As I read about the growing ethnic conflict in the country, highlighted by police brutality against blacks and Donald Trump’s brutality against common decency, I have the feeling of moving backwards to a different time and place. It is as if fifty years of progress is being reversed, and the arguments and behaviors that spurred the civil rights movement and its gifts to America are being badly damaged and forgotten.
The civil rights movement was built in part on the faith that if one tried hard enough in the right way you would not only achieve goals of decency but convert those who were currently opposing them. And it wasn’t just about laws and virtue. As I wrote a couple of decades ago:
What if we were to start with the unhappy truth that humans have always had a hard time dealing with other peoples, and that much ethnic and sexual antagonism stems not from hate so much as from cultural narcissism and myopia? Then our repertoire of solutions might tilt more towards education and mediation and away from being self-righteous multi-cultural missionaries converting yahoos in the wilds of the soul. We could turn towards something more akin to what Andrew Young once described as a sense of “no fault justice.” We might begin to consider seriously Martin Luther King’s admonition to his colleagues that among their dreams should be that someday their enemies would be their friends
Today, many think the answer to evil is simply hating and berating the wrong doers and punishing them for their offenses. The media encourages this, heavily reporting the wrongs – such as cops killing innocent black men – but finding little time to report on changes in policing that would make such events less likely. Thus, unlike the civil rights movement, we confront current horrors with much less hope or discussion about replacing them with anything saner and kinder.
There is a parallel to this that one finds in dysfunctional families, where some of the offspring spend their whole lives in a righteous but futile anger about things that happened without realizing that while you can’t rewrite history you can still change the present and the future.
I feel something similar happening now in our cultural relations. You find it not only in anger far outpacing constructive action but also in the emphasis on eliminating nasty semiotics and cruel symbols, which are just reflections of bad conditions and whose disappearance typically follows rather than leads substantive change. Replacing the name of a 19th century segregationist from a university wall will not alter current police behavior in the slightest.
But another thing I have felt while following these sad stories is what a gift the multicultural has been to my life and, I suspect, to many others. I don’t talk about it much, others don’t either and the media, for the most part, covers diversity’s problems, its regulatory cures, but not its joys and satisfactions. And it’s one of the things current efforts are missing.