To remedy racial injustice, we must insist that what we have in common is more important than what divides us.
The article says that the ideal anti-racism is one, "grounded in the idea that there is a single human race to which we all belong—and that all the ways of dividing us up, though they may be important to understand our present reality, should not be given moral weight."
I agree that the ideal of racial separatism is a dead-end and that a vision of our common humanity should be the ends of anti-racism. But I think the passing comment, "though they may be important to understand our present reality," underplays the degree to which fixing problems of a genuine racial character--either because of present discrimination or because of the accumulated and/or codified policy choices of the past that lead to present day racial inequities--is more difficult if we pretend that we are all just equal humans. In other words, I accept your conclusion, but I hope that readers do not also conclude that color-blindness along the way is required in order to reach it.
I further agree that simply calling out racial disparities/anecdotes (even particularly horrifying ones) does not adequately deal with the complexities at play in most situations.
As I see it, we need to be able to progress down something akin to the following analytical path to be rigorously anti-racist:
1) Is there a problem in society that is of a genuine racial character? In other words, is the problem a direct result of some insidious focus on race, either in the present or past? Rigorous causal analysis is important here. Is this correlation or causation? Are there confounding causes (e.g., is this really a class problem masquerading as a race problem?) Is it a combination of many problems at the same time, some racial some not, and if so, can we isolate the root causes of the problems and address them?
2) Assuming we could identify a problem that is genuinely caused by some form of racism (intentional or not), is the best way to solve the problem by focusing on race when prescribing a solution? Here, your mention of the neighborhoods that were red-lined is instructive. If we simply treat a past harm with a genuine racial character as analogous to the present reality, we will not end up actually remediating that harm. But there might be an actual way to remediate that past harm, and it is hard to imagine what it would be apart from focusing specifically on race. Of course, this is an incredibly complex process because we will disagree about the best ways to solve any given problem. But, if our goal is an integrated racial pluralism rooted in our common humanity in which race is not a determining factor of access to opportunity, then we must be able to have the conversations along the way.
John McWhorter's discussion about getting more children of color into magnet schools in NYC is a good example of what I am talking about here. We shouldn't just get rid of the tests. But we also shouldn't ignore the fact that students of color are under-represented in those schools. We should figure out how to teach students to do better at those tests so that they have the opportunity to get in.
This is particularly important in the legal context where the status quo Equal Protection jurisprudence usually does not allow for focus on race at all UNLESS it can be shown there was specific individual discrimination. Some call this approach, "The Color Blind Constitutionalism." In it, the harm to be avoided is focus on race at all: race is poison. So, if the government decides to use race in some public policy as a way to remediate some harm from the past of a racial nature, then this focus on race is itself the harm. Chief Justice John Roberts saying that, "the only way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race" typifies this way of thinking. Perhaps they are right that the best way to fix social problems is not to focus on race. But I disagree. I think to be anti-racist we need to engage in something akin to the above listed reasoning process. And, if we can identify a way to remediate some racial harm by focusing on race, then we should be able to do it if the political will is present.
I agree that much of the anti-racism crowd of today puts the cart before the horse in the way it seizes on anecdotes and decontextualized statistics as justification for whatever policy they want at any given time (e.g., defund the police, etc). But I think we also need to recognize that focusing on race--not as a way to divide but to diagnose and then treat--will be critical as we work in a genuinely anti-racist way to solve problems that are truly of a racial character.
Thank you for the (as usual) thoughtful commentary. Kind of reminds me how during the Salem Witch Trials there was spectral evidence, what you can't see but is assumed and that could decide their fate. Some of the conversations around antiracism have seemed like that to me. Spectral evidence that there is a racist hiding in there and one tweet or one photo or one dumb joke 20 years ago is a smoking gun. Hopefully we can find a way back to this.
Thank you Mr Hughes for this article! I would wager that privately, most liberals would agree with you and prefer Dr King’s vision of of togetherness and “being judged by the content of our character” rather than today’s race-consciousness. It would create a more authentic, longer lasting, and effective anti-racism than we see today
Thank you for a great article. It reminds me of the so-called Danish Black Lives Matter movement (Not recognised by the American one). During the large demonstration in Copenhagen (Our capital) the leader of the movement said that white people and black people should not mix together in the demonstration, but stay on each their side of the protest. It's very interesting to learn where these ideas come from.
It seems to me that the very first step in getting out of the racial box is to abdicate responsibility for whatever racial identity you have inherited. As long as one claims a racial inheritance, one is bound to some degree to honor that. Moreover this gives rise to the cottage industry of racial authentication. The baggage of racial authentication is why we even bother to talk about the very specific subjects associated with black American life, which of course extends through this racial inheritance all the way back to 1619 if some are to be taken seriously.
There are people walking amongst us who are of Type O blood. They are a majority of that biological type on the planet. Yet you will not likely hear any revisionist histories of what this blood type must signify in our political and cultural moment. We have that very real, biologically and scientifically proven way to sort ourselves. Yet we don't. Have we transcended blood type? Are we no longer sortable into such groups? We will always be sortable into groups and the psychological research of a gent named Tajfel suggests that the merest random sorting will devolve us into groupthink. As they said in the Matrix, "the mind makes it real". So too, the proper mindset can make it unreal. Let that begin with yourself.
So the question is how do you go about your life in abdication of your racial identity. I suppose that if you are a vegan, you already have the discipline. You can accept, for any number of reasons, that your diet for your entire life has been improper. So you do a reverse weaning. Some people can do it immediately. Some need help. Some can never resist bacon.
Every concept in your head about race may very well be bacon. You're never going to get rid of all the pigs in the world. So get over yourself. But you can refuse to answer the call. The best of us can do so without contempt for our fellows, nor with a sense of eternal futility.
There is no way to move forward on issues involving race unless social class is taken into account. Of course middle class whites have a low murder rate and a low incarceration rate. If you want to make valid comparisons compare poor whites with poor blacks. And of course Blacks are twice as likely to be poor in comparison to whites. Unless this country deals with poverty and its damaging impact on Blacks and whites there will be no hope for progress on race.
I am so grateful for Coleman's thoughtful analysis of race issues. His vision rings truer for me than Ibram X Kendi's thinking on the subject. I pray that Kendi agrees to engage Coleman in conversation on the topic (as Coleman has invited him to do). I would like more Americans to hear Coleman's voice and decide for themselves which anti-racist vision they would like to see for our country.
Thought provoking article with some good points. One thing I’d like to push back on is the statistic pointing to incarceration rates of black men ages 18-29 since 2001. It’s a cherry picked statistic. Firstly, it doesn’t include jails or juvenile facilities where hundreds of thousands more people are incarcerated. Secondly, pointing to anything involving mass incarceration and using it as evidence that we’ve made progress on race relations in this country seems misinformed. That same set of data points out that the imprisonment rate of black males is six times that of white males. Technically the statistic cited is progress, but how meaningful is that progress when over 30 percent of people imprisoned in this country are black while only making up 12 percent of the overall population? Surely there are other examples of true progress that could’ve been used...