Improving Race Relations by Shifting the Narrative

Race relations around the world are worsening each day, and this trend must be reversed quickly if we are to avoid widespread violence and social disintegration in the near future. This is especially true within multiracial nations like the United States, and it’s imperative that we develop new tactics for alleviating racial antagonisms, posthaste.

Since our political leaders seem either unwilling or unable to move our racially-diverse society in this direction, we must endeavor to do so – as with everything else – at the grassroots level. We must engage in this noble struggle until enough pressure is created from below to make them responsive to our most pressing need, which is to forge a compelling collective identity beyond material self-interest, racial identity, and the like.

The goal of any new strategy must be to generate goodwill instead of enmity, and with that in mind certain tactics now employed – mostly but not entirely by the “progressive” Left – must be rejected. These fall under the rubric of “identity politics,” and include the cultivation of racial resentments, the demonization of entire racial groups, and the belief that what is most essential about a human being can be traced to their racial background.

Nazis are the most conspicuous example of a group which advocated an identity politics based on race, and the irony of using methods associated with them somehow escapes many of its contemporary advocates, who will oftentimes accuse those who challenge the tenets of their worldview of being Nazis. Indeed, it would be comical if the results weren’t so socially and spiritually devastating.

This is obviously a massive topic that requires a great deal of consideration, and it’s one that will be addressed in myriad ways in future posts. At this time, however, we’d just like to briefly touch on some of the fundamental shortcomings of identity politics and related phenomena as we understand them, most significantly the often unqualified notion of “white privilege.”

At the start an obvious concession must be made to all people of color, and especially black Americans: racism still exists, even if no longer enshrined in law. Black people, for instance, are much more likely than others to be bypassed for housing and jobs solely because their race. That being said, one important distinction that should be made is between privilege and discrimination. The first implies positive advantages accruing to one solely based on their race, while the second implies disadvantages resulting from one’s racial heritage.

Privilege and discrimination must not be conflated, and just because some people (or even all people) belonging to a particular racial group are clearly discriminated against, does not necessarily mean that all people from another racial group receive positive benefits as a result. It’s hard for struggling white people to come to grips with the idea that they’re privileged, at least in any meaningful sense of the term.

For someone who comes from a lower to lower-middle class family, whose parents divorced when they were kids, who is buried in student loan debt, who has poor job prospects, etc., the accusation of “privilege” does not just seem factually wrong – by way of contrast with those white people who have been beneficiaries of a privileged upbringing – it is offensive.

If the idea is that, all other factors being equal, white people have relative advantages over non-whites when it comes to things like not getting pulled over by police because of your race, or not getting followed around in retail stores because of your race, etc., then absolutely, white people are “privileged” in that sense. But being treated in what should be considered normal, i.e. non-exceptional ways, is a confusing form of privilege.

Moreover, the term “white privilege” as it is typically used comes across as accusing and extremely aggressive; those subjected to the phrase typically go on the defensive right away. This instinctive defensiveness, in turn, makes them far less likely to open themselves up to the legitimate plight of those who people of color are discriminated against.

Considered from this psychological standpoint, then, throwing the term around willy-nilly is usually counter-productive.It tends to make relations between the races significantly worse than they would otherwise be if the focus were kept on instances of actual racial discrimination. There are many cases of racial discrimination out there, unfortunately, and rather than pushing for some notion of collective racial guilt – regardless of the specific backgrounds, thoughts, and feelings of actual individuals – it would probably be best if we zeroed in on perpetrators of racial injustice.

Another potentially significant problem with the idea of white privilege is found in what seems to be a form of implicit racism therein, especially among well-intentioned white people who push it most aggressively. The idea goes something like this: People of color are the victims of structural or systemic racism, and are therefore not responsible for their personal situation; white people, on the other hand, no matter the economic or other challenges they face, are completely responsible for their predicament, and have no one to blame but themselves if they are not “successful.” furthermore, white people are emphatically responsible for their racism.

This seems a pernicious juxtaposition, which sets off people of color,  who are purportedly lacking in personal agency and responsibility, with white people who are granted absolute freedom and agency within that racist system. I’m not sure about you, but I find that a bit patronizing. Moreover, it sets the stage for affluent and progressive white people – oftentimes the genuine recipients of privilege in the form of expensive schools, safe neighborhoods, etc. – to exaggerate their sense of personal virtue and self-worth by leading the oppressed “other” to eventual freedom. I’m sorry, but black people  (and other people of color) are every bit as talented, as intelligent, and as hardworking as anyone else.

