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Federalist essay on racial identity

December 16, 2015
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As you all know, I care about diversity–racial as well as intellectual. As someone who increasingly leans right on many issues, it bothers me how conservatives tend to treat race and racial identity. I wrote an essay about it, and the editors at The Federalist kindly published it. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Agellius permalink
    December 16, 2015 5:40 pm

    You make a very interesting point in comparing race with faith. In fact it’s brilliant. But in all honesty, I don’t know what it would mean to not treat race like liberals treat faith.

    I am white, was born shortly before MLK was shot, and grew to my teens in the 70s. I had very liberal parents, and after they divorced my (white) mom got remarried, to a black man, who I eventually considered more of a father than my real dad. I also grew up in an area with a minority white population, and my first four or five girlfriends were Latina, followed by one white woman in my early 20s, then two Asian women, the latter of whom I married.

    What was drilled into my head growing up in that household and in that racially diverse area was MLK’s dictum, “not color of skin but content of character”. Certainly I was taught to respect different cultures, but I was also taught to treat people of different races the same as I would treat those of my own race. This is now my ingrained practice: To take no notice whatever of people’s color or ethnicity but simply to see the human being in everyone I meet.

    I am a registered Republican. What am I lacking?

    • Victor permalink
      December 19, 2015 1:59 pm

      Agellius, I am guessing Praj is making a generalization about a group of people which means it doesn´t apply to everyone or he is making a statement about an institutionalized as opposed to individualized phenomenon.

      • Agellius permalink
        December 19, 2015 2:39 pm

        “Institutionalized racism” is another concept I am baffled by. I don’t understand how an institution can harbor an irrational prejudice, if the individuals who make up that institution do not. If the individuals do, then that’s where the racism lies, it seems to me, and not in the institution. But I may be misunderstanding the concept.

  2. Victor permalink
    December 19, 2015 1:58 pm

    Interesting article. I didn´t understand about the left over-emphasizing race. I know and have friends that have experienced a small (some would say no) impact in their lives due to their minority race. But for many minority Americans they are not just the brunt of conscious racial prejudice or worse yet discrimination, they are the brunt of unconscious, institutionalized racism. I don´t think this is over-emphasized. I actually think there are groups who do not recognize it enough. If they did they would be doing far more to address and redress unconscious bias in the world. There are initiatives here and there but there is so much work still to do.

    If people in the UK spoke out about race the way some in the US do, then I might say it is over emphasized and acknowledged.

    In fact, I would say that I have heard voices on the left try to help poor white Americans understand how they have been co-opted to vote along racial lines against their socio-economic interests. Almost all race issues are proxies for socio-economic issues in the US.

    Great points in the article. Of course embracing racial identity would help any party reaching out to racial groups whose race is a large part of their identity. I have seen it.

  3. December 20, 2015 6:32 pm

    Great discussion people.

    @Victor: good points. However, I would push back against the idea that people *should* vote solely based on their socio-economic interests. I think you’re referring to the ‘What’s wrong with Kansas?’ thesis. Not sure I agree with the premise.

    @Agellius: I totally empathize with how you feel. I think one way to look at it is to consider the full MLK quote: ‘I look to a day when people will *not be judged by* the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ Those four words are key there, for me. They don’t say to completely ignore skin color.

    Another good approach could be to think about how you would want your Catholicism recognized. I suspect you wouldn’t want it to be either ignored or over-acknowledged.

    anyway..thanks again for the good discussion.

  4. Agellius permalink
    December 21, 2015 9:50 am

    Praj:

    I don’t disagree with you, I just don’t understand what you think it should mean in practice. Is there anything wrong with my approach to people that I meet in everday life, that is, disregard color and ethnicity and try to see the human being in everyone? If I’m not to disregard color and ethnicity, in what way am I to acknowledge it? Do I need to say “Buenas dias” when I meet a Latino?

    It’s possible that you’re not referring to individual interactions, but only to outreach to minorities on the part of large institutions like the Republican party. But again, in what way does the party need to acknowledge race and ethnicity, specifically?

    • December 23, 2015 1:52 pm

      Good questions. Honestly I’ll have to think about them for a bit. I think you’re asking operational/execution type questions. As in, what exactly should I *do*? I know I keep saying that is important. But at this stage I don’t want to give a half thought out response.

      One quick point though: when you say ‘disregard color and ethnicity and try to see the human being in everyone…” I think that attitude is part of the problem. For many people (including me!), our color/ethnicity is a part of our humanity. So you shouldn’t set them up in conflict, where acknowledging my ethnicity means you’re not seeing me as a human being. Just as with you, your faith is a part of your humanity.

      So for starters, simply changing how we view / think about race could be a good first step.

      • Agellius permalink
        December 23, 2015 2:53 pm

        “For many people (including me!), our color/ethnicity is a part of our humanity. So you shouldn’t set them up in conflict, where acknowledging my ethnicity means you’re not seeing me as a human being. Just as with you, your faith is a part of your humanity.”

        Well, everyone’s color is a part of his humanity, and so is his culture, and his nationality. For that matter, the region of the country in which an American grows up can be a strong part of his culture and therefore of his humanity. And even his city or neighborhood. And let’s not forget his economic class. And, obviously, his religion.

        Naturally, none of these things is in conflict with his humanity. But must I be thought to be denying his humanity if I fail to consciously “acknowledge” every one of these things? If I choose to just cut to what we have in common, does that necessarily mean that I’m disrespecting all of the subgroups to which he belongs, that don’t happen to be the same as my subgroups?

        Another thought that occurs to me, is that it might be harder for white Americans to grasp the idea of thinking of someone’s race as a part of his identity, when it’s drilled into our heads from a young age that we must not think that with regard to our own race.

        I hope it doesn’t seem as though I’m resisting what you have to say. I have a lot of respect for you and in fact assume that there must be something in it that I’m missing, which is why I keep questioning you on it, in hopes of figuring out what I’m missing.

  5. December 21, 2015 2:42 pm

    After reading your article in The Federalist and thinking about it I wondered if there was some sort of parallelism between identity politics and the Hindu caste system. I don’t mean in terms of hierarchy but in the creation of categories of people defined by an inheritable cultural status. My thinking is that identity politics may come from something basic in human nature as it seems to crop up in some form everywhere, even in Christianity despite the apostle Paul telling Christians [Galatians 3:28] that they are one in Christ, no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. (That last one should deflate a whole lot of people.)

    Another thing I wondered about was how your thinking on minorities might have been different if you had, instead of coming to the United States, gone to India and become a part of a cultural majority. Do you think it would have made a difference?

    • December 23, 2015 2:02 pm

      Really good questions waltsamp. Appreciate them. I agree that identity politics in some form is probably inevitable. I also agree that it even crops up in Christianity. You might find this article interesting: http://www.dahorton.com/god-is-not-colorblind-christians-why-are-we/

      Really interesting thought experiment about if I had moved to India instead of the U.S. The answer is: “almost certainly yes!’ As in, my thoughts about race/caste/identity would be very different if I had lived in India rather than the US for the past 23 years.

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