Monday, February 10, 2014

Two Nations 1

I started Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.  I have the 1995 version, which includes reflections about the O.J. Simpson verdict.  An African-American friend a long time ago recommended this book to me to show me that racism is a problem in the United States.

In this post, I would like to use as my starting-point something that Hacker says on pages 45-46:
“At this point, it can be said that few teachers attempt to explain how the human beings consigned to slavery shaped the structure and sensibilities of the new nation.  Apart from brief allusions to a Sojourner Truth or a Benjamin Banneker, your people appear as passive victims and faceless individuals.”

I don’t consider myself to be a racist.  I know plenty of African-Americans who are not just equal to me, but are superior to me, especially in intellect.  But I have to admit that the way that the race issue was presented to me over the years gave me some racist sentiments, at least somewhere in my mind.  And I am not just talking about the narratives that I heard from white conservatives; I blame liberal narratives for this, too.

When I was in school learning American history as a child and a teenager, I heard about slavery, racial discrimination, and segregation.  My teachers taught me that those things are wrong.  The thing is, though, the image that I was continually getting of black people was that they were victims.  “Oh, those poor black people, always being treated so badly,” I thought.  When I watched Roots, I saw these advanced white Europeans coming to primitive Africa and capturing Africans to sell them as slaves.  Now, granted, the African culture was not depicted badly, per se: the Africans on this miniseries valued community, tradition, wisdom, and heroism.  But they were not as technologically advanced as the white Europeans who captured them.  If one is a victim, does that make one inferior?  I don’t think that I ever verbalized that idea, even in my mind, but it was somewhere in there.

I think that there are Afro-centric scholars who try to compensate for this by arguing that there was a time when black Africans were advanced, when they were warriors.  I vaguely recall this idea being expressed in the movie, Malcolm X: an African-American named Baines tells Malcolm that blacks were a race of kings, while white Europeans were still swinging off trees.  To be honest, I do not know enough to evaluate this claim.  I am aware of scholars who question the arguments in Black Athena, and I one time heard a professor in Egyptology question the notion that Egyptians were black, as she referred to Egyptian pictures of blacks that she found to be rather racist.  But that is the extent of my knowledge.  The friend who recommended to me Hacker’s book referred to statues of blacks that indicated to him that blacks sailed the world way back when, but I do not know the specifics of that.  (UPDATE: On page 178, Hacker refers to a sample lesson, and he sums up its message as: "The fact that some Pre-Columbian statutes have what could be seen as Negroid features strengthens the supposition that it was Africans who first sailed across the Atlantic to America.")

Were the Israelites inferior to the Egyptians when the Egyptians enslaved them?  Well, the Egyptians were certainly more advanced at that time, since they had been around longer as a nation; they had time to develop, when the Israelites were just getting started and were focusing on herding their flocks.  (I’m just assuming the historicity of the Exodus here, but I realize that there are plenty of reasons to question that.)  I suppose that is one key: that it’s not a matter of one nation or race being superior to another, but some have managed to develop earlier than others.  When the developed ones go into not-so-developed countries (or even developed ones) and manage to stomp out whatever chance these countries have to improve themselves or to support themselves, then that is a problem.  It’s not the case that the Babylonians were racially superior to the Israelites when they took them over, but it’s a fact of life that some countries manage to advance above other countries: maybe it’s because they have been around longer and have become firmly established, and they take advantage of their head start so they can stay in the lead.

Perhaps I should be looking at the question of why countries rise and fall—-how some get to the point where they are able to conquer another country. 

Anyway, please do not take offense at my remarks.  They come from my ignorance, not from any hostility on my part.  One factor that I believe is holding back progress on race relations is political correctness: that people cannot express what they think for fear of being attacked.  Hacker seems to discuss this phenomenon in this book.

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