According to Eric Holder (Holder: US is nation of cowards on racial matters) “in things racial we [Americans] have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” I find myself quite unexpectedly agreeing with him, but I couldn’t help but see the profound irony of that remark, especially coming from someone in his position. He claims the title of Attorney General of the United States by appointment from a man whose victory in the last election was mainly due to that kind of cowardice; a man whose constitutional eligibility for the office of President remains under a debilitating cloud of suspicion, because of that kind of cowardice; a man whose whole career as a left-wing activist and politician has exploited that kind of cowardice. Though Holder purports to see this cowardice in other Americans, I wonder whether he sees, or would honestly admit, how much it has influenced and determined the outlook and activities of left-wing and liberal blacks like himself and his new boss.
Because it so well served their purposes of self-advancement, the liberal black elite became adept at exploiting the fear of perceived racism so prevalent since the Civil Rights movement’s conquest of America’s conscience in the 1960s. In the process they actually strengthened and perpetuated negative stereotypes, to such a degree that black Americans fell into the trap of seeing their ethnic identity in almost entirely negative terms. Years ago, in my essay Masters of the Dream, I described the tragically self-defeating nature of the liberal black establishment’s negative pre-occupation with racism.
…the belief that the black identity has no positive content means that, in dealing with the problems of the black community, one neglects to think about policies based on the community’s internal values, institutions and resources. Instead, one assumes that the solutions must come from without. The passive victims of history become the passive beneficiaries of philanthropy, the passive clients of bureaucracy, the passive subjects of the domineering welfare state. Despite all good intentions to the contrary, this type of liberalism pushes black Americans back toward a condition of endless childhood, servitude and subjection. Liberal hope becomes liberal slavery.
In reaction against racial prejudice the black elite unwittingly embraced race and racism as the defining preoccupation of the black American identity. This leads them to be blind to the development of a distinctly positive black American identity, rooted in the assumption that personal moral and spiritual worth persist despite all the demeaning assaults predicated on racial inferiority. The history of that moral identity reveals an incessant spiritual guerrilla war against the devaluation of their humanity that centered ultimately around a simple and unyielding faith in God as the true standard of human worth, and Christ as the one whose suffering, sacrifice and resurrection validated the Godly dignity of every human being willing to put their faith in Him.
Instead of embracing this moral identity the liberal black elite aped the snobby (and often atheistic) scientific materialism that became increasingly characteristic of the American liberal establishment in the course of the twentieth century. They jumped on the bandwagon of leftist social analyses that defined groups in terms of quantifiable characteristics. Apparently they do not realize how much this implicitly validates the dehumanizing practice of classifying beings by physical characteristics, to which practice all truly racist ideologies owe their repugnant pedigree.
In the introduction to the essay quoted above I allude to the deadly effects of this surrender of moral identity.
Already, generations of black children have grown up without any sense of their true heritage. Consciously or unconsciously, their minds are influenced by those who, for whatever reason, spread the doctrine that racists ripped black Americans from our African roots, stripped us of our values and institutions, and left us with no shred of our own culture or humanity. Leaders like Louis Farrakhan, who claim to be strong enemies of racism, have taken this demeaning doctrine as a major premise of their creed. Ironically, in order to prove the worst in others, it requires that we deny the best in ourselves.
The black American liberal elites celebrate the election of Barak Obama as some kind of breakthrough for black Americans. This is the ultimate and deeply self-abasing fruit of their moral surrender. Except for the physical characteristics derived from his biological heritage, I cannot see what connection Obama has with the positive, moral identity of Black Americans. Black Americans are in fact a physically motley ethnic group. But despite physical differences, a common spirit and heart were refined, forged and tempered in the historic experiences of slavery, “Jim Crow” segregation and the stifling environment of pervasive racial prejudice. Many of the deepest emotional struggles, and the strong spiritual resources arising from the reality of that heritage take root during childhood and adolescence, formative years during which Obama was being raised in contexts devoid of the need to confront and deal with it. Though Holder laments American cowardice with respect to racial matters, Obama is the ultimate concession to that cowardice. Defined in racial terms he is a man whites need not fear- with dark skin but devoid of the spiritual tension characteristic of black Americans- W.E.B. Dubois’ “two souls in one body” that pull between resentment and affiliation: the smoldering despair that true justice will ever really be served battling with the undying faith that God’s love will ultimately and truly transform the American heart, the human heart, to be open to the race we all have in common.
I agree with Holder that we need to get beyond this cowardice. It will require that we get beyond the idea that Obama’s election is the historic breakthrough that carries America out of the shadow of racism. Maybe that’s the larger meaning of the doubt as to his identity that hangs over his claim to the Presidency. Even if he ultimately shows proof that he is a natural born citizen, as the Constitution requires, that will still not be enough to prove that he is what he and so many others falsely proclaim him to be. For in the end the burden from racism in America isn’t about physical appearances- it’s about moral and spiritual realities. It’s about trying to do what’s right regardless of racial feelings and perceptions. From this perspective, Obama’s rejection of the simple premise that all human beings are created equal (including our nascent offspring) means that his election rather reasserts than transcends the ruthless disregard for humanity that made race and racism such potent instruments of evil.