Two interesting articles in the last two days about issues that are central to me; one in the LA Times about race, and one in Wired about environmentalism.
Each is about someone who is challenging the precepts of those who have captured those issues and claimed them.
In the Times, a review (must be a CalendarLive subscriber) of a book by an African-American woman, Debra Dickerson –
In the first few pages of her new book, ‘The End of Blackness,’ Debra Dickerson wastes no time making it clear she’s going in for a little equal opportunity thumping:
“The first step in freeing one another is for black people, collectively, to surrender. Blacks must consciously give up on achieving racial justice. They must renounce any notion of achieving justice that is meant to even the historical score or to bring about full racial integration.”
“The ‘woe is me’ race men…. [would] have nothing important left to think about, no other way to organize their lives, no mechanism by which to understand themselves except as always marginalized, the perpetual outsiders.”
“Today whites deny the continuing effects of their past racism as well as the privilege they yet retain, simply because they are too stiff-necked, too embarrassed and too sickened to follow these truths to their logical and moral conclusions. They simply cannot live with the truth of how they came to be who they are so they choose not to know.”
Has she gotten your attention? Well, that’s the idea.
“I feel dangerous as hell,” she writes, throwing down the gauntlet, “and I’m spoiling for a fight.”
Wait, there’s more…
She tosses out an incident at a Dunkin’ Donuts when she, the only black female present, is passed over in line and rendered invisible — then dwells on it all day. She recounts a story of a lay minister basketball coach, telling his young team at the outset, ” ‘You’re one of the few black teams out there; you’re going to face a lot of racism. You’re going to lose more games than you win.’ And I listened to him and thought: ‘I’m so tired of being black this way.’ ”
A complex manifesto
Her not-so-small goal — one announced on the jacket of her new book — is to explain both how the antique notion of “blackness” has “bamboozled” African Americans and how white America “exploited the concept to sublimate its rage toward and contempt for black America.”
But it isn’t that simple.
The book, a densely constructed manifesto, is dizzying in its sprawl. Dickerson weighs in on slavery, knee-jerk racism and white intransigence and kicks up the already piquant mix with a chapter titled “Kente Cloth Politics,” taking a swing at a range of folk across the political and pop-culture spectrum, from Condoleezza Rice to Tiger Woods to motivational speaker Iyanla Vanzant. “I was tired of being defined in opposition to racism. I needed a template,” she tells the bookstore crowd. . “My parents didn’t have it … that knowledge.” Dickerson casts a net, broad and deep, to contemplate: “What is my responsibility to the world — and the Civil Rights legacy?”
I haven’t (yet) read the book, but it sounds from this like there’s an interesting path here, one that both acknowledges the reality of race, even in the 21st Century, while suggesting that creating a self-identity totally defined by race maybe isn’t the best way for African-Americans (or anyone else) to build a strong community or self.
Then, in this month’s Wired, an article (not yet online, I’ll update when it is) about the Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, who has jumped ship and started testifying against the environmental interest groups he helped start.
Moore attacks what he sees as bad science underlying many environmental policies, and the article suggests that:
Moore’s turnabout was the biggest change of heart since Harold “Kim” Philby left Her Majesty’s secret service for the Soviet Union – or was it? Moore insists that he hasn’t changed a bit. His professional life, he says, has been a single-minded quest for true ecological sustainability. To his opponents, however, it adds up to little more than an ideologically bankrupt series of betrayals.
Throughout his presentation, Moore made barbed references to the devious forces behind the legislation [to ban PVC pipe in Boston], the same band of Luddites who “hijacked a considerable portion of the environmental movement back in the mid-80’s and who have become very clever at using green language to cloak campaigns that have more to do with anti-industrialism, antiglobalization, anticorporation, all of those things which are basically political campaigns.”
Now from my point of view, there are legitimate issues about where ‘political campaigns’ begin and end; the fight for a better (sustainable, less harmful) environment is itself a political campaign.
But I do question a lot of what I see in the current crop of environmental advocates who, much like those who self-identify through race, seem to be unwilling or unable to broaden their concerns.
In so doing, they damage us, because instead of working to deal with higher-impact, lower-cost issues which must be resolved; we wind up with ‘issue smog’ in which runoff from dog parks somehow becomes coevil with contaminated ground water from refineries.
I’ve had direct experience in both racial politics and environmental politics which tells me that they are fundamentally broken; that the issues of race in Los Angeles today have paved a freeway to the deadly care patients receive at Drew/King hospital, and that the impractical, ill-thought through environmental ‘policies’ are leading to more sprawl, more smog, and worse drinking water.
These two articles give me hope; I’ve argued for a long time for a ‘Liberalism of the Sensible,’ which can contain liberal goals – racial justice, a livable environment – while jettisoning the self-sustaining interest group politics that have captured both issues.
I’ll get the book and we’ll see.