Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Race in America

Sean Michael Lucas
Yesterday at 8:18pm · Twitter ·
I have to admit: not sure how a white person can read any history of race in America & not think there's a lot to repent of & apologize for.

Predictably, this statement provoked a strong response, both pro and con. Commenters who defended the tweet appealed to the principle of corporate responsibility as well as the need for racial reconciliation. Commenters who defended the tweet often made patronizing remarks about critics of the tweet. There's a lot to sort out here:

i) If the objective is reconciliation, then it's counterproductive to alienate one side of the debate by making patronizing comments about the critics. That suggests this isn't really about reconciliation, but feeling morally superior. Looking down on others. 

ii) There are occasions when racial identity is significant. Currently, the KKK is a dumping ground for rejects from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. By signing up for the KKK, they get to wear a nifty costume and play with matches. 

There was, however, a time decades ago when the KKK was a major domestic terrorist organization. At that time, it would have been salutary for white (Southerners), because they were white, to publicly oppose the KKK. Especially because they were white, it would be good for them to disassociate themselves from the KKK. To say, "You don't speak for me. You don't represent me."

Mind you, even that is a tu quoque argument. It's using racial identity as a launchpad to argue that racial identity is far less important than morality. 

iii) There are many different ways to group human beings. We have many different things in common, as well as things that differentiate one human from another. So it becomes a question of values and priorities. 

For instance, blood type is important in the context of infusions and transfusions. You can group people by blood type. And sometimes that's significant. But most of the time, blood type would be an irrelevant way to classify people. 

iv) Let's take a comparison. I will list three people:

a) Strom Thurmond

b) Robert Byrd

c) Tim Scott

Which of these do I have the most in common with? Well, if racial identity is the criterion, then I have more in common with Byrd and Thurmond than Scott. But why should that be the criterion? On the one hand, Thurmond was a Dixiecrat and Byrd was Klansman. Why should I feel that I have more in common with them than Tim Scott? Yet when Sean says "[I'm] not sure how a white person can read any history of race in America & not think there's a lot to repent of & apologize for," he singles out racial identity as the criterion. As if that's the most important common denominator. 

v) Let's compare these two statements:

"[I'm] not sure how a white person can read any history of race in America & not think there's a lot to repent of & apologize for."

"[I'm] not sure how a person with two big toes can read any history of race in America & not think there's a lot to repent of & apologize for."

Does the second statement make any sense? Depends. Sean shares two big toes in common with Confederates and Klansmen.  Maybe you think it's ridiculous to single out big toes as the standard of comparison. But how is that more ridiculous than singling out whiteness? How does either one have any intrinsic significance to the comparison?

Sean might say whiteness is germane because the Americans who discriminated against blacks were motivated by racial animus. 

But that's equivocal. That's an overlapping comparison. Presumably, Sean is not motivated by racial animus, even though he himself is white. Therefore, racial identity is not the common denominator in that comparison. Rather, racial identity is incidental in that regard. 

vi) Sean's statement is unintentionally revealing. It divulges the viewpoint he assumes. Let's take a comparison:

Suppose I watch Miracle, the movie about the hockey team that won the 1980 Olympics. Suppose at the end of the film I exclaim: "That makes me proud to be white!"

Well, it's true that all the teammates were Caucasian. However, to make the film a statement of white pride would say everything about the viewer, and nothing about the film. It would reflect the perspective of a viewer who identifies with the team, not because they are American, but because they are white.

But relating to the team at that level is skewed. That shouldn't be important. It's a film about patriotism and rooting for the underdog. 

vii) Now, regarding white Americans who oppressed blacks, in many cases they didn't just happen to be white. Their racial identity was them. They are motivated by racial animus. 

If, however, you're comparing them with me, then in that respect we all just happen to be white. The racial common denominator is incidental. You might as well note that we have big toes in common. True, but that's hardly a morally salient similarity. 

viii) The way some evangelicals frame "racial reconciliation" is like a guy who's a part-time arsonist and a part-time fireman. It's good for business. Burning buildings keeps him gainfully employed. 

Likewise, some evangelicals–not to mention "progressives"–begin by provoking racial animosity, then using that as a pretext to call for racial reconciliation. It's a racket. 

I'm not suggesting that this is conscious on the part of Sean. Rather, he and other like-minded evangelicals lack the detachment to see that they are creating an unnecessary problem in order to solve it. We shouldn't have that sense of solidarity with the dead in the first place. 

ix) Regarding corporate responsibility, unless you're very careful, that backfires. For instance, young black men commit felonies at a rate that's astronomically disproportionate to their Asian and Caucasian counterparts.

But, of course, not all young black men are felons. Does Sean think hard-working, law-abiding blacks have a lot to repent of and apologize for in reference to black felons? Does corporate responsibility mean we should view them the same way we view criminals? Surely that would be unjust. Indeed, that would be the essence of prejudice. But if we rightly refuse to blame virtuous blacks for villainous blacks, we should rightly refuse to blame virtuous whites for villainous whites. 

x) Finally, suppose I watch a movie like House of Flying Daggers. That has heroes, heroines, and villains. These are Chinese characters played by Chinese or Japanese actors.

Because I'm white, does that mean I'm now allowed to relate to any of the characters?   

Take another comparison: suppose Sean was given a choice. As of tomorrow, he could no longer be a white man. He could either be a man of any other race, or he could be a white woman. Which would he pick?

Surely the question answers itself: for any normal man, his sexual identity is far more fundamental to him than his racial identity. His gender, as a biological male, goes to his core personal identity in a way that his race does not. 


  1. I suspect that Mr. Lucas, like most people is not guilty of practicing racism as he understands it though many people of all groups do, and specifically, was common among “white” people in the past.
    I have long found it interesting that many people find it genuinely cathartic to apologize for the actions of others yet can become extremely defensive when challenged about actions of which they are actually guilty.

  2. Can the living repent for the dead? What does he mean?

    I don't wake up in the morning and think "Thank you God that I'm white!" I don't go to the market and think, "There's a Black, and there's a Hispanic, and there's an Asian..."

    And why isn't he opining about the treatment and ongoing plight of the Native American at the hands of the settlers? Why is he so myopic?

    What sort of worldview does he have? Off the cuff it doesn't sound Biblical.