Thursday, April 17, 2008

Am I American or White, and what are you? Roger Cohen writes in the New York Times that Americans have a huge Holocaust Memorial Museum because we prefer to mourn crimes not of our making. What we need, he argues, is a truth and reconciliation commission like the ones we have demanded of other nations.

If we did that kind of thing, an essential question to be asked is who will do the apologizing, and who will receive the apology? If America needs to say it's sorry to blacks who were victims of slavery, lynchings, etc., then blacks living today will need to feel as guilty as whites because we are equally Americans, and America and Americans committed those injustices.

If blacks--or Cohen, for that matter--say that blacks should not feel guilty because they are the victims not the perpetrators, then what that implies is that black Americans alive or dead are like an organism, and white Americans living or deceased are an organism, and the one was victimized by the other. Another implication is that these two groups are much more meaningful than the group we call "Americans." (To keep things simple, I am leaving out other groups).

If whites are expected to feel guilty for past crimes because race trumps citizenship, then race should also be relied on to frame accomplishments as well. America did not put a man on the moon: white Americans did. America has not invented so many great technologies that benefit the world: white Americans did. America did not build so many wonderful universities: white Americans did.

I'm pretty flexible. I'm just trying to find some fairness and consistency. If you are asking me to define myself as a cell in the White Race, I can do that but I will take credit as well as blame. If you're asking me to define myself as an American, I will take blame as well as credit, but you must do the same, and that's true if you're black, Jewish, Mexican, whatever.


  1. Anonymous11:14 AM

    Nice try.
    But you got to suffer more more more more more more till Blacks feel they have extracted enough largess from you.

  2. Well, I think you can make a reasonable case that the descendants of white American slave-owners "owe something" to the descendants of black American slaves.

    And I'd strongly suspect that the American group with by far the highest percentage of American slave-owner ancestry is...American blacks!

    So maybe Cornel West and Rev. Wright should be paying reparations to Magic Johnson and Mike Tyson.

  3. rku: Right. I'm reading a book called The Sweet Hell Inside about a 19th century mixed race family. They sent one of their boys, who studied at Altanta U. under W.E.B. Dubois, to Harvard for grad school circa 1900. I have a huge family on both sides and never in our history has a single one of us attended Harvard.

  4. Actually, I have another objection to the idea: truth and reconciliation commissions are done with the victims and the victimizers. All involved parties for slavery are long dead. It's as if I were to start hitting up random German teenagers for money because part of my family lost their restaurant in 1933. Or maybe I can sue some Polish kids for that pogrom that cost me a few great-uncles. Whatever. It's over. I ain't buyin' a VW, but that's just because Toyotas are better.

  5. Skin color has been the legally accepted defining factor in granting government favoritism ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It's to the point that the Fortune 1000 is using the fact that they hire Brahmins from India in to meet Obama's precious skin-color quotas.

    There's no backing out now.

  6. Anonymous8:10 PM

    the reason the us (and most of western europe) have large holocaust memorials is because of pressure and contributions from jewish groups. there are plenty of large scale crimes that were not of our making that the are much less recognized in the us (most notably ireland's great hunger)

  7. Leave the dissension behind please. Acknowledge the past, make amends, atone but remember a mind in the present has less to worry can a society truly move forward when they're always looking back... we're all one race--human with a vast ethnic pool. And at the end of the day we'll all endure love, hurt and joy so let's share our experiences and move forward


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