Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Against racism

Across the American political spectrum, nearly everyone agrees that racism is evil. Yet there remain deep disagreements not only about what counts as racism, but also over how to fight it. Because these disagreements are typically framed as a battle over means—that is, how best to fight racism—one can easily miss that there is a deeper question at stake: What is the end goal for American race relations?

For fifty years, the American left has been torn between two different answers. The first was best encapsulated by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King looked forward to a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”—a day when race would be seen as an insignificant attribute.

The competing vision—let’s call it race-consciousness—was best encapsulated by the Black Power movement. The end goal of this movement was not, as King once put it, to bring about a “new kind of togetherness between blacks and whites.” Rather, it was to demand that black people, understood as a collective, receive more recognition, more respect, and more resources. Underlying this vision was the assumption that society is a zero-sum power struggle between oppressed groups and oppressor groups—and that a win for the former requires a loss for the latter. ....

America has a long tradition of liberal anti-racism that reaches back to Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Frederick Douglass, and beyond. It is an anti-racism 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. That is the principle that ultimately conquered slavery and Jim Crow—and it is the principle that ought to be revived today. ....

The current system, warts and all, has enabled huge progress for black people in recent decades. Overturning the liberal principles on which our institutions are based would not hasten progress towards racial equality; it would threaten the very stability that is required for incremental progress to occur. It is time to restore Martin Luther King’s dream for American race relations—a dream that, even as it refuses to flinch from the injustices we still need to overcome, defiantly holds onto the idea that what we have in common is ultimately more important than what divides us. .... (more, read it)

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