Friday, April 5, 2013

Pity the White Man in America Today

Doug Saint Carter, Black Americans In The 21st Century: Integrating Or Segregating

From the first page of this book, and on nearly every page thereafter, Doug Saint Carter states his position on contemporary American race relations in undisguised language. Blacks, he says, bear the guilt for continuing racial inequality. I can do no better than to quote him directly: “Whites aren’t the ones setting the negative racial tone in this country.”

Everything Saint Carter says from that point will sound familiar to most Americans, because it’s the same argument used in anti-feminism, anti-unionism, and anti-anti-racism: you’ve won already. Stop fighting. The burden lies with “you people” now, not me. This argument feels as insubstantial regarding race as it does regarding any other current issue.

Saint Carter eerily channels a certain subset of political discourse. Some people want to appear liberal-minded and inclusive, but don’t want to change themselves to achieve that goal. So they pitch an argument in which “the other” bears responsibility for all future redress. We’ve all met people like this.

Early on, it becomes clear that Saint Carter harbors personal motivations in this debate. Regional black leaders came down on him for a very infelicitously titled book about a black rock star. A city-sponsored forum on racial harmony turned into an exercise in futility. His stray attempts at bridge-building got him excoriated by civil rights activists.

I’m not so ignorant that I don’t realize black Americans have some bad seeds, or that some African American leaders keep old wounds open for their own purposes. But Saint Carter goes further, charging that individual leaders represent the entire race. His language blatantly addresses blacks as an interchangeable mass of seething race resentment and bigotry.

A point-for-point refutation of Saint Carter’s thesis exceeds the purview of a book review. Just trying to keep his shopworn arguments in mind gets tiring. For instance, his remedy for the fact that one-fifth of black American men will spend part of their adulthood behind bars? Don’t get in trouble. Really. He says that.

Never mind that sociology, criminology, and good old common sense agree this isn’t enough. Poverty breeds crime, and crime breeds poverty. Impoverished, crime-wracked neighborhoods need systemic outside intervention to break the circle. Not my problem, Saint Carter says; blacks won the Civil Rights struggle, so the larger interracial society owes them nothing more.

Saint Carter bluntly dismisses anything which contradicts his arguments. Rampant voter disenfranchisement, well documented in every presidential election since at least 1996? Doesn’t exist. Race bias in government and legal policy? Doesn’t exist. Housing and labor discrimination? Doesn’t exist, or completely explainable by other factors. Note, he cites no sources; he just asserts.

To his credit, Saint Carter admits some white bigotry still exists. But he asserts that white supremacists and casual racism are mere outliers, not representative of the entire race. If a black leader says something inflammatory, though, it’s proof of race-wide bias. Witness as I turn to a randomly selected page (120) and find this gem of tolerance:
Blacks, especially spokespeople like the late Ms. [Jackie] Brown, seem entirely oblivious to the possibility that they could play a positive part in improving race relations.
Holy schnikes, he actually says that. And not just there; nearly every page includes a sweeping, totalizing statement about black Americans. Though he disavows racialist motivations, he almost reflexively makes statements that treat whites as differentiated individuals, and African Americans as a block. We have a name for that attitude.

I also grow frustrated by Saint Carter’s insistence that he can’t be racist, because he digs Jackie Wilson. Whoopee. I love blues and Afro-pop. I also have to live with the reality that I stood silent when a white co-worker called a black co-worker a nigger to his face. African Americans are human beings, not consumable culture, and deserve better.

Christian activist Shane Claiborne notes that, in attempting to reconcile rich and poor, the preponderance of effort must always come from the rich. The poor cannot shop in rich malls, worship in rich churches, or buy into rich neighborhoods. Asking the powerless to take more than tiny steps makes no sense. If we consider socioeconomic realities, we already know this.

But Saint Carter says: I’ve done enough. The battle is over, every wrong is now righted, and I shouldn’t have to invest any more. This argument has existed at least since I started following politics in the 1980’s, and it rings as hollow now as then. Doug Saint Carter makes a good cautionary tale, but not in the way he thinks he does.

CODA: about two hours after I posted this review to, lightly edited for their puritanical language standards, I received the following e-mail from the author:
Dear Kevin,

Good God man, are you filled with hate or what? You come across as jealous that you weren't mentioned in my book. You're in it, just not by name.

You and your attitude is what the book is all about. Where is your interest in improving race relations? It doesn't exist. Please, show me something that indicates there is the slightest interest on the part of any American blacks to change their negative racial attitude. There is none.

You misquoted many things I said. All I'm asking for from Americans when it come to improving race relations is fairness, understanding and common sense. You fail on all counts.

You are just proving to me how on target my book really is. You are the epitome of a black individual that continues to maintain an ongoing, never ending grudge culture towards whites.

Kevin, please explain to me how blacks are not the most narcissistic, the most selfish, the most angry, the most divisive and the most violent ethnic population in America. And you put me down? Read carefully, your ethnic population has only two modes of operation when it come to race relations, One is, blame, shame and complain, the only other one is self celebration. there is no middle ground. These are observations, you can't deny with honesty. Where Is Love.

Doug Saint Carter
I won't attempt to rebut every point the author makes in this e-mail, because I have the same problems with it that I have with his book. But notice, Saint Carter refers to me as black. Go to the top of this page and check my profile photo; you'll notice I'm distinctly white. Saint Carter believes two sweeping generalizations that make his merely weird premise turn dangerous:
  1. All black people disagree with him, and
  2. All people who disagree with him are black.
Throughout this book, Saint Carter describes organized African American responses to race controversy as "divide, separate, and group." Plainly he considers this bad. Yet in his mind he has so thoroughly divided, separated, and grouped the interracial American population that he cannot imagine anybody disagreeing with him unless their skin is brown. He is the thing he calls us to fear.

My problem is not that Saint Carter believes this. People may believe whatever they want. My problem is that Saint Carter's sweeping, blunt beliefs may represent more than just himself. Recent studies from Pew and Gallup suggest American race relations are as bad now as they've been since the early 1970's. This book, if taken seriously, will only make things worse.

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