Frequent commenter of distinction Ryan Harkins doesn’t exactly try to answer the”13th Question” ( “What is the “systemic reform regarding race in America” that the George Floyd protests purport to be seeking?”), but at least he advances the discussion by trying to define the problem, which is a whole lot more than anything we have heard from media pundits and elected officials over the last week, and they have fallen all over themselves trying be seen as allying with the right “side.”
This seems like a propitious place to raise this article from Foreign Affairs that readers Wesley49 has proposed for discussion. “I would love to hear the opinions and insights from this thread’s contributors in trying to answer your 13th Question,” he wrote. I have a lot of problems with the piece, which typifies, I think, the academic/scholarly equivocation around this issue, but I won’t pre-bias the discussion more than that.
Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day —which has the added pleasure of some great quotes—on the post, “Back To The 13th Question: Answer It, Stop Grandstanding, Or Shut Up”:
The problem with trying to end racism is that it runs aground the basic human impulse to “other” people who are different. It has been a practice of mankind from the beginning, and even our very best of societies will constantly struggle with the temptation to “other” the people who at the very least aren’t playing along.
“Othering” is to make someone an outcast from the group, and to place blame on them for the groups problems. Theologians have referred to it as scapegoating. If someone looks different, dresses different, acts different, talks different, there will be the temptation to mock that person, ostracize that person, and perhaps even blame that person for everything that is going wrong. Then, if you can destroy that person, then magically all the problems will go away.
“You want to know what’s wrong with this nation? It’s those damned Republicans trying to horde all the wealth.” “You want to know what’s wrong with this nation? It’s those damned Democrats who are trying socialize everything.” “You want to know what’s wrong with this nation? It’s all those hateful religious folk.” “… It’s all those LGBT people destroying family values.” “…It’s all those white supremacists trying to suppress minorities.” “…It’s all those anti-vaxers…” “…It’s those climate change deniers…” “…It’s those power hungry people who treat science like a religion…”
From this, I’ll make a nod to G.K. Chesterton, who reportedly submitted his shortest essay to The Times in a response to The Times posing the question, “What is wrong with the world today?” His answer was two words: “I am.”
One thing that we need to understand is that we all have the temptation (and we all probably commit the offense) to “other” people, especially people we dislike. Therefore, I will openly confess that I have this temptation, and I have indeed placed all of society’s blames on groups of people. Thus I am indeed what is wrong with our country, and the only way to fix it is to fix myself. I have some ideas of how that is to be accomplished. An external standard of behavior that I can compare my actions against, since I know that were I to make my own moral rules, I would find myself quite virtuous from the start with no need to change. Constant reflection on my behavior, my motivations, and how they help or hurt my efforts to conform to that moral standard. Taking time to consider my own faults before lashing out at someone else’s.
There’s a quote by St. Augustine that I’ve been trying to take to heart (not that I’m succeeding very well at it): “Try to acquire the virtues you believe lacking in your brothers. Then you will no longer see their defects, for you will no longer have them yourself.” In other words, most of the defects we see in other people are projections of our own faults, and if we focused on our own faults, we might find that the people around us did not actually have those faults we attributed to them, or at least not to the degree we thought. If, on the other hand, we still find defects in our brothers, we’ll at least have removed the log from our own eyes before we attempt to remove the splinter from theirs.
What is the solution to our racial problems? It has to be everyone taking person responsibility for their own lives and actions, and it has start at home. But outwardly, we should always remember that no policy, no law, no enforcement will ever remove the temptation to “other” people. It requires constant vigilance, and that constant vigilance must be first of all directed inward.
If I ever succeed, I’ll let you all know…