Monday, April 26, 2010
Last Christmas I organized a potluck for the foreign and Chinese faculty at my university. It was a glorious affair, except for a few expected screw-ups (Somebody jacked the Secret Santa gifts!). One big problem was that my friend rented a sound system, and in the course of the evening we lost one of the two microphones. Now, it was not technically my responsibility, and because I was not assigned to watch the thing, it was not technically my fault that it was lost, but because the entire event was organized by me I felt hella guilty. I called up my dude and offered to split the cost of a new mike with him. Basically, the idea of fault and blame were irrelevant. What mattered was that something went wrong, it made the event look bad (and hurt the chances of people ever trusting the foreigners again), and it could be rectified.
This story was not told as an example my benign leadership skills( as my wife pointed out, a real leader would have made sure the mike was not lost in the first place), but as an imperfect corollary about life. Sometimes stuff goes bad, it might not be your fault, but it’s in everyone’s interest that it be made right.
I view racism through the same lense.
So my dad tipped me off on this Op-Ed by Skip Gates against Reparations for slavery, but it did not really interest me because, well, I do not see a massive debate surrounding the issue. Then Shani at PB put up something interesting on it, and I realized that regardless of the lack of debate on Reparations, the piece is making waves. Now, as for Gates’ general argument itself, there is nothing particularly offensive. Slavery was complex. Africans did it too. Reparations for slavery is not gonna fly because its stuck in whirlpool of guilt. Gotcha.
However, serious discussions of Reparations (such as this by Randall Robinson, who I am not a fan of, and a lot of stuff by Charles Ogletree, who I am a fan of) do not look at just slavery, but Jim Crow and ongoing structural inequalities. Yeah, I have read and been around shoddy-ass arguments that take slavery to be the main historical injustice that must be, but the serious philosophical discussions talk about other stuff too. So Gates is arguing against a… not a straw-man exactly (I have talked to people who believe this stuff, to be sure, but they are not serious people) but the Reparations JV team. He ignores the Varsity squad. Also, outside of the fevered imaginations of white conservatives, Reparations is not the most pressing issue for a lot of Black Americans. Who is he arguing against then?
Well, nobody. This is kinda screwy because race is already a touchy-ass subject in the American cultural arena, but by bringing in the concept of blame he makes people concentrate on the wrong issues. Gates knows all this, and I have a sneaking suspicion he just floated this out there to get the Tea Partiers and Republicans all riled up. Still, I expected better from him (Gates is my homeboy for taking on that clown Ali Mazrui… get em tiger).
Now, if Gates was talking about the invention and the perpetuation of Race, then he would have an interesting piece on his hands...