A common hope for race relations in America is to achieve a color-blind society in which an intrinsic characteristic like skin color no longer affects the status of any person.
Paradoxically, nearly everything happening in America now is moving us further away from a color-blind society.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he laid out the vision for a color-blind society. Here are some excerpts:
“When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men—yes, black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Half of a century later, we still are not judging people by the content of their character. Instead, we are choosing up sides and resorting to violence, repression, prejudice, and angry vituperative based on skin-color grievances.
The situation is not pretty. Our cities are on fire. Our public discourse on race has collapsed into tribal insults, prejudices, and accusations. Our public institutions are becoming increasingly race conscious. Governmental and business policies must survive an obstacle course of racial litmus tests, almost always with a bias toward certain races and against others. In many ways, the prejudicial animus has swung 180 degrees, with a different race now being convicted of original sins called “white privilege” and “white guilt”.
America desperately needs a real conversation about race, but that conversation is impossible. Public dialogue is not actually permitted – people must either parrot politically correct orthodoxy or be silent. We are compelled to declare that “Black Lives Matter” but we are condemned if we generalize this sentiment to include all lives. Is real discussion possible when white people are told their perspectives are irrelevant because they haven’t experienced life like a black person has? Does scrawling hate-filled graffiti on buildings or lighting them on fire help facilitate conversation? Does throwing bricks at policemen? Do empty gestures of symbolic virtue-signaling? Does tearing down statues? Does “canceling” the reputation or employment of anyone who chooses not to kneel in ritual humiliation to the racial orthodoxy? Does hurling the epithet “racist!” at everyone who challenges the racial orthodoxy? These are all conversation stoppers, not starters. They have no purpose other than to move Americans farther apart and to trigger more conflict.
America is moving closer to perpetuating its racial divide than it is to bridging it. We are now counting, analyzing, defining, and deciding almost everything in terms of race. Our public discourse is no longer focused on individual rights but on group grievances, some of which are hundreds of years old. Our media and cultural influencers produce articles, movies, TV shows, and news analyses heavily laden with racial themes. Our school systems are restructuring their curricula to frame American history in the context of race relations rather than our core principles. The racial accusations of the 1619 Project are replacing the principles of the Declaration of American Independence as the defining foundation our nation.
Whereas Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, I have a nightmare. My nightmare is that America’s racial divide will descend into an unbridgeable chasm similar to other unending conflicts around the world. I fear that endless waves of grievances based on skin color will become institutionalized in every layer of politics, society, culture, media, and education. We are on that path. America is perhaps more disunited than since the Civil War.
Some conflicts never get resolved because both sides are unable to mutually agree on a solution, or they can’t forgive the atrocities of the past, or they won’t refrain from avenging the most recent affront by the other side. The Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland is an example that is measured in hundreds of years. The Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East is an example that is measured in thousands of years. There are many others, including the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Islamic world, the Hindu-Islam conflict on the Indian subcontinent, and black-white apartheid in South Africa.
If our society becomes fixated on identity-based historical grievances, the potential for systemic divisiveness is much broader than just the tension between the black and white races. America is a pluralistic amalgam of every nationality, ethnicity, race, religious sect, economic class, and philosophical persuasion. It is impossible to address all of the grievances that have accumulated throughout history related to these various group distinctions. Attempting to do so will simply result in a boiling cauldron of conflict and divisiveness. As Lincoln famously put it, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
There is only one sane path toward a color-blind society, and that is to be a color-blind society. Our Constitution is designed to protect the rights of minorities. But the inherent definition of “minority” in our Constitution is the individual. Individuals are the smallest minorities, and they are each sovereign and equal in their rights. Our individual rights do not change, for better or for worse, based on our group identities. If we abandon the concept of individual rights in favor of group rights, we will move closer to civil war than we will to MLK’s vision.
Many will argue that it is necessary to stratify American society by race today in order to address the race-based sins of the past and to protect minorities from a privileged, antagonistic white society. There are many reasons why this strategy will fail spectacularly:
First, the notion of classifying people by an intrinsic characteristic like skin color is inherently immoral and dehumanizing, which was MLK’s essential point in his “I Have A Dream” speech. Putting whites on a pedestal in the past was wrong, and putting blacks on a pedestal today is wrong. We will never arrive at the right destination (true equality) by continuing down the wrong path (racial divisiveness).
Second, there are thousands of racial, ethnic, and religious groups in our country. The matrix of historical grievances tied to these identities is nearly infinite. Trying to identify, stratify, and address all of the grievances is so monumentally complex that all attempts would necessarily end in more conflict, not less. Focusing on just one of the thousands of identity group grievances just creates the expectation that the grievances of every other group should be addressed with similar national attention. We’ve been focusing on the grievances of black people. When do Jewish people get their turn on the stage? Native Americans? Hispanics? There will be no end to the aggrieved groups demanding attention. Creating an environment where every group is clamoring for their turn on the national pedestal is simply a recipe for perpetual agitation and violence. We will run out monuments to tear down, people to “cancel”, and cities to burn to the ground.
