How to reply to aggrieved blacks

A friend was wondering how to respond to blacks who are still blaming white anti-black discrimination for the failures of blacks to be equally represented with whites in any profession, institution, or area of society. I wrote back:

To provide an argument for you, I looked through my 2005 article at FrontPage Magazine, “Guilty Whites” (which is worth a re-read). My main point, which I used as a substitute for the idea of black lower abilities, is that only blacks can raise blacks’ condition. The core of my argument went as follows:

In the early to mid 60s, after government made unprecedentedly ambitious efforts to raise blacks, through massive job training programs, massive government handouts, and the civil rights laws, and all these efforts resulted in catastrophic failure as seen in the outbreak of black riots and other racial ills (see my article for explanation), whites, unwilling to imagine that this failure was blacks’ fault, leaped to the theological conclusion that whites were responsible for lower black outcomes and for growing black animus toward whites. But the very failure of the heroic efforts to raise blacks shows that the “white-guilt” explanation for the black failure, like the white guilt itself, was not based in reality. In reality, the lesson of the failures of government efforts is that only blacks can raise black outcomes. Nothing done by any other group—the government, white America—can do it. Only blacks can do it. When assistance by government has been tried, it has always failed, and then guilt-ridden whites, unwilling to blame blacks for the failure, blame the failure once again on themselves.

We must, with Booker T. Washington, drop the idea that all groups must perform exactly alike and recognize that it’s normal that different groups have different interests, aspirations, and abilities, and let each group perform according to its own dispositions. This is the only way.

From my article:

A handful of conservative black thinkers, such as John McWhorter, have argued that it is up to blacks to help open up a more honest discussion about race. This approach harks back to Booker T. Washington’s idea—roundly rejected by the modern civil rights movement—that blacks’ condition in America can only be improved by blacks themselves, through the effort of building up their own capacities as individuals and communities; and, further, that it is folly to expect whites, or government, or the society as a whole, to do for blacks what only blacks can do for themselves. As Frederick Douglass said in 1865:

What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… . I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! … [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury. [1]

This is a solid argument and you can make it without reference to racial differences in intelligence. You don’t say: blacks do more poorly because they have lower IQ. You say and you keep saying: Blacks can only perform better if blacks make it happen. It is false to blame the failure to have totally equal black outcomes on whites.

- end of initial entry -

Paul Nachman writes:

Of course this is a universal argument. You can’t do others’ development for them. Here’s a Sowell quote, from June 2003 at Townhall:

When a black man declared his “rage,” Eric Hoffer shot back: “Mister, it is easy to be full of rage. It is not easy to go to work and build something.” For this, he was accused of “racism” for not rolling over and playing dead at the sound of one of the buzzwords of the times—and, unfortunately, of our times as well.

Hoffer was convinced that the black leadership was taking the wrong approach, if they wanted to advance people in whose name they spoke. Only achievement would win the respect of the larger society and—more important—their own self-respect. And no one else can give you achievement.

LA replies:

It’s so obvious when you think about it. Is there an example in all of history of one racial-ethnic group being transformed into a higher achieving group by the efforts of some other group? The very idea is absurd, a fantastic departure from reality. There should be zero tolerance for such nonsense. That’s the way to change the famous “racial dialog” in America.

Mr. Nachman replies:

What you say is fine, but I’ll reiterate that the argument is more general. It applies to individuals, too, like a white attempting to help another white. It does little good simply to “tell someone the answer” if the someone also has ambition to learn how to determine the answer for himself. Obvious stuff.

I never said this to a class,—maybe it occurred to me after I was through as a professor—but now, if I were teaching an upper level physics course, in my Day One intro remarks (which take up about five minutes—then I teach a class, unlike a lot of profs), I would tell them something like, “I’m going to do the best job I can presenting the subject to you, but you still have to think every thought and examine every idea for yourself or this will mostly be a waste of your time.”

LA replies:

Your clarification with the example is very much worth making. It’s beautiful in fact. There can be no such thing as other people doing your thinking and learning for you. You have to think through ideas on your own in order to understand them and make them your own. Others can assist along the way, but still each person has to have the thoughts himself.

This nails down your point—you can’t do others’ development for them—in a way that everyone will get it as a general truth, as well as one to be applied to the racial situation.

As I said before, it is obvious. But the modern world has lost sight of this obvious truth.

* * *

In Paul Nachman’s initial comment above, he had also had a longish quote of Shelby Steele, which I left out of the posted comment, because, as I said to him, I thought it was contradictory and not helpful to the theme of placing the responsibility on blacks and ending false white guilt. Mr. Nachman, who has always admired Steele, asked me to read the entire Steele article from which the quote came and back up my point. I did so and replied:

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the Steele article.

With Steele, whites are messed up either way. [Note: I used a different word in the original e-mail.] He says whites have false guilt, but then he makes whites guilty for not insisting that blacks have white standards and adopt white culture! So the fact that blacks have not done this is whites’ fault. Thus he writes:

The evil of slavery and colonialism was that these oppressions kept their victims out of history, disconnected them from the evolutionary struggle. The great white advantage has been living inside history, adapting to its constant demands, nurturing the values and the habits of life that allow one to keep pace. This is the cultural capital that whites too often take for granted and rarely think of insisting on in the former victims of exclusion. It is so easy to look at minority weakness and think of sweeping programmatic solutions when a simple insistence on responsibility for one’s own development might serve far better.

