Some people believe America is finally ready to address racial injustice. I am not convinced. If we were really ready to address racial injustice, the movement would sound less like an affirmative action campaign and more like an educational campaign. Allow me to elaborate.
I saw several advertisements over the past several months urging me to “shop black” that featured companies selling face masks in kente cloth patterns. The problem is that a for a white person to wear kente cloth is considered offensive cultural appropriation. Some argue that all culture is appropriated, and I am inclined to agree, but that’s not the point. The point is that somewhere out there white people have bought kente cloth masks with the best of intentions and will catch a load of crap if they, even unknowingly, wear them. People working for justice don’t want charity because they find it demeaning, and that’s fine, but what is buying something I have to keep in a drawer if it isn’t charity? Sanctioned foolishness?
I am told I should read black authors. That’s a great idea. Are we really advocating that we choose our reading material based on the ethnicity of the author? I confess that I don’t have the broadest reading taste in the world. I also confess that I haven’t historically considered the ethnicity of the authors I read, except that I avoid Lithuanians with a passion. In any event, what is the protocol in this situation? Am I obligated to read a certain number of books that tell me how bad I am solely by virtue of being born white, or can I stipulate to that? What’s more, and similar to my point about the masks, am I to buy the books and not read them in order to patronize the authors (pun intended)?
I can’t help but feel some of the suggestions emerging in our current climate aren’t very well thought out. Some of them aren’t practical, others are catch-22s, still others seem to promote one goal while claiming another. I am not convinced we will ever more forward on the many issues around race that confront us today if we can’t have open and honest discussions that are also safe for everyone concerned. Games of “gotcha” aren’t helpful, and in fact set progress back even though they may feel good in the short term. Genuine progress will likely take time, and quick fixes should always be suspect. Our messages need to be clear.
I expect push back, though I am not especially interested in it. One of the great weaknesses of contemporary culture is that when someone is open with their feelings about an issue there is a long line of people waiting to tell them they aren’t entitled to feel that way. Feelings are funny. They don’t wait for permission, they just are. Trying to argue someone out of their feelings is a strategy doomed to fail, much like fighting for peace or screwing for chasitity. Can we hear each other? Can we really hear each other without needing to respond? It may be the most important skill of all.