Saturday, June 05, 2004


I received recently an email from one of my U.S. readers that helped me understand why most Americans seem to hate even hearing the word "race":

"I had an argument with my neighbor Dwayne this afternoon after my jog. He's a black man, a few years younger than I am. He keeps a nice house and yard and drives a fancy car. We've always gotten along well. Today, however, the discussion turned to Bill Cosby's recent criticism of black parents for not raising their children properly. My neighbor jumped all over Cosby, saying he had no right to tell poor blacks how to live. I didn't challenge any of this, because I wanted to stay on good terms. I mainly let him talk. Then he brought up President Bush, saying he was a racist. I asked for evidence. He had none. When I pressed him as to why he thinks Bush is a racist, he said he just knows. I told him that a few years ago, Bush and his wife drove Alphonso Jackson and his wife (a black couple) to ritzy Highland Park to look at homes. He wanted Jackson as his neighbor. Does that sound like a racist? And who has a black National Security Adviser and Secretary of State? Since Dwayne couldn't cite any evidence for his belief that Bush is a racist, I asked whether all whites are racist. He said no.

At one point I said, half jokingly, that that was the stupidest thing Dwayne had ever said. This changed the tone. He told me to go and not stop by to talk to him any more. He told me to keep my dogs off his grass. It was tense. I pleaded for a moment, then walked away. This man is angry. Until today, I didn't know it. He said at one point that only two presidents cared about blacks: John F. Kennedy ("and they shot him for it") and Bill Clinton. He loves Clinton, as surveys show almost all blacks do. He hates Bush, as surveys show almost all blacks do. Republicans may as well give up on blacks; they're convinced, without evidence, that Republicans are out to get them. They're seething with resentment and anger."

I can see no reason at the moment why that anger will ever abate. Blacks do very poorly compared with whites and it takes a big man to blame himself for the fact that he and his kind are not doing well. "Blame others" is always a much more preferable thing to do than blaming oneself. And when a whole half of national politics is telling you that your failure to reach the heights is because you have been discriminated against, it would be remarkable indeed if you did not believe it. So-called "liberals" breed that anger. They need it and thrive on it. Without the black vote they would sink like a stone.

So is there a solution to the anger? Giving blacks equality that they have not earned (affirmative action) has some superficial attractiveness. The trouble is that that has now been tried on a large scale and the anger still seethes. The gap is probably too big and too basic to be closed by anything short of totalitarian measures. So one hopes that one day the only real alternative will be turned to: A strictly colour-blind and merit-based system that will persuade at least most people that whatever anybody has, has been earned by themselves or their parents. Instead of encouraging race-consciousness (affirmative action) Americans should have put all their efforts into eradicating it. Making sure of equality of opportunity for all would be a far better way of getting the social system to be seen as fair.


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