributor

    Well done, OB. Not only are you spot on, but what would Leftists do if they ever had to acknowledge the role they played in disabling and destroying the self-worth of the black community. I know . . . that will never happen. Let’s just blame everyone else.

    • #6
    • September 25, 2017 at 1:03 pm
    • 5 likes
  7. Member

    Old Bathos: For 30 years, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP raced to any corporate site where racism could be alleged, however tenuously. It was as if they were saying, “Thank God we still have a one more chance to say that it is still somehow about white racism because we clearly don’t know what to do if any or all this social pathology really has other causes.”

    This is it. I believe there is a terrible fear that all the calumnies leveled at black Americans over the centuries are being made evident by the continued dysfunction in majority-black inner-cities. The election of Obama (and all the other accomplished black Americans you’ve named) only intensified the anxiety, because it made it harder to argue that white racism was the stumbling block. The best strategy for conservatives would be to refuse to talk about race and only talk about welfare-dependency. Refuse to talk about race-based affirmative action and relentlessly harp on “class”-based affirmative action. Whenever someone brings up race, nod, smile happily and keep talking about welfare and “folks who overcome adversity.”

    • #7
    • September 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm
    • 7 likes
  8. Member

    Adam Koslin (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Adam Koslin

    Agree except to say that this particular ‘seductive narrative’ has enormous policy, social and political consequences.

    My grandparents had stories of dealing with anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice but their narrative did not involve an express need to wait for the hate-driven bastards to change their minds.

    Making demands that your alleged oppressors start loving you and taking care of your needs precludes constructive forms of self-reliance. I don’t want to sound like I am channeling Malcolm X on this point but he was not entirely wrong.

    No he was not. A shame he got shot, actually. For all that some of his ideas were horrifyingly toxic, he was a brilliant man.

    Well, and he was evolving. Which is why he got shot.

    • #8
    • September 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm
    • 5 likes
  9. Thatcher

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    Well, and he was evolving. Which is why he got shot.

    Absolutely. He wasn’t in trouble until he came back from the hajj and began to point out that skin color wasn’t important—thinking and beliefs were the determiners of one’s success in life.

    • #9
    • September 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm
    • 6 likes
  10. Member

    Old Bathos: Similarly, in Baltimore, Freddie Gray was killed in a negligent fashion in a police van

    The guy was fighting with the police so he wasn’t properly strapped in to the van. Also, the police had another emergency call to respond to. Probably the police should have taken the extra time to subdue him and tie him up but I still blame Freddie Gray for behaving in a stupid and self-destructive manner.

    • #10
    • September 25, 2017 at 5:49 pm
    • 3 likes
  11. Member

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Absolutely. He wasn’t in trouble until he came back from the hajj and began to point out that skin color wasn’t important—thinking and beliefs were the determiners of one’s success in life.

    I’m not a big fan of Islam but as Bernard Lewis has noted, Islam’s strictly rejects racism. Daniel Pipes breaks down the difference between the Nation of Islam and regular Islam.

    Although called the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad’s religion had almost nothing in common with Islam. Rather, it was an original amalgam of animist and Christian themes elaborated by an extravagant imagination.

    Islam stresses the absolute transcendence and unity of God. Elijah Muhammad said the Black Nation as a whole is God, and one person, the most powerful Black Scientist of the age, is the Supreme Being. Islam stipulates that the seventh-century prophet Muhammad was the last prophet sent to mankind; Elijah Muhammad claimed prophethood for himself. Islam condemns racism; Elijah Muhammad deemed blacks morally and spiritually superior to whites, and believed that if blacks convert to his religion, they will eventually destroy whites, who are devils. Therefore, while Islam calls on all people to accept the Koranic message, Elijah Muhammad permitted only blacks to join his religion. Islam imposes a great body of regulations on its followers; Elijah Muhammad cast these out entirely or altered them beyond recognition.

    Elijah Muhammad’s main political activities had nothing to do with Islam; not his withdrawal from the U.S. electoral process, not his call for a separate state for blacks, not his emphasis on black economic self-sufficiency, and not his creation of a black paramilitary force, the Fruit of Islam.

    • #11
    • September 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm
    • 4 likes
  12. Member

    Very nice essay Old Bathos. I don’t have much to add, except to say that it’s always easier to blame others for our problems than to take stock of our own shortcomings.

    • #12
    • September 26, 2017 at 3:45 am
    • 3 likes
  13. Member

    Very good. It’s important to keep this narrative in play in whatever way we can because it happens to be true. We’ll not change the underlying reality until a plurality of blacks come to understand that the real legacy of slavery is the continuity of racism in the Democrat party and white liberal programs that destroyed black families and churches in their rush to create dependency after Republicans won the civil right battles.

    • #13
    • September 26, 2017 at 6:12 am
    • 5 likes
  14. Member

    Excellent article and commentaries, @oldbathos, @AdamKoslin, @henrycastaigne, et al. Thank you for stating it all so clearly.

