I just read an interesting article by Shelby Steele dated March 5th in the Wall Street Journal. Titled, “The Exhaustion of American Liberalism,” he describes how the liberal party in America has gone to seed, relying too heavily on worn-out appeals to white guilt rather than the reality of today. He claims in the end that “American liberalism never acknowledged that it was about white esteem rather than minority accomplishment.” I guess I’m no longer a liberal.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that white privilege exists. I remember just 10 years ago when a Black/Hispanic couple who came to me to be married because none of the other clergy in my city in central Texas would marry them because they were a mixed-race couple. Why is it that there is never any doubt in the official’s mind when he asks me about my country of origin when I go through customs checkpoints in southern New Mexico or Texas (even though I was not born in the US)? Why is it that de facto redlining still takes place in cities across the nation? Why is it that people of color are more likely to be poor than Whites? Soldiers of color in the Military (and I must add that our military forces are one of the most integrated segments of our society) still face abuse at the hands of small-minded White officers and NCO’s. Being homosexual or Native American or Asian will still get you kicks and bucks in the dark corners of our nation. It goes both ways. A member of the LULAC Council in Central Texas held to the end that I should not be allowed to join because I am not Hispanic—though I have spent more time in Latin America and speak Spanish better than he. Finally, check out this article written just last year: https://goodblacknews.org/2016/07/14/editorial-what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/. None of this is right. None of this is holy.
Steele does identify the heart the real issue. When guilt becomes about the person who feels guilty rather than the one wronged it has been hijacked by the ego and turns itself inside out. It is, as Steele rightly points out, the final abuse. If, as he claims, President Trump is not racist, his policies and pronouncements show a rather arrogant rejection of that false guilt. I am currently trying to wade through another book by a right-wing zealot. If he had his way the lessons of the Civil War, and the race riots of the 60’s would be swept under the rug as destructive to “the American way of life” as idealized in the 40’s and 50’s. He never mentions Jim Crow and the Klan only in passing. If it is on the wave of this rejection of false guilt that Trump rose to power the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction. I applaud a swing away from false guilt, but may we not fail to learn from the past 50 years. I am not at all convinced that we will be so wise.
How do we become wise? The solution is not political (though political action needs to take place) and it’s not economic (though inequities should be addressed.) (Sorry, Mr. Trump.) The solution is as old as the stars and is always the bugaboo of human living. It takes setting aside the rule of the ego and looking across the table and being taken by the wonder of the person in front of you no matter who they are, in all their glory and pain, exactly as they are, and not as we would like them to be or fear them to be, and fighting to make sure they have the opportunities and possibilities that are theirs by virtue of being human. It’s called loving your neighbor as yourself.