THE PERILS OF THE PROGRESSIVE APPROACH TOWARD RACIAL JUSTICE

1
261

OPINION

THE PERILS OF THE PROGRESSIVE APPROACH TOWARD RACIAL JUSTICE

by Gennady Shkliarevsky

 

The recent death of George Floyd has sparked a wave of protests throughout this country and the world.  This wave has renewed the calls to bring racial justice and to put an end to racism in America.  These calls are nothing new.  The progressive establishment has pursued the agenda of racial justice for several decades now.  This agenda has resurfaced with vengeance yet again amidst the current crisis in America and has become the battle cry of the progressive left in their struggle for change.

Those who call for racial justice and an end to racism see a profound division that has plagued this country throughout much of its history.  It is the division between the two communities that represent two races—black and white.  Despite some progress that has been made in bridging this gap, the line separating the two communities remains intact and the inequities between them persist.  The proponents of racial justice see the source of this division in what they call white privilege that has its historical roots in slavery, oppression, and discrimination against the black people perpetrated by white Americans.  Their calls for racial justice demand to eliminate white privilege and the inequities associated with it.  They seek to bring the two communities together.

As has been mentioned, the progressives have pursued the solution of the racial problem for over several decades.  However, despite some progress, the solution is not in sight.  Moreover, the problem and conflicts associated with it continue to resurface with renewed vigor, as they most recently have in connection with the death of George Floyd.

The failure to solve the racial problem raises legitimate doubts about the way the progressives approach it.  The progressive often cites various factors that have hindered progress toward racial justice:  inertia in the white community, institutionalized forms of injustice and racism, lack of education, party politics, conservatism, etc.  Although one should not dismiss outright the legitimacy of these claims, one should also legitimately consider a possibility that the overall approach could be wrong and that this approach may be the reason why the progressives have failed to overcome the inertia of racial divisions and inequities.

For this reason, one should take a closer look at the progressive approach toward the problem of racism in America.  Inclusion is central to progressive politics of race.  Progressives believe that only inclusion can open the path toward the elimination of racial tensions and conflicts; only inclusion can bridge the gap between the two communities.  Their principal strategy in addressing the race problem is to open possibilities for upward mobility to people of color.  Affirmative action is a good example of the practical application of this strategy.  It has led to the advancement of many black people to prominent positions in American society.  The results of this policy are very visible.  Contemporary America has many prominent black politicians and public figures, business executives, cultural icons, and public intellectuals.  In a word, this strategy has given rise to a whole new category of black Americans—the black elites.  In the view of the progressive establishment, these black elites are the authentic voices that represent the black community.  As such, they are to provide the vital connection between the black community and the progressive establishment.

In the mind of progressives, the politics of inclusion involves first of all the inclusion of the black elites into the progressive establishment.  Today the black elites today are by and large a part of the progressive establishment.  They share its ideology and vision.  They engage in an identical political practice, and they certainly coordinate their efforts and policies.  The role of the progressive black elites is to work together with the progressive establishment for the elimination of racial divisions in the United States.

The progressive policies that pursue racial justice have their roots in the way that progressives view the black community—that is, in the way they understanding the main factors that define the black community.  The progressives see the black community as largely defined by its historical experience, most importantly centuries of slavery, oppression, and discrimination that the black community has experienced in the course of its history.  The conclusion that progressives draw from this understanding is that the solution of the racial problem requires the undoing of the effects of this history of oppression and, first and foremost, eliminating white privilege as the main source of racial inequities.

The black elites have largely adopted the same approach.  For example, in the statement of its vision, the NAACP, one of the most prominent and influential black organizations in this country, states on its website:  “The vision of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.”  Its constitution also proclaims that the removal of “all barriers of racial discrimination” is one of the main objectives of the NAACP.

Defining the black community through slavery, discrimination, and oppression is really a negative way to define it.  This definition implies that the black community is really a product of external forces (slavery, oppression, discrimination) that have shaped it over centuries.  This definition represents the black community as essentially passive; it emphasizes what has been done black Americans, not what they have done.  It envisions the black community as a sufferer.  It does not see black people as agents capable of action  This definition completely overlooks the positive factors that created the black community—positive in the sense that they represent the creative efforts by many black Americans who have been part of this community.  External forces—slavery and oppression—have had an impact on the black community, but they have not been the only or even the most important factors.

The most important factors that create communities are those that result from the efforts of the community itself and its members.  These factors are, first and foremost, values, beliefs, and norms—in fact, the entire cultural heritage that members of the community create and share.  These values serve as the glue that hinds communities together.  They are the source of historical continuity that makes community last through centuries.  Slavery and oppression are not what members of the black community have created.  They created their cultural heritage and this cultural heritage defines them and their community.  It includes inter alia religious beliefs, their faith in God, and their churches.  It embraces the nuclear family as the basic social unit that consists of a man and a woman.  They cherish the sanctity of life as God’s creation and are opposed to abortion.  These are some of the most important values that hold the black community together.

