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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Race does matter

On a functioning plantation, shotgun-wielding white men on horses, dubbed “freemen” by their enslaved wards, oversee the work of cotton-picking young black men. When, if ever, these men are released from their forced labor, they will return to the poor, completely segregated neighborhoods that formerly housed their slave ancestors. They will be unable to vote. Before they can save enough money to buy the bootstraps by which they are told to pull themselves up, they will likely be again deprived of their liberty by technical restrictions akin in their overwhelming complexity to the nexus of post-Reconstruction legislative impediments imposed on their ancestors.

Such is the lot of the survivors of American hyper-incarceration. In the present day, we are content with the fact that millions of African-American children will grow up fatherless, permanently marginalized, and for some, looking forward to the real possibility of functional enslavement by the state. Nonetheless, they will apparently have been classified, in accordance with the suggestion of Mr. Neil Joseph, by “what they can control.” I must therefore respectfully disagree with his assertion that the mere avoidance of stereotype-based judgments divorced from individual merit is the best starting point for improving race relations.

Rather, we must realize that race aggressively conditions the formation of individual identities and possibilities to such a degree that even the work of individual policies like race-based affirmative action is insufficient to make up for a lack of positive, sorrow- and empathy-driven, reconciliation-seeking action on the part of the privileged. This action necessarily begins with a dialogue that acknowledges our black brothers and sisters as most fully who they are: not an amalgamation of behaviors and choices, but fellow community builders formed in part by the experience of race on whom the privileged depend for the mutual flourishing of all.

A discussion of stereotypes, when divorced from the reality of structural violence they help to maintain, is simply not very useful, preventing robust cross-cultural community building by blinding citizens to that privilege which is an empirical reality and absolving all parties of responsibility for the racially conditioned violence done by the state in their names. When faced with the reality of American incarceration rates, relative life spans across races and relative social mobility, we are forced to conclude, in a spirit of humility, that it does not matter — as much as we thought it did — what we find to be true based on pure reason divorced from the experience of others.


Daniel Passon


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.