Monday, January 21, 2008

The Question Of Race

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, perhaps it's fitting to take a look at the question of race and racism in America.

One book that greatly influenced a much younger me on the subject was written by anthropologist Ashley Montague, entitled The Fallacy Of Race. To sumarize this very interesting read, Dr. Montague's hypothesus was that, given the migrations of human beings over the earth, given the history of conquests and slavery throughout the world and given human nature on warm summer evenings, there are very few, if any, pure blooded representatives of any race on the face of the earth, if you go back far enough.

I always felt that Dr. Montague's take on this was a fairly accurate one, and made inherant sense. What he missed, I think, (perhaps purposely) was an explanation for differences and animosities between various human societies.

I think the answers stem from culture and tribalism ( another name for necessities of war or history) rather than race. Ultimately, in fact, such loyalities to culture and tribe tend to transcend race, as many American blacks who've made a return journey to the African`motherland' have related - they have almost universally been regarded as Americans rather than fellow Africans.

The situation here in America is particularly interesting in this regard, since there were a great many `tribes' that settled here and were forced by necessity to forge a common identity, just as most of them were forced by circumstances to uproot themselves from their tribal homelands and adapt.In that regard,there were a great many similarities between Africans brought here in the holds of slavers and say, the Irish in the mid-19th century who could either come to America in steerage or stay in the tribal homeland and starve. And just as Africans from entirely different tribes in Africa were forced to co-exist and create a new tribal culture, Europeans were likewise forced to hunker down next to Europeans from other tribes and do the same.

And the cultures each group created, although with vast differences were more similar than they were different.

I think Dr. Martin Luther King's great breakthrough was to realize, unlike W.E.B Dubois, Marcus Garvey and Elijah Poole (AKA Elijah Muhammed) and other black seperatists was that the cultures were more similar than different, and that the American black was an American by culture who could be nothing else other than an American.

Unlike them, he realized that that race in and of itself was not an immutable barrier to America's blacks being part of the American tribal/national culture, and more importantly he understood that America's whites would eventually be forced to welcome blacks inside the tent out of necessity and the white's own sense of decency.

Dr. Martin Luther King's vision was of society as a meritocracy,where, as he put it, people would be judged `by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.'

Have we achieved it? Yes and no.

Today, black Americans are more fully assimilated in the melange of American tribal culture than ever before, and one could even make the case that they help create a substantial part of that culture. There are black fortune 500 CEO's, cabinet officers, college professors, professionals, entrepeneurs, politicians and cultural icons, all of whom make their mark on the common American ethos.

And yet, the full impact of Dr. King's vision still eludes us.

In one of the ironies of history, it is the politicians on the Left who publicly decry racism the loudest who today contribute the most to that distance between where we are today and the meritocracy Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of..because they are cynically prepared to manipulate racial groupthink as a tool to divide Americans for their own selfish purposes.

Rather than working on focusing on our similarities as part of the American family and bringing us together, they attempt to thrive on identity politics to widen the gulf between us.

Had he lived, I have no doubt that Dr. King would have been in the forefront to denounce these tactics.He had an extraordinarily brave vision, and the courage to act on it, even when he knew it might cost him his life.

I can think of no finer memorial on this day but for us all to remember the vision Dr. Martin Luther King had for our American tribe, and to make that final step to fully act on it.

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