Tuesday, September 15, 2020

You Break It

I am starting to read more and more essays to the effect that racism in the United States is a problem that White America needs to address, and fix, themselves. The drumbeat of Black writers, whether professionally published, or informally composing for small audiences, who note their fatigue and frustration with being asked to be an active part of the solution is growing.

And I understand that. I don't blame anyone who feels that they didn't make this bed. But that doesn't change the fact that we have to lie in it.

One essayist noted that concepts of race (and, in his mind, racism) date back to the 16th century. Personally, I would go back even farther, to the Inquisitions of the 15th century, at the latest (even if the term "race" wasn't in widespread use at the time). But no matter what date one picks, even if one pushes it forward to the 17th century, and the start of the trade in African slaves in North America, that fact of the matter remains that this is a system that has been in place for far longer than the living memory of anyone today. The final triumph of non or anti-racism will create a world that hasn't been seen in centuries, if at all.

And if White people have no more direct experience with the world as we want it to be than anyone else, and they will be perhaps the people who benefit from it the least, why place all of the responsibility for creating it on their shoulders?

It's tempting to see this as a problem that they, and only they, can solve, but that cedes the ability for Black America (who see themselves as the primary beneficiaries of the change) to bring about the world so many of us say that they want. That reduces millions of people to the status of beggars. Right and ethics may be on their side, but they are beggars nonetheless, and if world history has taught us anything about the fates of beggars, its that they rarely have their demands met.

"White People" are not a single, timeless, entity with a group mind and memory that stretches back centuries. They're mere mortals, like the rest of us. If we are asking them to make something new, something that they're as unfamiliar with as we are, then I don't know if anyone does themselves a favor by bowing out of the work involved.

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