By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.” – Ekow N. Yankah, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
These are the sentences from an oped that appeared at The New York Times on November 11, 2017. Surely the intellectual readers, who are mostly white, smirked and found it “provocative.” Then then laughed about their “white privilege” and went to well paid work with mostly white people and then out for drinks with their mostly white friends and home to their nice house.
“We’ve finally won,” some of them thought, quietly, inside.
At the heart of the NYT oped is exactly what upper class, mostly white and mostly left-leaning, Americans have wanted for a very long time. For decades after the decline of segregation and the rise of affirmative action they’ve been trying to find a way to isolate themselves from minorities who demand equality. This is particularly difficult in a world where meritocracy ostensibly is the law of the land. How do you continue to maintain white supremacy under a progressive regime? Well, what you do is re-define progressive values as a “white’s only” club, such that you talk about “white privilege” all the time among other privileged whites, while using language and class codes to exclude other people.
We all know how this works. The charities, NGOs and well-meaning society that is always “helping minorities,” but never seems to have any minorities. The faculty lounges, and the journalists hanging out at their local shindig. It’s still “white’s only.” We all know how it works. Everyone is very liberal and into minorities and uses key words like “brown people” and everyone attends the correct social justice event and reads Ta-Nehisi Coates. Of course, I mean there have to be a few token “diversity” selections so that everyone can wear them like a badge of “I like minorities” when they talk about minorities with other non-minorities.
Since the 1960s the concept in America has been that the country is journeying toward a multi-cultural society. It celebrates diversity. College brochures show people of color. The Democratic party makes sure to have quotas for each minority group and when the former President Barack Obama used to give a speech his handlers would make sure to have a selection of different races, religions and ethnicities behind him. There was always at least one woman in a hijab, the “Muslim” to send the message that “Muslims are welcome.” A non-hijab wearing woman who is a Muslim could not fulfill that role. Stereotypes and cookie-cutter images of race became the way of life in America. Everyone must fill out the circles, like in apartheid, and be relegated to their proper “racial” category.
When some people complained that if the trend continued that hispanics would be the largest minority group, overtaking the most favored minority of African-Americans, “Hispanic” became an “ethnicty,” such that you are either white-hispanic or black-hispanic. Americans adopted a policy not so dissimilar to the oddities of the apartheid system, or the bizarro world of Nazi eugenics and the 19th century racial categories “mulatto,” “octoroon,” “quadroon.” Americans entered the 2000s in this racial maze. What they thought was an attempt to create “multi-culturalism” and a melting pot of cultures mutated into something else, a road to racial hell paved with good intentions.
What does racial hell look like? America. Basically.
Elites always find a way to protect themselves. How do you do that in an America that officially values multi-culturalism and in institutions that mandate diversity? How do you do that in a culture that is telling you that we must not have racial stereotypes. Well what you do looks sort of like what allegedly happened at the CBS diversity showcase which Vulture.com has revealed was a “racist, sexist, homophobic mess for years.” For 13 years it was supposed to “give underrepresented writers and actors an opportunity to create and perform a theatrical sketch show in front of prominent industry players, including potential managers, agents, and casting directors.” Instead the “progressives” who ran it often sought to have hispanics play to their hispanic qualities and black people do “black” acting and Middle Eastern actors to stereotype themselves. For instance: “[Bobak] Bakhtiari says he skipped some rehearsals because he was tired of being the designated terrorist in sketches and was eventually cut out of the program.” Furthermore “[Fern] Orenstein demanded that Latino characters have ‘Ricky Ricardo’ accents, gay men twirl across the stage and lisp, Asian actors ‘act foreign,’ and black actors ‘black it up.'”
Is this what was envisioned by the concept of “diversity”? Instead of allowing minorities to find their way in America and have people who might have a multi-racial background live a diverse life with diverse friends, they were constantly pigeonholed and told to be stereotypes. Popular culture then reinforces these stereotypes while pretending to give us messages against them. The result in America has been a society obsessed with race and obsessed with a life of apartheid. There are “white spaces” and “black spaces.”
The New York Times oped by the professor notes “For African-Americans, race has become a proxy not just for politics but also for decency. White faces are swept together, ominous anxiety behind every chance encounter at the airport or smiling white cashier. If they are not clearly allies, they will seem unsafe to me.”
And this is America in 2017. Why is it like this? Why has it created this? Why are black people and white people more divided, even though they are more mixed than ever before? As I wrote in a column it turns out that large numbers of Americans are not one race. “Not only are there more non-white people but interracial marriage is at an all-time high. According to another article, 10% of all married Americans were with someone of a different race in 2015 and 18% of all new marriages were across the divide. In Honolulu the number is 42% and in Las Vegas 31%.”
