Thursday, January 03, 2008
Racism the Opiate of the People?
(and is Obama drinking that kool-aid?)

Many years ago, I subscribed to the idea that race hatred was promulgated by the powers-that-be in order to prevent poor whites and blacks from gaining political power--ie, so that they'd keep fighting with each other rather than turning around to see the common enemy--the military-industrial complex.

Now I have a more nuanced view, which is that, first of all, race hatred is not something that corporate America needs to promulgate--why should they exert themselves, when we play so readily into their hands?--but that it functions to the same effect. Second, that the chains of slavery still exist inside the minds of far too many African-Americans (something common to most oppressed persons, the internalization of oppression) and, with the victim culture of America (note, NOT unique to African-Americans--most whites view themselves as victims of some kind of "reverse racism"), this internalized oppression becomes part of one's identity, and thus, nearly impossible to escape.

Witness Justice Clarence Thomas' recent autobiography. A man who has reached the pinnacle of the legal profession, from the most humble of beginnings. Is he able to take pride or satisfaction in, or even feel vindicated by his success? No, he just feels bitter, angry and resentful. One can see the pain written on his face. And his anger and hurt play themselves out in his votes and opinions, which all too often perpetuate the racial imbalances our society is based upon.

This summer, an intern tried to tell me that rights for blacks had gone too far--why, they even had their own television channel! Why wasn't there any WET? She didn't get that every television channel is white entertainment television. Nor could she see that BET was catering to an entertainment interest market, like the golf channel or ESPN. No, it was just evidence of the special favors African-Americans get. She felt herself to be a victim of racial preferences--why should a white student not be able to go to the school of their choice because of admission policies that place a value on diversity? I tried to explain that many different values in our society are promoted in all kinds of situations that may be invisible until one looks for them. As examples, I pointed out that school admission policies also weight hardship, unique perspectives or experiences, and as always, legacy admissions. She didn't want to hear me, but as with some other discussions we had, I hope that something permeated into her subconscious somewhere.

Unfortunately, she is like far too many Americans, feeling victimized, and focusing her lens narrowly on one issue that allows her to continue to feel a victim, despite her many privileges of which she is unaware. She doesn't realize she's harming herself with her attitude. Nor do African-Americans, as a whole, seem to realize that victimhood is self-destructive. By buying into the oppression, one prevents oneself from escaping it.

Many political commentators have noted that Obama seems to not have fallen into this American culture of victimhood (ah, finally getting to the point). There is some disagreement about whether Obama, while not embodying it, still panders to it. For instance, the Washington Post presents evidence that refutes Obama's claim that there are more black men in prison than in college. Turns out, there are more than twice as many black men in college than in prison or jail.

Now, one could say this is just campaign-trail hyperbole, and of course, it is. But it's not harmless. It's buying into the victimhood. It's saying that Barack Obama is an anomaly, not an exemplary. It's saying to young black boys, you're more likely to end up in prison than college--it's what happens to you when you're a young black man. It's affirming, in a left-handed way, the truth, the rightness of this supposed state of affairs. Yes, there are too many black men in prison. Yes, there should be more black men in college. But does focusing on the victimhood inspire, or just instill hopelessness? Doesn't it just create its own reality?

How much more inspiring, if not as neat a soundbite, if Obama had said in Harlem: "I went to Harvard. You can, too. I want to see that every young black boy and girl aspires to get a great education and go to a great college or university. And I want to make it possible for every black child who wants to go to college to be able to go to college. In 2007, more black men than ever before went to college. In fact, there are twice as many young black men in college than in prison. But we can do better. We can inspire our children to achieve great things, to stretch their minds, and to soar..." well, you get the idea. (I'm afraid I get carried away sometimes).

Why is Obama pandering to our nation's victimhood culture? Maybe he's bought into it. Maybe he lacks the willpower to stay above it. Maybe he thinks it will make him our next president. I hope it's not the last, because I'd hate to think he was that cynical. I admire Obama greatly, and I want him to be our President after Hillary. But I want him to do what he says he wants to do, and change American politics, not fall into its traps. We'll see.

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