A recent question to Phillip Galanes, the advice columnist whose “Social Q’s” feature for the New York Times has frequently sparked Ethics Alarms essays, was fraught with larger significance.
A mother said that her 12-year-old daughter had a a sticker on her water bottle quoting Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” The girl’s friend told her that systemic racism made that statement false for many Americans, so the sticker was racist. The daughter then peeled off the sticker. “What’s a mother to do?” was the gist of the inquirer’s appeal.
Gallanes didn’t, but he might have started by telling the mother to explain to her child the meaning of “racism.” How can a statement that doesn’t reference race in any way be racist? Indeed, that particular quote, which stands for the proposition that all humans, in this society at least, are imbued with the gift of autonomy and personal responsibility, is the opposite of racism. The daughter’s friend, in contrast, is espousing a theory that white people can accomplish things that other races cannot. Now that’s racist.
He also should have advised her mother that it is incumbent upon her, as a parent, to gird her child against the corrupting forces of ideological indoctrination. The friend’s message is cultural poison for non-white minorities, democracy, and civilization. It is designed to not only justify failure, hopelessness, inertia, anger and racial division, but also to weaponize it for political gain, and to achieve power guaranteeing a permanent and crippling victim mentality to large demographic groups. It is the wedge of choice used by the political Left for decades,to ensure fealty by minority voters with the concomitant result, some say a deliberate one, of ensuring that such groups remain dependent on government largess forever.
As a parent, I would want to know where the friend got her un-American ideas, and I would take steps to find out. If this came from from her family, I would forcefully request that the parents stop injecting their biases into my child’s consciousness. If the indoctrination came from the school, that would trigger a greater confrontation.
I would also explain to my child that children, including her friends, are by nature imperfect analysts of reality, including history, and that she should develop the courage to resist efforts to change her opinions based on nothing more than a peer’s doctrinaire assertions. The job of training children to be able to counter such assertions with their own arguments can never begin too early, and the inquiring mom obviously had neglected her duty. Dr. Seuss’s ditty should be the beginning of an inquiry, not the end of it. As an instinctive educator, Theodore Giesel certainly knew that.
The more I consider what the 12-year-old heard from her pal, the more angry and fearful I become. No American child should be taught to believe that anyone, given the advantages of this nation’s rights, history and traditions, is unable to achieve his or her aspirations because of systemic obstacles. Nobody is guaranteed success or happiness, and the roads to either are not equally smooth for all. Nonetheless, all Americans have a road to travel, the duty to get as far as possible, the option, if necessary, of improving the road, and the burden of accepting responsibility for how far they get.