Slavery and oppression have definitely had an impact on the black community.  They have isolated it and prevented its constructive interactions with other communities, most importantly the white community.  But they were not the only and arguable not the most important factors that shaped this community.  The black community is a product of creative efforts by its members who constructed this community’s cultural heritage.

The progressives overlook this heritage.  Even organizations of black American elites, who accepted the progressive perspective, do not use the cultural heritage of their own people for guidance in their political practice.  The NAACP program statements reveal conspicuous omission of any references to God and faith.  They include the progressive hobbyhorse—support for abortion—that the black community largely rejects.  The NAACP often includes references to the rights of LGBTQ.  By contrast members of the black community are largely indifferent or even hostile to issues related to the LGBTQ movement.  They see this movement as a threat to their own pro-family orientation and family values.

The NAACP, for example, hosts LGBTQ events at its conventions to demonstrate its solidarity and support.  Black Lives Matter is particularly vocal in its support of LGBTQ.  As the organization proudly states in one of its programmatic documents, “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks.”  Another document proclaims:

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).

The progressives have failed to create a frame that would reconcile the LGBTQ values with the cultural heritage of the black community.  As a result of this failure, they have to make a choice between LGBTQ that seeks sexual autonomy and the traditional values of the black community.  They have chosen to support sexual autonomy.  They choose to pay little attention to the cultural heritage that the black community venerates.

The fact that the progressive definition of the black community excludes the cultural heritage of the black community as the most important factor in shaping this community results in a very limited and subjective definition of the black community.  One could say even more strongly that this definition is plainly wrong.  Naturally, such a one-sided, subjective, and ultimately wrong definition can only give rise to policies that are inadequate and deeply flawed.

The theoretical practice that excludes beliefs, norms, values, and institutions—factors that have made the black community possible–from the definition of the black community cannot be anything but exclusive.  The policies based on such an exclusive definition can only be exclusive.  They cannot lead to inclusion and empowerment.  They can only create a sense of exclusion and disempowerment; and disempowerment leads to frustration, anomie, disaffection, and a sense of isolation.  All these are quite visible in the contemporary black community.

It is important to point out that many whites, like black Americans, also feel excluded for the very same reasons.  Progressive policies have also excluded beliefs, values, and norms that are close to the heart of a huge number of whites in the United States.  Many white Americans also embrace God, religion, church, and family.  They believe in the sanctity of life and are opposed to abortion.  While most white Americans reject attempts to victimize members of the LGBTQ community and generally support safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ, many whites are put off by the LGBTQ campaigns that aggressively promote their values and lifestyle, particularly among the young generation.  Due to the failure of the progressives to find the way to integrate the LGBTQ values with those of many members of the white community, many whites, like blacks, also see the LGBTQ movement as a threat to their pro-family orientation, nuclear family and family values.

The fact that progressive policies exclude factors that cement both the black and the white community creates a sense of alienation, anomie, and disaffection in both communities.  As a result, many members of these communities feel disempowered and frustrated, which makes them unhappy.  The white community sees progressive policies as totally disregarding its interests, concerns, and values and favoring black Americans.   The black community considers that these policies are not doing enough for their community to make them feel fully included and empowered.

The policies pursued by the progressive establishment exclude the values, beliefs, and norms widely embraced both in the white and the black community.  Exclusion is the source of disempowerment, which leads to frustration and disaffection. The policies of the progressives are an important source of frustration and disaffection in both communities.  As a result, both communities are dissatisfied.  Since their essential values and norms are excluded, there is no possibility for bringing these communities together since bringing them together requires including the cultural heritage of each community. As a result, the separation between the two communities persists, which often leads to tensions and even conflicts.

Since the source of the racial divide is exclusion and disempowerment, the solution to this problem required the elimination of exclusion and disempowerment.  It requires the inclusion of values and norms embraced by each community.  As has been indicated, the values, beliefs, and norms that each community embraces as vital are very similar.  They are religion, God, church, faith, family, and others.  The inclusion of these values may create conditions facilitating the integration of the two communities.

The progressive elites, both black and white, have failed to recognize the importance of these values.  Their ideology does not permit the inclusion of values and norms that each community continues to view as very important.  That is why the continuation of these policies perpetuates the exclusion and disempowerment of these communities, which creates a toxic atmosphere that gives rise to tensions, rivalry, and conflicts.

~~~

Gennady Shkliarevsky is a professor emeritus of history at Bard College.


PowerInbox
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
1 Comment
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments