13 August 2010

Justice for Racism Impossible?

Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience—and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, “That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.”

-Book Review at TNR


Someone said...

So you support reparations?

Unknown said...

I read this excellent review on TNC's blog and I really want to read Wax's book. The premise and conclusions of the book are nothing new, really, and totally in keeping with my personal beliefs.

Unknown said...

How about this for analogy.

The pedestrian is learning to walk through his own efforts.

He progresses to crutches. The truck driver comes and kicks the crutches out from under him.

The pedestrian picks up crutches and the truck driver steals the crutches and moves them further away so the pedestrian has to crawl to get them. Futhermore the truck driver does this every day. The pedestrian, fearing further reprisal, crawls to the crutches without complaint.

The truck driver then invites his friends to come watch the lazy shiftless pedestrian crawl for his crutches every day. They eventually, just for fun, run the pedestrian over again, take his crutches and burn them.

Again, the pedestrian begins to learn to walk again.

The assumption the original parable makes is that the truck driver and all the other truck drivers don't gang up on the pedestrian and impede his efforts to walk again on his own. Which is complete bullshit because white folks - excuse me, I mean truck drivers - have done every damnit thing they can to keep pedestrians on the ground.

I find this parable to be quite pedestrian.

McEwan said...

Cristal- I think the next section of the review is important:

"Wax is well aware that past discrimination created black-white disparities in education, wealth, and employment. Still, she argues that discrimination today is no longer the “brick wall” obstacle it once was, and that the main problems for poor and working-class blacks today are cultural ones that they alone can fix. Not that they alone should fix—Wax is making no moral argument—but that they alone can fix."

Unknown said...

Dear McEwan,

Anyone who argues that "discrimination today is no longer the “brick wall” obstacle it once was" is either white and stupid or just plain stupid."

McEwan said...

So much for civility.

Unknown said...

You think what I said is harsh? Mean? Cruel? Did I hurt your feelings?

Pardon me while I get a tissue.

It's what I despise most about discussions like this, the woman who wrote this article and people like you who fall for such idiocy hook, link and sinker.

Just because your not-even-original proposal to absolve white people from all racial guilt going forward is cloaked in intelligent "sounding" language doesn't make this conversation "civil". Not in the slightest.

Racism is not dead and is an every day fact of life for black people and for many, skin color is a stumbling block that they will never get past.

White people refuse to admit this because they love to think that they are fair. They can live in all white neighborhoods, work in practically all white spaces, participate in social venues where they know they will be all white or where they will definitively be the majority and not even have to wonder why this is so or whether they will be welcome.

As a group:
You all do not hire black people. You all do not trust black people. You all do not "work well" with "others" and "play nicely". You don't. The daily game with white folks is zero sum because so few of you are enlightened enough to understand why this conversation is every bit as threatening and offensive as Klanspeak.

Yes, threatening. Violent. Because you would choose to ignore the destruction and evil white people have caused, justifying it with the turn of a page in a book.

You can sit there in some holier than thou space and decry "black people" need to "fix themselves" - the entire time not understanding that you are denying the humanity of an entire people - and by that you condemn ALL humanity - including your own.

And you think what you're saying is civil?

You and your ilk - not white people as a whole, please mind, before you get that wrong-headed idea in your mind - but definitely the white people who refuse to see racism when it bites them on the nose - they I cannot stomach and it disgusts me in the manner of something vile and insidious.

Because that's what racism is. So please - don't bother arguing to me that's it's perfectly okay for white folks to dust off their hands because they've done their best now.

They haven't. You haven't.

This isn't over.

Unknown said...

stuff white people do: think that because openly declared white supremacy is marginalized now, racism is dead

McEwan said...

(I apologize if I am submitting multiple of the same comment. It keeps telling me they are too large to process...)

Now, on topic:
What I should have said earlier, was that it seems Wax is not speaking at all about racism, but about culture within the poor black community.

Racism is everywhere. In Cincinnati, it may be a black/white issue. In southern Texas, it is a white/latino issue. In places in the Middle East, it is a Jewish/Palestinian issue. In many places in Africa, it is between tribes and clans. The point is: this is not a black/white problem. This is a human problem and it exists on all sides. Anyone who claims otherwise is blind to the evil that is deep inside all of our hearts.

I agree that the past few hundred years in our nation specifically has been riddled with racial injustices pointed specifically at folks of African decent. And many of these injustices still exist today, especially in the hearts of people. And your last post proves that you have just as much hatred for white people as you claim white people have for black people. So, if I cannot even engage in a reasonably peaceable conversation with you about race, then how can I ever help solve the problem of racism with you?

And the point, if I understand correctly, of Wax’s book (and the many, many similar books and thoughts that have come before) is that racism is no longer the biggest stumbling block to the advancement of black people in the US. Instead, there is a cultural paradigm that exists in today’s poor and working class black culture that perpetuates the cycles of poverty. And until the black community itself rewrites this cultural paradigm, there is nothing that people outside the community can do to alleviate the stress. Equitable systems and laws can only take us so far. Unless people themselves are changed, nothing gets better.

McEwan said...

So, lastly,
I will speak honestly about the ills of my own white culture--its covetousness, its pride, and its lust for money and power. I am willing to admit how these ills have contributed to the demise of others. And I will work, from the inside, to create a new paradigm of culture where these things do not exist.

Until you are willing to speak openly about the cultural ills that exist in your own culture, then you are right—This is far from over.

ThatDeborahGirl said...

And it doesn't seem odd to you that white people would rather focus on those "social ills" than their own complicity and perpetuation of the current system?

If what you say is true, then black people need to address their issues and white people need to address theirs. That's not what happens. White people want to address ours and forget that they have issues with us at all.