Thursday, March 20, 2008

Racism in America

There is a malignant tumor in this country: racism. It is a diseased amalgam of guilt and resentment. These forms of self-loathing masquerade as claims of injustice. It's a tumor that will not allow itself to be removed. The only power we have over it is simply to let it go. Then it dies.

No one is responsible for the fact that some people are born into disadvantageous circumstances in this country. There are poor subcultures in this country which make it difficult for people born and raised in them to have a good life. Neither are the people in poor subcultures responsible for their subculture's moral failures, nor are the people lucky enough to live outside those subcultures responsible for those failures. There is no debt of the culturally lucky to transfer any of their goods to the unlucky. (There is a duty to help those who fall into poor health through no fault of there own, but that conservatively narrow requirement of distributive justice is the only requirement.) A dysfunctional culture, by the very nature of culture, can be remedied only by its members' taking steps to improve it. No transfer of any goods into the poor culture can substitute for that inner improvement.

God I love this country. The wide sea of American beings in this land, the ways of life so varied in breadth, so deep in talents, character and creative achievements. I've been a professional jazz musician for 28 years, which has given me to swim deeply in the sea. I've lived in eight cities, visited forty-four states, been educated in predominantly black elementary schools in St. Louis, worked blue-collar hard-labor jobs, as well as white-color jobs. My heart beats for it. It's beautiful. When you add to the list of goods the political tradition that helps make all this possible, you fall in love with it. So much to cherish, so much to conserve.

It has this tumor, however, which won't leave until millions upon millions of us stop getting upset or bothered by race in this country. It seems that only those of us in Generation X and younger can fathom that, and even many of those that young just don't get it. Simply leaving our racist past behind is not fair? You can't just turn the corner on our racist history? Yes you can, because that history can be overcome, and the only way to overcome it is by simply turning the corner on it. Yes we can. Justice does not demand redress of any grievances. Nobody is responsible for bad luck. End of story. It's a story we've wanted to end for generations, and this is the only ending that can be written for it: stop getting upset and move forward with the cultivation of respect, self-reliance, courage and other virtues so important to the good cultures of America.

It's not easy; the tumor is recalcitrant. And, of course, one must maintain a society in which there are ample opportunities for members of poor subcultures to escape them. If you are a member of a poor subculture, you also might stay in it and contribute to improving it. Both of these salutary avenues require dropping guilt and resentment. There is no other way forward and justice requires nothing more.

It's not easy. The guilt and resentment are demons. They cling deeply. By their very nature they disallow one's extricating oneself from their clutches. Guilt requires that one tarry with it and do its bidding - on pain of guilt. Resentment requires certain redress of its grievances, not its mere disavowal. These demons are psychosomatic phenomena, which is to say passions. Escape therefore requires calming oneself until they subside. Excited states of inordinate glee or hope can mark attempts to feel free of guilt and resentment by some distraction (intoxicants and various diverting preoccupations, for example) or by accepting a promise from someone in power that you can be free of the demons if you give him more power to do the things, once and for all, which those demons make us imagine can and should be done (but which in fact cannot and should not.) Excited hope for relief from racism is therefore an indication that you're being hoodwinked by demons; watch for it.

The loudest racist hatred-mongers amongst us are sociopaths: mechanisms of the tumor that feed it's festering guilt and resentment. They need to be shunned, rather than supported and revered. We certainly should not accept a man as president who has just spent his adult life supporting them without having uttering a word of dissent and who continues to support them.

There are millions upon millions of Americans who are already free from racism. God bless them. We marvel at them. The rest of us need to catch up. Racism in America's case is a vice that won't let go. Vices are for the vicious themselves to leave behind and allow to die.