“…this country, despite its sins, also is a country for the last sixty years has truly transformed itself morally. And, Americans today are a different people in regard to all these issues [discrimination, oppression] …” Shelby Steele, How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
In the days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in more than 130 cities, hundreds of thousands of black Americans let their anger and grief boil over into collective rage. In Chicago, more than 48 hours of rioting left 11 Chicagoans dead, 48 wounded by police gunfire, 90 policemen injured, and 2,150 people arrested. Some two miles of the commercial heart of Lawndale on West Madison were little more than charred rubble.
Chicago is my home. I have lived here during the 60 years of fundamental transformation that Shelby Steele describes in the epigraph. Prior to that tragic day in 1968, I was aware of strife in the country. The civil rights movement began during my childhood as did the Vietnam war. I watched the nightly news reports with my father. Both were covered.
In high school social studies class, I read Black Like Me and Cry, the Beloved Country. Civil War history was also taught. I was given excerpts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to read (Essentially, Douglas, a Democrat, wanted states to be allowed chose slavery if they so desired. Lincoln, a Republican, wanted a nation without pockets of slavery. I would later learn that a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.) Later, in the 1980s, I read Stephen B. Oates’ Let The Trumpet Sound: The Life Of Martin Luther King, Jr. after the book came out. I wanted to gain insight into MLK’s life.
From my various readings I understood why Martin Luther King and black Americans were protesting. I also understood, from my visits with my grandparents, that there was something in the human heart that was prejudicial and could act to discriminate against another human being.
My father and mother would take my brother and me to see his Dutch parents. My grandparents lived in a small house in Bellwood on Chicago’s west side. They prided themselves on their perfectly manicured landscape which included a rose garden in the backyard. The frontroom’s (a Chicagoism) sofa and chairs were covered with plastic slipcovers. Having lived through the depression, everything they owned was protected and meant to last.
On the drive over to their house, my father warned us kids that grandpa (definitely an Archie Bunker archetype) had issues with black people (and other ethnic groups). We would hear grandpa talk about the “niggers” moving into the neighborhood. Grandma would try to shoosh him with “little ears!” I heard my dad trying to move grandpa beyond prejudice, but grandpa, a gruff truck driver, was set in his ways.
My Dutch father was like my Dutch grandparents in that he loved order and cleanliness. But he was not like them in his attitude toward black folk. From what I could gather from my visits, the antipathy that my grandparents held toward blacks seemed to circulate in the attitudes of those who attended their local Dutch Christian Reformed Church. I listened to the conversations when the members gathered outside the church after the service. As a young man, my father attended a different church, dated my mother, discovered Jesus and rejected his father’s ways in the process. That fundamental transformation made the difference for his children’s understanding of race relations.
Now, I don’t pretend to know what it is like to be black. But over 67 years I did gain perspective on black American life. I empathized with the black American’s anger over Jim Crow laws. I empathized with their loss of MLK who called out the injustice. But I did not then and do not now sympathize with the rioting, looting and violence of protestors. These acts are the antithesis of MLK’s non-violent approach to protesting. Such “mindless mimicry of anger and resentment” (Shelby Steel) and destruction only sets back the cause of race relations. Such behavior comes from a very dark place. MLK exemplified Proverbs 16:32:
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Anyone who has watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus will remember the Dead Parrot sketch. Mr. Praline comes into the pet shop to complain that his recently purchased parrot is dead. The owner of the shop denies any of Mr. Praline’s claims with exasperating excuses.
Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!
Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
This hilarious satire of customer service works because of the two opposing perspectives: the real versus the absurd. Bring these two perspectives into any serious discussion of societal or economic matters and it becomes glaringly obvious that there can be no resolution or reconciliation. (In the sketch, the shopkeeper, after repeatedly responding to Mr. Praline’s protests with nonsense, goes off on an absurd tangent, declares that he always wanted to be a lumberjack and begins singing the lumberjack song.) I have had similar back-and-forths when I was on Twitter.
Engaging activists and their Progressive followers on a Twitter thread, I would ask “What is racist about America?” These ‘shopkeepers’ of racism would respond that “America is racist” or “there is injustice” or “there is unfairness”. I would ask again and again for examples – proof of life that racism was alive in America. I would receive the same blanket replies: “America is racist”, “there is injustice”, “there is unfairness”. They were trying to justify what they thought by parroting the same things over and over again. Emotions flared and words were written, but nothing was said to prove that America was a racist country.
(The latest generation of Americans seems to have come out of “How do you feel about that?” therapy. They are hot-wired for emotional response. Hence, the “safe space” mentality that is meant to protect them from emotional overload when confronted with realities beyond the existential.)
Thomas Sowell, like Shelby Steele, has consistently contended against the race narrative posited by the Left. And, like many other blacks who disagree with the Left, is labeled “Uncle Tom”. Sowell is a ninety-year old black American economist and social theorist who is currently a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Here are just a couple of his rejoinders to the Left’s hype of racism:
Racism does not have a good track record. It’s been tried out for a long time and you’d think by now we’d want to put an end to it instead of putting it under new management.
