Challenges From Within

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.

24 thoughts on “Challenges From Within”

  1. A.L. – I too hope that Liberalism will (re)grow brains and balls to match its heart.

    I heard Debra Dickerson on the Kojo Nnamdi show (archives here: She struck me as having insights that America desperately needs to hear but which, due to our history, can’t be effective coming from a white person.

    I’ve been bothered by the internalization of racism by American black people ever since I became aware of it. I grew up in Africa (born there, my dad’s American, so technically I’m African American despite being white :-). Anyway, the school I went to was majority black, and it was common for the best students to go to the US to take the last 9 months of 12th grade before going to a US college (the educational calendar in Botswana is shifted relative to that in the US). The point is to give them a chance to acculturate before the pressures of college kick in. A universal experience among the black students was that their excellence in school lead to other (American) black kids telling them they were “not really Black.” These were (and are) first class students, people with brains and drive. As a matter of fact, one of these very students is now a surgeon, and just last wednesday performed emergency surgery on my Dad (he’s doing about as well as can be expected given that he just had a chunk of colon cut out).

    How the hell will black america ever pull itself out of the position it is in (which it must be said is due in overwhelming part to white racism) if the best and brightest are constantly being forced to choose between their identity and success? I don’t believe that remaining steps to full realization of the American Dream by black Americans can be accomplished by any means other than individual black men and women reaching and taking it for themselves. The government can’t do it, whites can’t do it – it has to be taken, not given. The most that you or I can do is get the hell out of the way.

    People like Dickerson (and Nnamdi) give me hope.

  2. Careful about Patrick Moore.

    He doesn’t know everything, and he may have some conflicts of interest when it comes to aquaculture.

    As to your general point, yes, some environmentalists are over the top, and don’t know their facts.

    But there are real problems looming, huge problems, and it is by no means clear that “moderation” is the right answer. The belief that a middle ground between two extremes is usually correct is, in my view, fallacious.

    Take seagrass, for instance, which is vital fish habitat. I just came back from a saltwater flats-fishing trip in Florida, and the seagrass beds were where all the action was.

    Right now, there’s a crisis–the world’s seagrass beds are disappearing at an alarming rate. Seems to me like some drastic action is needed to reverse the trend and stave off a global fishery collapse.

    As for environmental policies that promote sprawl, do expand a bit. The only things I can think of at the moment are lefty economic and architectural (building height restrictions) policies, and in some cases (DC) open space preservation that has led to leap-frogging growth into greenfield areas. But the biggest factors behind sprawl by far are highways, mortgage policies, and lack of land use controls.

  3. “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.”

    I’m on the East Coast so am unaware about what is going on at Drew/King hospital. So, what is it? What’s happened? I can gather that it’s not good, to put it mildly.

  4. There is a simple reason for what you call “sprawl”.

    Not every one wants to live in an apartment in West Covina.

    I suppose if you wanted to end sprawl you could lower the cost of the West Covina apartment. Or you could raise the cost of living on a lot size commonly desired. Either one requires government intervention. i.e. men with guns. To collect the tax money required to fund such schemes if nothing else.

    If that is what you want why not just get your own guns and go around to your neighbors and suggest that in the best interest of their continued health and well being they might consider moving to West Covina. Like right now.

    It always amazes me that liberals are unwilling to do their own gunning. They prefer the Sheriff do it for them. I guess local violence is one job they don’t mind outsourcing.

    Please explain again what is liberal about getting armed men to enforce your vision of the right way to live. I must a missed that part of the liberal catechism.

  5. praktike,

    So one of the the biggest causes of sprawl is land use controls and the answer to that is land use controls.

    I get it. What you prefer is right and what some one else wants is wrong.

    I think your attitude is correct except for one minor point. I should decide for every one else not you. Unlike you I can be corrupted. Just send money.


  6. How the hell will black america ever pull itself out of the position it is in (which it must be said is due in overwhelming part to white racism) if the best and brightest are constantly being forced to choose between their identity and success?

    In the 60s blacks had a choice. Education and inclusion or separation. They chose separation. Skin color over character. It is not working out so well. It is choices not racism that holds some blacks back.

    The essence is that there is a culture of success and a culture of failure. Acting white works because it follows a working trajectory. Ask the asians and Jews. It is not about racism any more. It is about what works.

    Even blacks hate niggers.

  7. That Village Voice article is inadvertently hilarious because it seems like some of the attitudes Dickerson details are all over that article.

