Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Racial Moral Relativism

(KKK March in 1925. Apparently blacks who "segregate" themselves are no different from these guys)

An editorial in the Boston Globe today has a critique of the Congressional Black Caucus upholding the restriction of its membership to African Americans. The columnist put it this way:

The Congressional Black Caucus was formed 38 years ago to do what all congressional caucuses do: bring together members who share certain interests in pursuit of common legislative goals. Its "core mission," says the CBC, "has been to close . . . disparities that exist between African-Americans and white Americans in every aspect of life." For an ardent liberal Democrat like Cohen -- whose constituency is 60 percent black, most of whose staff is black, and whose 20-year voting record in the Tennessee Legislature Cohen himself likens to that of "a black woman" -- membership in the caucus should be a no-brainer.

After all, congressional caucuses are not country clubs open only to applicants with the right bloodlines. The Congressional French Caucus isn't limited to French-Americans or the Congressional Native American Caucus to American Indians. By the same token, the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus isn't open only to members of Congress with glaucoma, you don't have to be a horseman to be in the Congressional Horse Caucus, and the Congressional Arts Caucus isn't restricted to musicians and painters.

Nothing about the Congressional Black Caucus is enhanced by strict racial segregation. On the contrary: As a matter of sheer political effectiveness, caucus members should welcome with open arms new colleagues of every race who share their aims or represent large black populations. To spurn a potential ally because his skin is the "wrong" color is politically dumb and morally despicable. (Read the whole thing here)

I see, so for black people to chose to restrict institutions created to advocate for them to blacks is "politically dumb and morally despicable". This is the kind of self-righteous and condescending statement typical of the milder forms of white rage, that I've described in the past. Beyond that though, it reflects a peculiar kind of racial moral relativism that is worthy of close examination. There is considerable frustration among many people, particularly those who consider themselves "conservative" in their world view, with what they see as moral relativism reflected in statements made by so-called liberals in our society. I recall the outrage that erupted when a popular anchor on a news program made remarks to the effect that, from the perspective of the British, the colonial revolutionaries would have been considered "terrorists". Simply put, one man's "terrorist" is another's "revolutionary" and who are we to claim that we are morally superior to so-called terrorists who could just as easily be seen as "militants" or "freedom fighters"? I would agree that to claim that there is no difference between Benjamin Franklin and Osama Bin Laden is completely absurd. However the columnist's perspective on the Congressional Black Caucus is absurd for similar reasons. To suggest that what African Americans do in order to adapt, survive and thrive in a society in which they have never been and are not now fully equal (i.e. chosing to have all-black institutions) is no different than what whites have done in order to preserve their skin-color privilege (i.e. denying blacks the ability to participate in all-white institutions) are morally the same is also a form of moral relativism. Simply put, one man's tactic for racial uplift is another man's racial discrimination. The problem with this logic is that it rests on a denial of historical and contemporary realities, just like those who suggest that there is essentially no difference between firing a musket at a British soldier and blowing yourself up in a pizza-parlor full of unarmed teenagers. Whether or not a white congressman gets to go to meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus is likely to have no impact on the white congressman's quality of life and ability to fulfill his duties. However, having the wrong skin color in America still correlates with having a lesser quality of life for far too many Americans and is the real problem that deserves moral indignation.

The kind of racial moral relativism engaged in by people like the one who wrote this column reminds me of one of my favorite portions of the document "One Common Faith" commissioned by the Universal House of Justice:

Consumer culture, today's inheritor by default of materialism's gospel of human betterment, is unembarrassed by the ephemeral nature of the goals that inspire it. For the small minority of people who can afford them, the benefits it offers are immediate, and the rationale unapologetic. Emboldened by the breakdown of traditional morality, the advance of the new creed is essentially no more than the triumph of animal impulse, as instinctive and blind as appetite, released at long last from the restraints of supernatural sanctions. Its most obvious casualty has been language. Tendencies once universally castigated as moral failings mutate into necessities of social progress. Selfishness becomes a prized commercial resource; falsehood reinvents itself as public information; perversions of various kinds unabashedly claim the status of civil rights. Under appropriate euphemisms, greed, lust, indolence, pride-even violence-acquire not merely broad acceptance but social and economic value. Ironically, as words have been drained of meaning, so have the very material comforts and acquisitions for which truth has been casually sacrificed.

Racial moral relativism is a dramatic example of how words have been drained of meaning in our consumer-driven, materialistic culture. Words such as "racism", "discrimination", and "segregation" are trivialized everday in what passes in some circles as "enlightened" racial discource. America will never be freed from what James Baldwin rightly described as our "racial nightmare" until a spirit of truth is infused into our discussion of "the most vital and challenging issue". This means ending the practice of pretending that the ways in which blacks and whites have struggled (however imperfectly) to deal with race in our country are morally relative.