Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Buckley on Racism and the American Dream

For this final day of Black History Month 2012, I'll post links to some YouTube videos that I was watching a couple of days ago. Essentially, they're William F. Buckley, Jr.'s contribution to his 1965 debate with James Baldwin about racism and the American dream. See here and here for the videos. If you'd like to listen to Baldwin and the other contributors to the debate, they're also on YouTube.

Buckley is not exactly easy for me to follow, due to his intellectual verbiage, but what I got out of his presentation was the following four points:

1. Buckley argues that African-Americans are holding themselves back. He appeals to a scholar who argues that African-Americans have displayed less motivation than other minority groups to become doctors, even though there are schools that are non-discriminatory and offer scholarships. Buckley also refers to the increase in out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans. Buckley states that America is a mobile society, and that the solution should be to provide opportunities, not to resort to the iconoclasm against America that Baldwin practices.

2. Buckley states that the plight of African-Americans should be addressed with concern, and that it has been in America. James Baldwin, after all, is a well-received author, and the issue of the plight of African-Americans is prominent in the United States.

3. Buckley fears radical "solutions" to a complex problem.

4. On the issue of African-American suffrage, Buckley glibly remarks that the problem is that too many white people are voting! Buckley also echoes Booker T. Washington's sentiment that African-Americans should be educated to become informed voters.

Buckley was roundly applauded at this debate, but his position was ultimately out-voted. The proposition was that "The American dream is at the expense of the Negro", and Baldwin was arguing in favor of this, whereas Buckley and another speaker were arguing the opposite.

My greatest problem with Buckley's argument was that he under-estimated the reality of racial discrimination. Regarding Buckley's comments on suffrage, I think that any adult should be able to vote. But what if the person is not educated and does not know what's best for society (which is not to say that Buckley had a high opinion of the Ivy League, notwithstanding his Yale credentials)? First of all, I think that people with or without education (formal or informal) can, on the basis of their experiences, form a legitimate opinion about what policies help them or hurt them. Second, we usually vote for people who are educated, anyway. I think that we can listen to all sorts of policies developed by educated people and make a fairly informed decision about which we like and dislike.

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