Race and Cultural Liability in America


Mixed in the ugliness since Bob McCulloch punted on indicting Darren Wilson has been a certain amount of hand wringing and derailment from self-professed allies. More or less well-meaning individuals have, in between desperate attempts to cling to a mythical view of the Civil Rights Movement, have admonished us that “we are all responsible for ending racism.” Those allies not actually part of the activist community can be excused, a little, for such a short-sighted view. They do not have the back ground in social theory, and certainly not critical race theory to see where this fails. Members of the left who are at least partially involved in activism should know better though. That they do not is frustrating, doubly so because they fuel the finger wagging from our nation’s cultural right and help perpetuate the hurt of racism in America. The implication is that black people in America are just as responsible for ending racism and that is just plain not true. Yes we should all be equally invested in it (though usually we are not, but we know which way THAT inequality weighs) but we are NOT equally responsible.

To help folks understand why that is the case I want you to imagine you and I are neighbors. I decide that I want a pool in my back yard. More than that, I want an Olympic sized pool for which there is no room. I decide that to make the room that I will just extend, with no basis for doing so, my property line two-thirds of the way across your yard. You are understandably upset and want me to fill the hole I have now dug almost all the way across your back yard. Now if we go to court for this, who do you think the judge is going to say is responsible for filling in that hole? The answer, of course is me. I am the one who dug the hole, who tore up your yard with no right to do so, and generally made your life miserable. We are not equally responsible, the weight of liability comes down on me.

Imagine still, however, that not only does the judge not make me fill in the hole, but tell you I have every right to build the pool. The full force of the law makes you accept my desires and you can only watch helplessly. The yard in which your children play, your yard, is no longer available to them, and I keep you all out. Imagine further that eventually one of our neighbors finally takes your side, and makes sure to let you know how noble they are for taking your side despite the fact that it is the only ethical choice, and finally puts pressure on the law to finally give you back your yard.

Only now there is a pool half in your yard. You cannot accept the expense of the pool, the water, the chemicals, the upkeep. I tell you I will not pay for the upkeep alone, since it is not just my pool now, but yours. Eventually the pool falls to disrepair. Reasonably it would be my responsibility to tear up the pool and fill in the hole, but our neighbors tell you that you should just enjoy the pool and if you do not take care of it, it is your fault when you have a stinking, fetid pond instead of a swimming pool in your back yard.

It stays like this for years, until our neighbors get fed up. Maybe the pool should be done away with. There is bickering over who has to bear the burden of removing it. After so many more years, eventually the law says I must fill in the pool, and I do it. I tear up the pool, fill it in with dirt, and plant grass on my side. You, however have to get your own grass seed. Unfortunately I bought it all up, so what you are left with is a yard full of mud. Your kids slip and fall in it, often injuring themselves. When the mine or the neighbors kids come into our yard to play, because playing in the dirt looks fun, when they hurt themselves, we hold you accountable. Your children are taken from you, your property is condemned, and eventually we make you move out, even though ultimate responsibility for the mess is mine. All this, is kind of what the history of race, in particular the white-black schism, in our country looks like.

Ultimately it is White America that is accountable for the problems of race in this country. In reality, had I built the pool in your yard, any sane judge would hold me thoroughly responsible, including for proper repair of your yard. We should be shouldering most of the burden for fixing this mess. Likewise, while the work is ours, how it gets done is not up to us. Just as in the above example, the judge would let you decide how the repairs must be done, the right to decide how best to repair the damage done to our black neighbors is theirs, not ours. We need to stop telling Black America how to deal with race and start listening and learning our place. I often hear even liberal friends tell me they are sick of talking about race. Fair enough, how about talking about it, you start listening, really listening, and accepting your share of the job that needs to be done? We can make our racist history just that, history, but not so long as we refuse to acknowledge it.


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