  8. I can’t help but notice the time stamp on this post. I have a mental image of AL twitching in his seat before the coputer, checking the clock every thirty seconds, waiting for ‘Good-News Saturday’ to end so he can finally upload this post…

  9. AL, your idea of a “liberalism of the sensible” sounds like a recipe for disaster. I think the black community needs to have more of the reckoning Dickerson delivers, but wiping out all the left’s symbolic totems isn’t going to help when the other side goes on using their own very effective junk-science myths.

    Instead of unilateral disarmament, howabout claiming both sides need to meet at a “compromise of the sensible?” But that’d probably be asking a little too much of your audience, huh?

  10. linden –

    *Here* is something on WoC about the hospital; it was also cited last week for giving chemo drugs to a man hospitalized for meningitis….not a good thing. (It’s in the LA Times, but ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’ doesn’t seem ot be working; I need to set up another distributable login…)


  11. “Today whites deny the continuing effects of their past racism as well as the privilege they yet retain, ”

    Dickerson is still stuck in groupthink: she’s just a forward looking groupthinker. When she talks about my past racism I want to hear examples of how my personal actions have harmed anyone. Failing that, when she’s willing to go to jail to atone for Willie Horton’s rape I’ll agree to atone for “my” racism.

    The implication that I’m guilty for someeone else’s actions because we share a skin color is racist, and would be instantly recognized as such were the skin color in question any darker than pale cream.

  12. The idea is that our societal wealth is based on exploitation and therefore, racism. Still fallacious, in my opinion, but a lot more complex than you would have, mj.

  13. Another virtue of sprawl is tat it makes the sprawled population less subject to WMDs.

    WMDs are most effective in high population density areas.


    As a commited social engineer (a more genteel term for a local dictator) I never expected to change your mind. My voice was merely meant as a warning for others who would follow the path of coercion.

    In that respect I am a Geoge Washington type American:

    “Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    There are always among us people who wish to make government our master. For our own good of course. It always boils down to just another religious tyrrany. Because if the program was really in our best interest no force would be required.

  14. Senior Administration Official,

    It is not necessary tthat both sides kiss and make up for one side to be effective.

    In the 1900s in America it was said that you had to be twice as good if you were a Jew to get a job. Did the Jews wait for affirmative action and for religious harmony before advancing economically and socially? No. They sweated to be 7 times as good and now the prejudice runs the other way: Jews are expected to outsmart any situation they are in.

    The same route was open to blacks and it was promoted. But the black leadership wanted an “instant” fix. Not ability and accomplishment but quotas. They socially engineered themselves into a dead end. No agreement from racists will be required to get them out of this mess as long as the libraries are open.

  15. Frankly I’m sick of being told that every dollar I’ve earned and the success that I and my family enjoy came from exploiting minority groups. I tutored Detroit kids through DAPCEP, they all believed that some how, somewhere, I personally had conspired to keep them down. That I was teaching them for free didn’t seem to enter into the equation, they had been brought up with a belief that discounted me entirely. It reminds me alot of the Palestinians.

  16. Let’s not forget that under slavery that many intelligent or self-starting slaves were killed, that literacy except for some pampered house slaves was forbidden, that even after the Great War that whites attempted to use literacy as a voting barrier in the south, that “separate but equal” doctrines in educational funding often turned out to be separate and desperately underfunded, and that this was a driving reason behind the (failed) policy of school integration.

    Let us not also forget that from the turn of the century when the vast majority of the population condemned miscengenation that in 1997 only 70% approved of interracial marriage …

    Oh wait a second, hmmm … that would leave almost a third of Americans objecting to other people even marrying people of a different race…

    I would agree that the large majority of white Americans are not racist and are open-minded. I would also agree that the subculture of African Americans has become self-destructive and defeatist in many aspects. Whatever the cause, no one can deny that the outcomes are manifestly unequal though they have improved grudgingly over time.

    However, anti-minority racism while not as virulent as the past is far from dead … and its influence in code-words and symbols and stereotypes has not lost its political potentcy. Affirmative action should probably be reformed to focus on socioeconomic handicap, and not race specifically. But there is something creepy about Republican candidates speaking at Bob Jones’ University and issues like the Confederate Flag winning Republican primaries. What it boils down to is that John McCain lost the nomination partly because he wasn’t racist enough in his rhetoric.

    So we’re somewhere in the middle. The African Americans must embrace a “twice as good” philosophy to get ahead. The government must switch from an unequal-outcome/quota/social promotion policy to an unequal-opportunity/mobility/education focus. And dominant ethnic Americans must look around them and admit that close to the surface that racist politics, issues, and appeals still exist and still matter to enough of the population for them to bring votes in.

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