There are four ways to peacefully govern a multi-racial or multi-ethnic society. There is the hard separation that existed in the North before the Civil Rights Movement. The South had a soft segregation. The old way of stating the difference was that whites in the North were willing to treat blacks as equals as long as they did not have to live near them. In the South, whites were willing to live near blacks, as long as they did not have to treat them as equals. Both are now forbidden to mention in public now.
America has settled on Proportionalism for the last half century, as a way to navigate through the impossible task of keeping the peace between blacks and whites. Now that tens of millions of foreigners have been added to the mix, what was a fairly good situation in the 1980’s has become increasingly untenable. Thirty years ago, most people, black or white, were optimistic about race relations. That is clearly not the case today and people are starting to wonder if it is even possible to make it work.
That is what makes this New York Times op-ed so interesting. The conventional way to read it is as more of the same blame and shame the Left has done for decades. The writer is supposed to be the sympathetic character and the whites are the bad guys in the never ending drama. The writer spends a lot of time listing the sins of white people and how that makes him feel. The thing is though, the way it is written leaves the impression that race relations are hopeless.
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.
Barack Obama’s farewell address encouraged us to reach across partisan lines. But there is a difference between disagreeing over taxes and negotiating one’s place in America, the bodies of your children, your humanity. Our racial wound has undone love and families, and ignoring the depths of the gash will not cause it to heal.
We can still all pretend we are friends. If meaningful civic friendship is impossible, we can make do with mere civility — sharing drinks and watching the game. Indeed, even in Donald Trump’s America, I have not given up on being friends with all white people. My bi-ethnic wife, my most trusted friend, understands she is seen as a white woman, even though her brother and father are not. Among my dearest friends, the wedding party and children’s godparents variety, many are white. But these are the friends who have marched in protest, rushed to airports to protest the president’s travel ban, people who have shared the risks required by strength and decency.
What has become common, when blacks are trotted out by Progressive to lecture us about race, is that they make the case that they will never be satisfied with the efforts of whites. A close reading of this essay reveals that the writer is happy with the social structures of race. He does not like white people. There is no way he can be happy in America, living among whites, as long as whites continue to act white. This is the state of things. Blacks can never be happy and whites can do anything to change that fact.
That is not a problem that can be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. When America was 80% white, it worked OK for Progressives, as it let them guilt the rest of the country into going along with the liberal agenda. As America approaches majority-minority status, this is entirely untenable. Ekow N. Yankah, the writer of that piece, is living the dream. He has an elite position in an elite profession. He gets treated like royalty and lives an upper class lifestyle. He is also an African immigrant. If he cannot be happy, no one can.
The thing is the people commissioning these sorts of pieces have to see the implications of what elite blacks are saying. American has done everything humanly possible to make it work for blacks in America. They have to see that white America is completely out of patience with this stuff. If you are a plumber worried that you could be replaced by an indentured servant from over the horizon or you are an office worker worried about the robots, Ekow N. Yankah’s complaints just sound like ungratefulness.
The inevitable end game with race relations as America careens into majority-minority status is separation. The question is what kind of separation and whether or not it will be peaceful. Ekow N. Yankah is an accomplished guy with loads of talent. Africa could use a man like him. Maybe the people in charge are pushing these sorts of essays, because they know what is coming. It helps prepare the ground for the inevitable. Or maybe they locked in the past, and they just do not see what is coming down the tracks
Let us hope it is the former.