But America’s sick obsession with race requires racialization of people who are half and half. You must choose a side, in a sense.
This caters to the desires of the upper class elites and their networks and nepotism. Let’s look at journalism, academics, politics, Hollywood and other industries where diversity is lacking. Diversity is not lacking because this is “Trump’s America” of racism and white people rebelling against “globalization and multiculturalism.” Vox called the Trump election a rejection of multi-culturalism. But the least diverse spaces in America, the most white, and purely white, not mixed at all, are those places where one finds the more wealthy, more “progressive” and “liberal” voices.
It’s not by chance the same people who run mass media and communicate to us the need for “diversity” are also the same people who seek to preserve their ‘white’s only’ bubble. One part of preserving that bubble, the invisible lines of apartheid, is to have programming that reinforces stereotypes, that plays to stereotypes and keeps people thinking that “black” and “white” cannot be friends. That is why there is an oped at the NYT arguing that a professor who teaches mostly white students that his own children cannot be friends with them. Why can’t we be friends? Because the elites don’t want us to be friends. It is in their interest to divide us.
Why do they work to divide us? Do you think that the wealthiest people would publish an oped against their interests? Would they make movies that are against their interests? No. Since we know that people do not generally act against their own interests, we must ask who has benefitted from the last decades of creating more racial division in America?
From the moment that black people began to receive equality there has been an agenda to impoverish them and encourage racial divisions. This is because equality for minorities threatens the white’s only clubs. Since a club can no longer be officially “white’s only,” it can only be preserved by finding new excuses. What better excuse than to create new barriers, such as politics, language, class, education. No matter what happens, minorities will always be kept outside because they threaten the power structure.
One way to accomplish this is to make sure that inter-racial marriage is kept to a minimum or that the children of these relationships cannot define themselves as simply “American” or “mixed” or “multi-racial.” They have to be categorized according to the modern apartheid system. They are led to think that identifying as minorities will help them. But does it? Why don’t we see more mixed people rising up in the academy, in journalism, in Hollywood? Why are these “liberal” places, such white spaces?
It is because we teach children they cannot be friends with the other races. Who benefits from this? Certainly the poor and minorities do not benefit. If they benefited then we would see faculties and media that reflect the US society. We would see more African-American achievement in the last fifty years. We would see higher test scores for minority and lower economic strata and more social mobility. Whose interest is social mobility? The poor. Who does not benefit from social mobility? The upper classes, the connected families, the nepotistic people who use connections to get their first job and don’t use merit. When you hear “so and so comes from a famous journalist/media/Hollywood/academic/political family,” what should you really be hearing “so and so is taking the place of a qualified minority or poorer person who has been kept out by his family connections.”
So if the messages transmitted are to constantly make people define themselves solely by race, to the degree they cannot even be friends with the other, that will result in various ghettos. Those ghettos benefit the wealthy ghetto. And who is in the wealthy ghetto. When people say “well my poor Irish/Jewish/Italian grandparents came to America and made it,” we assume that the America they succeeded in was like the one today? But they succeeded in the face of discrimination precisely by reaching outside their community and building bridges and feeling comfortable in other environments. They sought to soften their stereotypes as a way to assimilate. One can say that in many cases that was unfair because they did so to get around racism. The concept of the 1960s was to make people equal so they didn’t have to assimilate, so their color would not be a hopefully barrier to success. But now we are met with a new challenge. Because of the obsession with race there is no evidence that it is making people more successful, instead it has entrenched and perpetuated the same kinds of supremacy.
Can my children be friends with white people is a shocking question in 2017. In the 1960s white people and black people were friends, when the racial divisions were ostensibly even greater. But we have sought to continue the apartheid. It’s time that we start asking who is dividing us. Who is transmitting these messages. Who seeks to compartmentalize us. Nationalism and imagine communities have correctly been diagnosed as a sometimes false dividing line. Also religion. But race is the most pernicious in America. When wealthy people, academics and media, tell you that you cannot be friends with another race, you must ask serious questions. Why don’t they want me being friends with the other? Why don’t they want mixed families? Why do they want to divide us? Who is being served by this? Is it the poor? Dividing the poor based on race to make them compete with eachother like an economic boxing match, to fight for the crumbs at the table, is a method used to keep us distracted from the malefactors of great wealth. In 1848 Marx and Engels put forward the phrase “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” But today it is something else. Races of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.