The word ‘racism’ is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything – and demanding evidence makes you a ‘racist.’
It’s been my experience on social media, with its “safe space” anonymity, that there is more than just stonewalling buzzwords repeatedly being stacked up. The ad hominems also pile up. The pejoratives “racist” and “bigot” are used on social media and in print for anyone who does not comport with the narrative proffered by the ‘shopkeepers’ of race. Saul Alinsky’s Rule #5 in his Rules for Radicals handbook is put to use:
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.”
(What makes any discussion about race relations (or any relationship) even more bizarre and destructive is Progressivism’s identarian politics: dividing people into boxes with labels to pit “victims” against the “oppressors”. This dissection of society is the opposite of reconciliation. And it is rank Marxism.)
“Black votes matter to many politicians — more so than black lives. That is why such politicians must try to keep black voters fearful, angry and resentful. Racial harmony would be a political disaster for such politicians”. Thomas Sowell
Despite what is parroted on social media and in the ‘news’ media, things have changed with regard to race relations in the last 60 years. But the Black Lives Matter cabal denies the reality of that change as do those who buy the BLM propaganda and bring it home.
I see “woke” Americans placing a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the well-manicured lawn of their far-west suburban Chicago homes. Apparently, they want to signal to others that they are down with the manufactured cause. I do not share their token empathy for dead parrot racism, no matter how many times agitators and rioters rattle cages to make it appear to be alive.
We laugh at the Dead Parrot Sketch. It makes perfect sense to us that Mr. Praline is exasperated to no end with the shopkeeper. Likewise, we are exasperated when anyone or a group maintains fixed false beliefs (2 + 2 = 5, 50+ genders, people are poor because of the rich, Progressive Woodrow Wilson was not a racist, “Defund the Police”, white privilege, critical race theory, America is inherently racist, etc.) even when confronted with facts. We become even more exasperated when we learn that a person or a group grapples for political power to establish fixed false beliefs as truth. The inordinate craving for power comes from a dark place, as philosopher Leszek Kolakowski notes in his essay Politics and the Devil:
:To the extent that politics is the sheer struggle for power, it is bound, in Christian terms, to be the realm of the devil by definition; it then simply releases our libido dominandi as a drive that expands, as it were, for the sake of its own expansion and has no objective beyond itself. As in all other areas of human life, however, the devil distorts and poisons the good natural order. [i]
Progressivism’s delusional perspective can be summed up as “Dead Parrots Matter”. It can be applied to any cause it raises, including racism and socialism, as both these ‘causes’ have been dealt with definitively in the past.
Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racists’. -Thomas Sowell
In the 80s I came across Thomas Sowell in a series of Free to Choose videos, including Frances Fox Piven vs. Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell on the Welfare System. Today, one does not come across the discussion and debates shown in these videos. (See Delusional Perspective above for the reason why.)
I have always enjoyed Professor Sowell’s down-to-earth perspective regarding economics, social issues and government. He provides great insight into the problems affecting blacks. Sowell deals in reality and not in the fallacies, myopia or the jejune foot-stomping responses of the Left. The video below, Myths of Economic Inequality affirms this. Therein, his perspective and some of the wealth of his comprehensive understanding of the matters that affect society. The video presents Sowell’s background and his early bent toward Marxism. You will also hear about his book A Conflict of Visions. This was the first book of his that I read. I consider it a primer to understanding the “unconstrained vision” and the “constrained visions” so prominent and at odds in America today.
Here are just a few of the videos offering Professor Sowell’s perspectives:
The Ethnic Flaw – Economics and Race, culture as a variable in success and failure
With this post and my previous post, I am offering counterpoints to the delusional thinking of the race shopkeepers. I presented Shelby Steele’s and Thomas Sowell’s perspective and my own which parallels theirs of the last sixty years. These perspectives run counter to the populist notion that America is inherently racist and whites should be guilt-ridden about it. Yet, along with Steele and Sowell and many others, I have witnessed the fundamental transformation of America. And it happened long before Barack Obama came along with his Marxist Liberation theology/Jeremiah Wright version of “fundamental transformation”. (Obama was elected twice in our so-called “racist” America!)
I would advise staying clear of broadcast media and op-eds with their myopic flash-point inducing ‘journalism’. Their version of racism is not worth your time. Rather, read to gain a new perspective and a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing America today and how they can be resolved. Below is a recommended list of books, an article and a link to begin with.
The Thomas Sowell Reader by Thomas Sowell
The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism, by Malcolm Gladwell
Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and, Reconciliation, by Miroslav Volf
Watershed at the Well -A short story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. The Jews and the Samaritans are at odds. Jesus challenges their ethno-centric understanding of God and worship that provokes hostilities between the two groups.
“Go to the website for the Black Futures Lab, a venture of Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, and click on the “Donate” button. It will ask you to send your money to an obscure organization, the Chinese Progressive Association, explaining that “Black Futures Lab is a fiscally sponsored project of the Chinese Progressive Association.”
[i] Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, 175-176