With his Steelesque variations thrown in, he’s still playing the liberal white guilt game: he assumes that blacks can be equal, and, if they continue not to be equal, it is still whites’ fault. This has been implicit or explicit in every article he has written.

Thus when he says,

White guilt is what causes minority and Third World “inferiority” to stand as a negative moral judgment on the Western way of life.

You like that because it sounds as though he’s rejecting white guilt. But he is not, as I have shown over and over.

Criticizing the non-Western anti-white view, he writes:

This doesn’t just mean that Western moral authority is hostage to helping the Third World overcome inferiority. More importantly it means that Western culture is inherently sinful, that its superiority is a measure of its sinfulness.

But in fact, he himself makes white Western moral authority hostage to the actual achievement of black equality, as I’ve shown here and previously.

In conclusion:

My analysis ends white guilt.

Steele’s analysis keeps white guilt alive forever, but with enough contradictory twists and turns thrown in to make one’s head spin, which one falsely interprets as having a real intellectual experience.

* * *

LA writes:

Mr. Nachman’s remark, “You can’t do others’ development for them,” reminded me of the line from “Like a Rolling Stone”:

You shouldn’t let other people get your … KICKS for you.

However, while there is a verbal similarity, the Dylan line doesn’t seem at first to have anything to do with the substantive meaning of Mr. Nachman’s comment about racial relations. On further reflection it does. “Letting other people get your kicks for you” is what white liberals do with regard to blacks and other minorities. They make blacks their moral surrogates. Under liberalism, whites are not fully legitimate moral beings. Only blacks have true moral and human legitimacy, because of their supposed authenticity and their victim status. Whites cannot have this experience of being a “real” human being in the liberal sense. Whites, in and for themselves, cannot get those liberal moral kicks, they need blacks (and other nonwhite victims and exotics) to get their (liberal) kicks for them.

And that’s why whites go along with the belief in white guilt. In order to maintain their status white elites must have a black or other minority symbolically attached to their hip. It is only through the white liberals’ vicarious identification of themselves with nonwhites that they feel, and are perceived as being, legitimate and real. So they let blacks continue to play out the game of hate whitey. It’s not the liberal white elites who are blamed, it’s middle-class and working class whites, it’s white society as a whole, that is indicted as racist. The white elites get their anti-racist status and emotional charge by identifying with and vicariously living through the experience and oppressions of the blacks. They let black people get their … KICKS for them.

This idea is also connected with white conservatives’ belief that they must have a minority spokesman in dealing with any minority issue. Thus conservatives feel they must have a “conservative” Hispanic at their side if they are to be perceived as legitimate on any issue dealing with Hispanics and immigration. Thus conservatives feel they must have an Ayaan Hirsi Ali or some other Muslim on their side if they are to be perceived as legitimate on the Muslim question. The idea that whites have the moral legitimacy to confront Islam on their own, without the help of a Muslim ally and surrogate, does not occur to them. This attitude drains whites of the ability to stand up for themselves and their civilization.

Bottom line:

Whites can’t do blacks’ development for them.

And whites shouldn’t let minorities provide whites’ moral legitimacy for them.

LA writes (4/27):

A couple of days after posting the above comment, I’ve just re-read it and I don’t think my interpretation of the Dylan line works. Different meanings are jostling together that don’t quite fit.

For one thing, white liberals are getting their liberal “kicks” by having the nonwhites around. The liberals are not living vicarously through the nonwhites. Rather, the liberals, by keeping the nonwhites attached to them at the hip as their mascots, as their pet Noble Savages, affirm and validate their own sense of superior moral virtue and their rightful title to power, while also getting their kicks from the “riches of diversity” that the minorities provide.

But here’s the irony, and here’s where there is still some truth in my analysis. Liberals get their kicks from having minorities around. But by making their own moral legitimacy and political power dependent on the ever-greater inclusion of minorities (through non-discrimination laws and open borders) and on the ever-greater symbolic elevation of minorities (through multiculturalism), the whites are assuring that the minorities will ultimately displace them. The liberals think they can get their kicks from having lots of minorities around. But ultimately it’s the minorities who will get their kicks—by dispossessing and kicking out the whites.

So the line should be (apologies to Bob Dylan and the gods of poetry):

Well, the moral of this story
The moral of this song
Is simply that one should never get one’s kicks
By being with people with whom one does not belong.

* * *

Alan Levine writes:

I have twice read the Shelby Steele article you criticized. Frankly, I found your reaction incomprehensibly exaggerated, as the overall tone and reasoning was quite sensible. I say this despite one outrageous flaw; namely, that Steele wrote of “slavery and colonialism” (I presume by the latter he meant European imperial rule in Asia and Africa) in one breath, bracketing the two morally in a way that normally causes me to hit the roof and go on through. Despite the latter nonsense, at least the man is trying to think. While I hardly favor condescending to sane members of minorities, it is foolish to bit off the head of a man like Steele.

LA replies:

I’ve analyzed several Steele articles over the years at VFR and I stand by my central point about him, which I think is incontestable, that he does not end white guilt but makes it permanent, by basing the end of white guilt on the attainment of a racial equality that can never be attained. As I wrote a year ago, Steele is at best ambivalent, at worst subversive.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 26, 2007 12:35 AM | Send

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