    • #14
    • September 26, 2017 at 10:19 am
    • 3 likes
  15. Member

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Adam Koslin (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Adam Koslin

    Agree except to say that this particular ‘seductive narrative’ has enormous policy, social and political consequences.

    My grandparents had stories of dealing with anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice but their narrative did not involve an express need to wait for the hate-driven bastards to change their minds.

    Making demands that your alleged oppressors start loving you and taking care of your needs precludes constructive forms of self-reliance. I don’t want to sound like I am channeling Malcolm X on this point but he was not entirely wrong.

    No he was not. A shame he got shot, actually. For all that some of his ideas were horrifyingly toxic, he was a brilliant man.

    Well, and he was evolving. Which is why he got shot.

    There really is a need for some kind of initiative that takes away all these negative labels but supplies the momentum to change behavior so that a larger percentage of potential in people is realized.

    • #15
    • September 26, 2017 at 12:05 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Member

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: For 30 years, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP raced to any corporate site where racism could be alleged, however tenuously. It was as if they were saying, “Thank God we still have a one more chance to say that it is still somehow about white racism because we clearly don’t know what to do if any or all this social pathology really has other causes.”

    This is it. I believe there is a terrible fear that all the calumnies leveled at black Americans over the centuries are being made evident by the continued dysfunction in majority-black inner-cities. The election of Obama (and all the other accomplished black Americans you’ve named) only intensified the anxiety, because it made it harder to argue that white racism was the stumbling block. The best strategy for conservatives would be to refuse to talk about race and only talk about welfare-dependency. Refuse to talk about race-based affirmative action and relentlessly harp on “class”-based affirmative action. Whenever someone brings up race, nod, smile happily and keep talking about welfare and “folks who overcome adversity.”

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    There really is a need for some kind of initiative that takes away all these negative labels but supplies the momentum to change behavior so that a larger percentage of potential in people is realized.

    This is where I had the hope that President Trump with help from Betsy DeVos on school choice and Ben Carson on general living conditions in inner cities could create momentum for better outcomes that could not be tainted with the racism label.

    • #16
    • September 26, 2017 at 2:28 pm
    • 4 likes
  17. Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    This is where I had the hope that President Trump with help from Betsy DeVos on school choice and Ben Carson on general living conditions in inner cities could create momentum for better outcomes that could not be tainted with the racism label.

    I don’t know much about Ben Carson and his deal with living conditions. I do know that Betsy Davos is a revolutionary. Everything they will do will be tainted with the racism label. Even if (and perhaps especially) if it helps poor and vulnerable African-Americans.

    I dearly hope that both people will ignore the racism label and do the right policy. There is absolutely no escaping that stupid label. We must endure beyond it.

    • #17
    • September 27, 2017 at 12:38 am
    • 3 likes
  18. Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    This is where I had the hope that President Trump with help from Betsy DeVos on school choice and Ben Carson on general living conditions in inner cities could create momentum for better outcomes that could not be tainted with the racism label.

    I don’t know much about Ben Carson and his deal with living conditions. I do know that Betsy Davos is a revolutionary. Everything they will do will be tainted with the racism label. Even if (and perhaps especially) if it helps poor and vulnerable African-Americans.

    I dearly hope that both people will ignore the racism label and do the right policy. There is absolutely no escaping that stupid label. We must endure beyond it.

    Oh, I think you are right about the hardcore Left, they live off this issue. I don’t believe most minority individuals really subscribe to the Left’s beliefs but since many minority individuals do or have suffered in a disadvantageous economic environment and in some cases prejudicial social environments, they become easy targets for these lies.

    On Ben Carson, I don’t have any ideas on what he can or will do, I just thought the fact that he has the inner city experience in his background might help him at HUD.

    • #18
    • September 27, 2017 at 3:12 am
    • 2 likes
  19. Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    This is where I had the hope that President Trump with help from Betsy DeVos on school choice and Ben Carson on general living conditions in inner cities could create momentum for better outcomes that could not be tainted with the racism label.

    Sorry there is nothing, emphasis NOTHING, that cannot be tainted with the racism label. Whenever the Left has no reasonable argument to make they inevitably pull the race card. It has become the one charge that cannon be refuted; to be accused is to be judged guilty. They will never, ever give that up.

    I’m not saying there are no racists among us, of course there are. But racism isn’t an acceptable position except on the fringe of the fringe. I remember the Whites Only drinking fountains and Rest Rooms at the Texas State Fair in Dallas of the 50’s. I remember the panic I caused my very Christian father when I almost used the wrong drinking fountain. And I have eyes to see the vast difference today. Our nation, our society is not perfect and it never will be; too many imperfect people involved, like 100% of us. But we’ve come a long way baby. We will not continue to progress by obsessing about the sins of the past.

    • #19
    • September 27, 2017 at 11:41 am
    • 5 likes