If you’re able to understand and express empathy towards the negative reaction of “poor and working…
Reverie Evolving

There’s much that you wrote that I don’t disagree with, but I think our focus is a bit different. For instance, you wrote:

“If you’re able to understand and express empathy towards the negative reaction of ‘poor and working-class white Americans, who were economically struggling, yet being routinely sent the message that they were privileged oppressors’, please extend the same courtesy to the African-Americans who have been routinely marginalized in our society.”

I have no problem understanding why African-Americans are reacting angrily and negatively to various things that are going on, though, as I said, you also have to ask yourself why that reaction is crystallizing right now, as opposed to earlier decades — the 80s, the 90s, the 00s — when, if anything, our society was less progressive on matters on race, and my answer to that question is the article I wrote that you responded to, which is all about broader cultural trends that began in radical academia and then started reaching a tipping point in recent decades (I actually think the election of our first (half-)black president has very little, if anything, to do with it and is just a coincidence). But, in any event, there’s a difference between understanding why people, both black and white, are reacting angrily to what they’re experiencing and the entirely different question of whether those reactions are productive.

Let’s take the white reaction, because I think it’s easier to see the issue there. Disaffected poor and working-class white people are seeing themselves relentlessly attacked by a hostile elite culture seemingly in the control of aggressive minority identity groups (such as #Blacklivesmatter) and their elite white lackeys (let’s ignore, for this purpose, the question of whether this is reality or just their perception), and the result is an upsurge in white identity politics and white nationalism. Is that upsurge in white identity politics and white nationalism productive or helpful? Is it going to make the situation any better? I assume you would answer no, just as I would.

If you’re able to see that, then it shouldn’t be that hard to see the same thing in the opposite direction. If blacks are seeing themselves relentlessly attacked by a hostile racist state, its law enforcement machinery and its various other institutions of power (again, let’s ignore, for this purpose, the question of whether this is reality or just their perception), and the result is an upsurge in black identity politics and black nationalism (as described above and in my article, I would argue that the upsurge in black identity politics and black nationalism has other causes, but let’s put my objections aside). So I have the same question. Is that upsurge in black identity politics and black nationalism productive or helpful? Is it going to make the situation any better? It should not be that hard to answer this question the same way we answered the parallel question above: no.

My point is that the color-blind ideal of the Civil Rights Movement was on the right track (though I believe in needs to be coupled with real economic reforms to fight vicious cycles of poverty and to achieve full-scale racial integration), while the current crop of race-consciousness and identity politics is a big wrong turn in the road because it’s driving people further apart, making their race more of a “real” thing to them (despite the fact that most biologists agree “race” is not a biologically sound category and exists only as a sociological construct) and leading to an escalating race war.

You also wrote:

“We don’t need identity. We have it. We are curious about our lineage. In fact, because of our fractured history, which is a result of slavery, Jim Crow, the Black Codes, the Great Migration, oh and I forgot, the Middle Passage, the psychology of African Americans is very similar to that of children who have been given up for adoption.”

I disagree. You don’t simply have identity. Identity is necessarily a construct, a choice. It is a choice you can make for yourself, or it is a choice you can let someone else make for you. This might be easier to see if we talk about a group other than African-Americans. Take the example of what the Jews did after the Holocaust, which is an easy example to use because what happened there was so dramatic and historically confined to a particular point in time. Before the Holocaust, they were moving towards greater integration into the mainstream of European life and culture. They were moving away from the kind of ghetto life they’d led (sometimes by choice, sometimes as the result of restrictive laws that were in force, particularly in Eastern Europe) and were becoming integrated. Hitler and the architects of the Final Solution, however, took a “blood lineage” view of Judaism, ferreted out anyone and everyone in whom they could find the fiction of even an ounce of “Jewish blood” and sent them to death camps, etc. After the war, the Jews had a choice. They could either defy the Nazi attempt to essentialize Jewish identity and continue the path towards integration into the mainstream current of European humanity, or else they could let Hitler win by embracing the Jewish identity that Hitler had tried to impose upon them by force. Instead of choosing the route of defiance, many chose the route of embracing their identity, embracing Jewish nationalism and Jewish religious fundamentalism, creating a “Jewish state” in Israel, which, not surprisingly, is now drifting ever further towards becoming a right-wing nationalist theocracy that treats people who are not “Jews” in ways that are all-too-reminiscent of certain aspects of the Nazi state (there are no death camps or mass genocide or anything like that, and yet the “Chosen People” ideology of Zionism and the racial superiority ideology of Aryan purity have some disturbing commonalities).

Now let’s take the case of African-Americans. People from a variety of nations in West Africa were forcibly taken from their homelands and brought to the United States, where a certain identity was foisted upon them and where they were viewed no longer as people from this or that particular nation or culture, but rather, merely as “black slaves.” After the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, a unitary “black” identity continued to be foisted upon them through a myriad of legal and social codes, and this continued with Jim Crow and the many other methods white America used to control and confine blacks. The Civil Rights Movement, however, rebelled against this kind of attempt to identify people by race. It sought to unveil the deeper common humanity of whites and blacks and to see the color of someone’s skin as a mere superficial feature signifying nothing beyond itself. So, now (skipping over a lot, of course), we come to this present juncture, where many black Americans, much like the Jews after the Holocaust, are seeking to “embrace” black identity and find some sort of artificial unity between themselves and others merely because they have skin of a similar pigment … and the effort becomes even more meaningless and absurd when the umbrella term “people of color” is used to create artificial identifications between all those people — black, Hispanic, Asian, Arabic, etc. — who are anything other than white. The identity that too many black Americans are now coalescing around is one, ironically, built on white racist ideology (i.e., the ideology that race is something real that can be used to create meaningful categories and divide people into subgroups), and operates simply by inverting the Manichean value judgment (white=good; black=bad) into its polar opposite (black=good; white=bad), but on a more fundamental level, this notion of racial identity is mired in the same crude Manichean thinking that was part and parcel of the whole ideology of race from the very beginning.

My point is this: neither you nor any other African-American is under any compulsion or obligation to assume and embrace the artificial racial identity that white America attempted to confer upon blacks, and in fact, there are many reasons not to do so. Isn’t it better to defy the restrictive polarities white racist ideology attempted to impose? I do not see some big area of commonality with someone else simply because we are both white. The color of my skin is not a meaningful dimension of my personhood to me. You can, of course, suggest that it is just a reflection of my “white privilege” to have the luxury not to think about my race or racial identity, and I’d agree to a certain extent that if you’re a minority in any place in the world, you’re much more likely to identify yourself based on the feature/thing that makes you a minority than if you are the majority, the “default.” But the higher likelihood of such identification doesn’t make it a wise or sensible thing to do. Skin color is still skin color. There are deeper, more individualized ways of identifying yourself. I think of myself as someone whose main interests are literature and philosophy, for instance, and whose principal passions are reading and writing (and, naturally, it gets even more specific than that). I feel a much greater bond to a black person who shares my interests than to a white person who doesn’t. And I believe that if more people constructed their identities based on such deeper passions and interests rather than based on broad and shallow tribal affiliations of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationhood and the rest, the world would be a much more pleasant and peaceful place.