Who am I to speak about race? I don’t live in DC (nor care to), I don’t work at a policy think tank, I’m not a journalist or pundit, I don’t write an influential blog, I don’t post comments on other people’s blogs, especially influential political ones, because most comment there is mere vitriol rather than polity. I’m not black, I’m not Asian, I’m not quite white, I’m not quite Latino, I’m not an immigrant though my mother was. I don’t believe in god and I don’t particularly care if you do, I’m happy if you do, but I do believe that any god who would divide His or Her creation into races, classes or tribes so as to create hatred is not a god worth believing in. I don’t think the vast majority of religious folk believe in such a god. I don’t believe the vast majority of Americans are, in their hearts, racist, either.
Recently there has been a spate of influential pundits have levied heavy charges at one another in regards to racism. Jonathan Chait, in response to watching the film 12 Years a Slave, found that conservative think-tank fellow Quin Hilyer (from Alabama as it happens) had lapsed into a “passive” kind of racism by depicting President Barack Obama as “haughty” and “shameless.” Whether or not Chait was correct in his assessment of Hilyer’s intentions is impossible to determine, but he was correct as to how liberals in the US react to such statements: liberals find historical echoes of the “uppity Negro” who became the scapegoat for Jim Crow. In response, Ross Douthat of the New York Times accused Chait of false historical equivalency, in that Hilyer in no way called for a return to Jim Crow – indeed his career is a testament to conservative efforts to stamp out racism in his home state. Hilyer himself then responded to Chait in the National Review, providing a lengthy account of his anti-racist bona fides and accusing Chait of being a hatchet man and character assassin of the left. Both Douthat and Hilyer feel that liberals levy accusations of racism in order to forestall political debate. To be fair, Chait did not seek to assassinate Hilyer’s character ad hominem in his article.
None of these writers, let us say, have managed to persuade their readers of the validity or invalidity of their respective arguments. What they have done exceedingly well is expose the sharp, uncompromising, and nearly Manichean divide between right and left in 21st century American politics. This rift will threaten the viability of the Republic if left unchecked, and it seems that once again racism would be the flashpoint for violent civil strife.
To this end I would like to propose the following ground-rules for civic (and civilized) political debate from this point forward. The goal of this document is NOT to inscribe these rules in marble, but to put forward a written list of guidelines for political debate. This list can be – and should be – modified.
- There is no acceptable level of racism. Racism in the 21st century cannot therefore be “better” or “worse” than 19th century racism. Any manifestation of racism is evil and must be eliminated.
- This holds true for all other forms of discrimination.
- Any accusation of racism must be justified by recourse to solid evidence. Conjecture is not solid evidence.
- This holds true for all other forms of discrimination.
- People who are not racist can still use language, discourse and rhetoric that are. History does not just exist in the events of the past, but in the way those events have been recorded from our past to our present. Therefore, past discrimination may persist in the historical register of language, discourse and rhetoric. An appraisal of this fact must be made before any words are made public.
- The business of America is business. This fact has always been as much an opportunity for the future as a burden from our past.
- The business of America is business, and American business works best when wealth disburses widely for the majority of Americans. Since money follows money, more wealth for the majority means more wealth-creation for everyone.
- The politics of America is democracy, and American democracy works best when political participation disburses widely for the majority of Americans. Since power follows power, more political participation for the majority means more empowerment for everyone. Any barrier to democratic participation is inherently anti-democratic.
- Democracy and business are not the same things, even if both are American.
- Validated quantified scientific data can never be ignored.
- Anyone who blocks validated quantified scientific data from coming to light is inherently wrong.
- Scientists must be political animals, because their work is needed for politics to function correctly. Scientific fact, however, is apolitical.
- Conjecture, or mere belief in certain future outcomes, is not evidence for anything, however certain one may believe the conjecture to be.
- A valid (and/or validated) opinion should not be subject to change over time. A change of opinion either means that one had the facts wrong in the first instance; or that one wishes the facts were not correct in the present instance. The former is a change-of-heart based on solid available evidence and should be respected. The latter is purely ideological and should not be respected.
- Ideology is not fact. Ideology is not core belief. Ideology is ideology, which means that politically, it is always situational and transitory. One must learn to discern ideology from moral/ethical tenets.
- Democratic expression = core belief + facts.
- Core beliefs are necessary for democratic government. But a government that legislates core beliefs is not democratic.
- No one wins in politics. Politics is merely a way to put disagreements to rest without physical violence, but those disagreements do not end merely because they were handled politically. Or better yet, politics is a means of settling disagreements through symbolic violence rather than physical violence. No one wins in politics: Since politics is a form of violence (without threat of bodily harm), everyone must agree to lose something.
- Patriotism takes many forms, but one fact about patriotism remains absolutely true: One’s patriotism is always predicated on another’s patriotism. Even in the face of political disagreement, another’s patriotism should never be denied or derided.
- Freedom takes many forms, but one fact about freedom remains absolutely true: One’s freedom is always predicated on another’s freedom. Even in the face of political disagreement, another’s freedom should never be denied or derided, lest we all lose our freedom.
- The business of America is business, and business is about making deals. The health of American politics can be indexed by how deals are being made.
But who am I to speak?