Race is back as the focus in the national conversation and the “America is racist” narrative has been revived with a fury. And with it, America seems to have completely lost its collective mind. I have spent a lot of time thinking about where we need to go from here. I admit, it has been extremely frustrating seeing so many people so willingly embrace these racial narratives that drive nothing but enmity. Those who know me know that I am passionate about helping move our society into a post-racial era, where the weight of a person’s skin color weighs no heavier on identity than their hair color or eye color. That doesn’t mean abandoning your heritage, abandoning your culture, or erasing your ancestry. What it means is that we can’t just pick and choose what pieces of history we want to claim and disregard the rest. It means recognizing that the history of this country, both good and bad, belongs to all of us. It means we do not take credit for the good and do not take blame for the bad. We embrace it all as a part of who we are. All of us. And we learn from it and we move forward together. Not as black people or white people or any separate group of people, but as Americans.
However, we now find ourselves in a place that I feel is the antithesis of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of marching toward a world that deemphasizes the importance of skin color, we instead find ourselves pursuing a world where skin color is placed firmly and proudly at the forefront of identity, where Martin Luther King’s idea of judging people by the content of their character takes a decided backseat to a person’s ancestry, a world where white people must apologize and atone for sins that they never committed and black people claim victimhood for horrors that they never experienced, where race, itself, is used as a weapon and people with a certain skin color are dehumanized, seen as little more than the racial group they belong to, and treated as if they are impersonal cogs in a machine, cogs who must must be reshaped, reworked, or destroyed all together in order to improve society. It is the exact thing the Civil Rights Movement aimed to defeat. And now we resurrect it with fervor and herald the pursuit as noble.
The point is a simple one. You can’t fight racism with racism. When people are getting fired from their jobs, having their lives upended and their reputations destroyed due to assumptions, assumptions that are based solely on the race of the person in question, how is that different from what people claim to be fighting against? When you riot and destroy property and multiple people get killed in the process, who has received justice? Where was racism defeated? When you advocate for separatism and then announce that white people are fully responsible for everything that happens to them and everything happens to other people but that black people are too weak and inferior in society to be held responsible for what happens to them, where is the empowerment? We are going backward.
At what point do we become responsible for ourselves? When do I say that my choices and behaviors determine my outcomes? When is an individual accountable for his own destiny? When do you start seeing yourself and others as individuals instead of some abstract group classification? I have been reading Shelby Steele lately and I currently reading his book, “White Guilt,” which is a great book and I highly recommend it. But in his book he talks about how if a black kid is bad a dribbling a basketball, there are no claims of racism or history of slavery to explain his dribbling deficiencies. The kid must work hard and improve and nobody makes excuses for him. He will fail or succeed by his own merit. However, if that same kid struggles with reading and writing, the race intellectuals will swoop in and claim that he is not responsible for these failures and that his struggles are a direct result of systemic racism. How is it that we have developed a mentality that black kids are perfectly capable of succeeding in sports or music if they work hard enough and take responsibility for themselves, but that they cannot possibly succeed academically unless white people are benevolent enough to allow them to?
We need to find it in ourselves to be responsible for our own behavior, to be responsible for our own choices, and to own, not only our successes, but our failures as well. It’s well past time to let go of this perpetual hostile attribution bias where it is constantly assumed without evidence that a person’s behavior is motivated by racial animus. And we need to forever abandon this idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of our ancestors. We have to stop elevating the group over the individual. We must let go of race as the primary aspect of our identity, as an automatic indicator of guilt, or as a deflector of personal responsibility. It is time to emphasize the individual and recognize the unique combination of traits that span the spectrum of human variation. It’s time to learn from the past and then Let. It. Go. It’s time we embrace the true essence of the Civil Right Movement and abolish this asinine importance we place on skin color, begin treating each other like individual human beings instead of an arbitrary group, and move forward together as one people. As Americans. Americans who can accomplish anything that they want to. That’s true progress.
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Shelby Steele – “White Guilt”
I highly recommend reading this book. Shelby Steele brilliantly lays out the problem of white guilt and the issues with lacking personal responsibility.