By Tom Cushing
Will we EVer get this stuff right?Uploaded: Jun 20, 2015
Two race-based events, one ridiculous and the other horrific, occupy the national consciousness this week. They demonstrate that we can't even get the questions right when the topic involves America's Original Sin, much less begin to formulate cogent answers.
Let's start with the easy one, wherein the head of the NAACP's Spokane branch was 'outed' as Caucasian. The media, predictably, focused on the fraud of an individual of European ancestry passing-herself-off as African American, and the apparent (to some) absurdity of her leading an organization devoted to "the advancement of colored people." The derision and runaway implications went on from there -- they are shallow and uninteresting.
The commentators seem blissfully unaware that the NAACP itself was born in 1909 out of a meeting among four leaders whose race we define as Caucasian, and that 53 of its original 60 founders were white. This is not to say that their race was necessary ? it's rather to indicate that it's irrelevant. Goodwill knows no race; white folks hold no monopoly on racism, nor are they, or any other human beings, disqualified from waging the fight against it.
Further, what IS 'race,' anyway, other than a cultural construct -- a way of dividing 'us' from 'them?' Search the human genome for the defining Asian gene, or the African-American gene, or the white gene and you'll come up empty. The biology is trivial. Indeed the EEOC, the organization established to overcome racial discrimination in employment, includes each of ancestry, physical characteristics, culture, perception and association as among the factors any one of which can encompass race (which is otherwise undefined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that established the agency). They get it right ? the evil is the conscious or unconscious racism that foments discrimination, not the biology of anyone -- perpetrator, victim, or advocate.
The Dolezal teapot tempest is a private, personal and family tragedy, played out in the prurient, simplistic and distorting glare of publicity. As such, I wish for all concerned that it would go back to the shadows. The private affairs of intimates are seldom clear-cut, or uncomplicated. The best thing we could all do is to leave their situation to any tender mercies available to the participants.
What I'd like to know, and might rightly ask is: what did Ms. Dolezal do as a person devoted to her chosen cause? And what I've gotten on that point is: crickets. We're interested in the wrong things and asking the wrong questions here.
And so it is as well with America's latest horrible, dismal mass-shooting ? an execution orgy that left nine Americans dead. Here again, the focus is misplaced because it fascinates on race. Yes, they were all black, and the confessed murderer is white ? but so what? The simplistic focus on race misleads us from the issues.
Let's say that instead the victims' heritages perfectly mirrored American society, and the gunman was a zealot of something ? anything ? pick a cause. He would then be viewed as what he is: a terrorist. That's especially true if he was a Muslim adherent, as a minuscule minority of them are our contemporary threatening zealots-of-choice. They used to be called 'anarchists,' or 'immigrants' or other popular labels of other days. There'd be demands to beef-up law enforcement, suspend civil liberties, tighten the borders, deport lawful similars and bomb somebody back to the Stone Age. But none of that happens here.
By emphasizing race, the frame and the narrative both change. The victims can be converted into "theys" rather than "we's" and the perpetrator becomes a 'troubled" "loner," misunderstood, misguided, discarded, crazy -- and an isolated case. He's not. Terrorists come in many stripes ? religious, political, ideological, environmental, racial, animal rights, etc. They are all of a piece, motivated by a blinding zeal. Our responses to their threats need to be similarly forceful across the range of their motivations.
Instead, as Jon Stewart indicated in his achingly somber monologue earlier in the week, we will shake our heads, feel badly for 'those people' who died (but not 'us'), and not call for anything, in any organized way, that will make the next such terrorist act less likely. The race characterization contributes to that impotent inaction.
This was an attack on America, by somebody who hates us for our freedoms. Us, not 'them.' Our freedom, not 'theirs.' We need to start thinking straight about it, asking the right questions, and come up with actual answers, for All of us.