This is a profoundly delusional and arrogant stance to take towards non-whites. Why any person of color would go along with such condescension is a mystery, although part of it may be due to the fact that the underlying presuppositions are hidden from view initially. This concealed assumption goes for white people just as much as it does for those non-whites they sincerely seek to assist.

You simply cannot have it both ways: Either people of all races are conditioned by an impersonal “system” of forces or they are not. To repeat, holding white people completely responsible for their lives, their thoughts, their feelings, and their actions while eliminating, or even reducing, the accountability of people of color is insulting to them. In a counter-intuitive way, it does people of color honor to admit they they, too, are capable of the same exact things that white people are: greed, corruption, virtue, compassion, evil, generosity, racism, etc.

That said, if an argument is made to the effect that there are varying degrees of freedom within every constraining “system,” well, that’s another matter which could be discussed with the necessary nuance. That’s actually the position I would take, but it does not seem to be a common position among many who identify with the progressive Left. Their somewhat simplistic Manichean narrative usually revolves around a number of implicitly racist, and unintentionally dehumanizing, contrasts and assumptions.

In addition to the above, it would appear to be debilitating for marginalized people, for anyone in fact, to assume that their thoughts and actions are largely ineffectual within an unjust, racially-deterministic system. It may be temporarily satisfying on an emotional level, perhaps as a means of eluding personal responsibility by blaming others for their situation, but it’s also incredibly deflating from a spiritual standpoint. The mindset results in negative self-talk, such as, “Why bother trying my best, since nothing I do really matters and I will always be oppressed?”

That so-called “victim mentality” is pernicious in its fostering of a sense of powerlessness, and even if discrimination exists (it does) there are important choices to be made which impact one’s life. Do I go out to a club and get drunk or stay at home, read books, and educate myself on things that I care about? Do I do drugs and play video games or spend my time with my wife and children? Regardless of race or other factors, all human beings must make decisions like these each day, and it’s the cumulative effect of these small and seemingly mundane choices which, through habituation, form our character.

The above is not meant to dismiss the real current or historical injustices that people of color have been subjected to. As white people we should readily acknowledge these since validating those feelings may assuage some of the pain and anger felt by the historically oppressed, even if we were not personally involved (nor they personally victimized) in past crimes. None the less, we must try move forward after this initial step and try our best to convert potential friends into actual ones. This is the spirit of the undertaking, in which mistrust and resentment give way to compassion and a shared ethos transcending racial differences.

Finally, and consistent with the purposes of this blog, those who fixate on racial identity over other aspects of our being mistake the inessential for the essential. The essential aspect of our being is found in our spiritual, ontological nature, and the less essential (if not completely inessential) includes the biological. We we are much more than biological specimens completely determined by our genetic makeup, or even our environment. Those things play a role in who we are, but there is also a realm of freedom and creativity within human existence – albeit constrained by our social and historical context – which should be respected in ourselves and encouraged in others.

In sum, we need a strategy for improving racial relations that is both effective and spiritually elevating, with the racial divisiveness now cultivated by shortsighted politicians, academics, and journalists only resulting in increasing levels of racial animus. Considered pragmatically, identity politics makes things worse for all of us living in multiracial societies. We must seek out a higher form of individual and collective identity, one based on our existence as beings who transcend the ontic, material world for the ontological realm we inhabit as beings connected and indebted to Being.

It will take a profound shift in public opinion if our current collective trajectory is to move away from divisiveness and towards spiritual unity beyond racial identities. Unless an exceptional statesman comes along to forge a new, inclusive, collective identity – based on socio-economic or more elevated ontological grounds – which is extremely unlikely given the melding together of political, corporate, and media power – we must work in humble fashion “from below” to create the necessary conditions for improved racial relations ourselves.

Only when a critical mass is reached in changed public opinion will our “leaders” be forced to act in ways commensurate with the high-mindedness they should embody as representatives of the common good, instead of the demagoguery and divisiveness so ubiquitous at the moment. Unfortunately, they will not be responsive to considerations beyond perceived self-interest until enough pressure is put on them to do so, and only then will they do the right and honorable things that they should have been doing all along.

Onward together, friends.

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