What started as a book review and then almost immediately thought better of it.
|I've lived a rather long and social life. One in which much of what I've shared with other human beings has indulged in much mutual acceptance, respect and acknowledgement of shared humanity. Lots of humor. The human comedy has survived (so far) all of the more dull-witted and decidedly bad ideas dredged up by humankind.
I'm not at all ready to let go of the alliances and powerful connections that have been forged over my lifetime with people who don't look like me, think like me, or even agree with me on various important and salient points.
Because I'm a hungry reader I was bound to come into contact with a rather rotten little book that surfaced this year in a big way, after exacting not only a conquest of the New York Times Bestseller list, but has invaded countless institutions of education, government and even the hallowed halls of Biggest Business. That is no small feat for a small and poorly written book.
But this is no book report. That's not what I'm offering up here. I will admit that much of what I know of the book, and what is between its covers, comes from reviews, viewpoints, critiques and outright condemnations served up by far brighter and more intellectual minds than mine. And thankfully, many of these minds happen to be Black.
I'm not big on the concept of original sin. Or the idea that any identity group must be stereotyped and judged by their very worst characteristics. Or for that matter, the idea that any identity group speaks for me, on my behalf, or necessarily for any other individual deep thinking moral and humane person who has managed to acquire agency and autonomy in their lives, regardless of their socio-economic station in these curious times.
I wish to point out that (for myself, anyway) the most important word in the three words that happen to make up Critical Race Theory is the last word. Theory. It is, after all, a theory. How much of it can ever be based on unassailable fact remains an open question. I know and understand enough about it to be aware that it commands me to weigh out the relations between humans strictly upon one aspect only: race.
This is what I find so curious about it. An absolutist kind of focus on one characteristic, that cannot be changed or grown out of, or into, for that matter. We all of us, all 7+ billion of us, have things about ourselves that we cannot change. That these things should be the drivers of our lives puts to the test the hundreds of millions of people in the world who every day overcome characteristics they were born with.
But I find myself, as I question this "theory" wondering much about what its true agenda might be. Starting with what is for me, the most obvious question of all. Is it a thing that can draw people together? Is it a thing that can take down the walls between us, forge better understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, respect, and all other manner of social bonds that make a stronger, more fair, more equitable society? And yes, a more just one, too.
Well, that is buried away somewhere deep within the theory's argument. But still I ask, does it wish to tear down to a lower common denominator, or raise up to a higher one? Does it flounder around inside a zero-sum exactness? Or does it envision the enhancement of an expanded possibility?
Because in my life's experience, I know many people of color who don't buy into this theory. That is because they are far too busy doing things. Things that prove they are not only my equal, but can in fact, go far beyond what I've managed to accomplish in my life. For that, I don't think of them as being particularly privileged at all - just hard-working. Luck had very little to do with it.
And so I ask myself, what part of all this may be perhaps, a sham, a play, a trick, an illusion, or just something that fails to get at the real truth of the matter? Of the Robin DiAngelos of this world, I can retain a relatively easy time of it. I have no problem at all despising the urgency with which they wish to compel me to despise my inherent characteristic - as if this and this alone becomes the measure of me, and nothing else.
I can easily call that as I see it. Racism. Of a sort that appears too cute to shoot - hiding right out there in plain sight.
Yes, Nazis understood how this works all too well. As did Rwandans on either side of the Tutsi / Hutu divide. History is what it is. We must examine it thoroughly before we can possibly understand not only what it means, but what flavor and perspective it adds to the stew pot of modernity.
As a mere child, I was raised to believe that modernity would take me somewhere. A better world to live better in, for example. One of the things modernity brought me was this idea, an idea I live by every day. And that is that my nation if full of citizens who are very different than me. I do not pose as a stereotype of anything, much less a citizen. I don't have to. A fellow country-man, woman or child is as vested in citizenship as I am. This happens to be a core belief, and unassailable, no matter what personal grievance expressed by anyone else.
If it comes to that, I guess I'd have to admit that the very imperfect way that we've staggered into modernity has indeed, left a lot of people behind. They may live on reservations, ghettos, or even in Appalachian mountain regions. And they are every self-expression of humanity found in the nation.
Which is why perhaps, I'd be more on board with a class-based argument for the disparities in opportunity that still abide within our borders. But this "theory" appears curiously, to eschew that idea. I wonder why. Class is a tough beast to tackle. It to, has been with us from the beginnings of our nationhood.
So to conclude - I can't get on board with any doctrine or dogma that seeks to divide me from people, based on immutable characteristics or categories that I still consider are far more political than they are social. As a social animal, all my instincts point toward a core set of beliefs that help me to uphold some basic and straightforward values: that justifiable cruelty is necessary in most cases, or even justifiable at all. It remains an oxymoron to me. Or that a "mature child" has the right to wreck their life regardless of parental influence. That one has a truly ripe oxymoronic flavor.
Or that science, history, and much of the western canon have suddenly become out of date or unnecessary tools for human development, much less the need for all citizens to attain adulthood capable of literacy, numeracy and functional knowledge of how the world actually works. For we are not living in a rarified Disneyland, Matrix, Oz, Wonderland or any other child's enchantment. We occupy this little blue planet in a solar system belonging to a benevolent star, within a galaxy placed somewhere within a cluster in some cornered neighborhood in a rather large and expansive universe. That is our current situation. Natural law commands us to pay attention, figure things out, and do our level best to not wreck the opportunity to further our collective adventures.
Life is good. The opposite is something entirely different.