Third, the “affirmative action” tools employed during the past fifty years to address the plight of blacks have likely made their situation worse, not better. After $22 trillion spent on five decades of social programs, the quality-of-life metrics for blacks, such as high school graduation rates, violent crime rates, nuclear family rates, poverty rates, employment rates, and government dependency rates, have all deteriorated, and our culture is still at war with itself. Wealth transfers, race-based preferences in education and employment, subsidies for housing and transportation, school bussing, regulatory dictates, and various other government programs have not solved the problem. Instead, they have left entire generations dependent on societal support. The only remaining tool in the “affirmative action” toolbox is to simply declare an end to private property and allow the mobs to take whatever they can. This is essentially what we are seeing today with urban riots, defund-the-police demands, and calls for reparations.
Fourth, many of the aggrieved identity groups have broad political agendas, most of which do not align with the core values of this country or even with values of the other groups. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a particularly egregious example. While we can all agree that individual black lives matter, the official political agenda of the BLM organization is disturbing. It is even more disturbing that politicians and cultural influencers are embracing BLM’s toxic Marxist and anti-family agenda merely to assuage a suffocating wave of racial peer pressure and guilt. And that is just one group. There are thousands of identity-based activist groups itching to get their political agendas in the spotlight.
Fifth, many of the aggrieved identity groups are being used and abused by ideological factions, some of which are international. These virulent factions often have little common cause with the identify groups that they glom onto – they hijack the ambitions of aggrieved people to use them as foot soldiers and to energize their own radical agendas to reshape or destroy America. Antifa is the most prominent of these nihilistic organizations, but there are a host of left-leaning and Marxist organizations jumping into the cultural fray. The grievance culture draws extremist parasites like moths to a candle. Black people should be alarmed that their communities are being destroyed by radical factions paradoxically claiming to “help them”.
Sixth, the grievance culture necessarily leads to a victim culture. When the cause of discontent is blamed on external systemic forces, self-responsibility evaporates into thin air. This breeds the implicit assumption that certain victimized groups need shepherding and protection because they are incapable of succeeding on their own, which simply isn’t true, and which itself is a racist and paternalistic assumption. The generational dependency that results from such assumptions is the most pervasive systemic issue of all. If we truly all agree that we aren’t slaves to each other, self-responsibility is the only path to peace and success. Once personal responsibility evaporates in a culture, it doesn’t matter what other tactics or policies are pursued. They will all fail, and violence will be the only outcome.
There is only one way to achieve a color-blind society. Every person, every institution, every law, and every policy should be color blind. Our fundamental rights, as defined by the Declaration of American Independence and the U.S. Constitution, should be equally enforced on an individual-by-individual basis, not on a group basis. That is actually the moral and philosophical foundation of our country. And it is the only way that a pluralistic society like ours can live in peace.
We need to return to the “united” vision of the United States, not embrace the “group grievance” vision. We all share basic human desires – freedom, collaboration, inclusion, and achieving better rather than worse for ourselves and our loved ones. Our vision should be to create a free and safe environment where those desires can be pursued by everyone, rather than a toxic environment of division, mistrust, and conflict.
Until we get to the point where we all believe in everyone’s unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and until we get to the point where we enforce these principles for all people as human beings, rather than as blacks, Jews, gays, or any other group distinction, we will never achieve peace in our society. These individual rights are the birthrights of every person in our country, and it is the burden of all to rigorously embrace them for everyone, or else it is all just a cruel illusion that will lead to perpetual violence.
The principles of our nation either mean nothing or they mean everything. They mean nothing if thousands of identity groups can lay siege to our institutions with thousands of historical grievances and thousands of competing agendas and philosophies. They mean everything if we can rally around the simple and universal concept that every individual is sovereign and is endowed with unalienable rights that we will collectively defend to the death.
It took too long for our society to achieve universal emancipation, and there were too many imperfect steps along the way. The effects of our failures in this regard still haunt millions of us today. But we don’t need to “change the system” to fix the issues that remain. We need to hold ourselves and all of our leaders and institutions fully accountable to apply the principles in our Declaration of American Independence to everyone in our society. All people are created equal and are endowed with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Period.
I fully realize that this article flies into the face of some rather strong societal headwinds. I may even be called a racist for suggesting that we retreat from our fixation on racial identity. But I ask the reader to consider that those societal headwinds, much like tornados that are awesome in their might but terrifying in their destruction, might actually be dangerous. The racial self-flagellation that has descended upon the nation runs the risk of pushing our society over the edge, much like how lemmings mindlessly plummet to their deaths over a cliff.
I can see the cliff from here. Can you?
(Written by James Keena, author of the gripping, thought-provoking novel “2084: American Apocalypse”, available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0874J7XFN. Explore more at www.jameskeena.com.)