Friday, November 10, 2017


The latest mass shooting revives the debate over gun control once more. Gun control advocates reiterate what they have said many times before, that gun sales need to be limited, that guns need to be kept out of the hands of criminals, of mentally unstable persons, that all gun sales need to be subject to stricter rules. Gun advocates repeat that guns protect their owners. Both sides cite scientific studies and facts that their opponents reject as unreliable.
When it comes to gun sales, gun ownership and gun control our political processes have broken down. There is no conversation. No one exchanges ideas, no one learns from others. No one is going to change their mind. Everyone just repeats the same positions over and over. As time goes on each side speaks louder. Opponents are shrill and more disrespectful. Nothing is accomplished.
In actual cases, the evidence is very confusing. When David Patrick Kelly started shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, TX a neighbor, hearing the shots, hauled out his own assault rifle and started shooting back. Kelly fled. Did the neighbor's attack on Kelly save lives? Gun advocates say "Yes." But that answer depends on hypotheticals: had the neighbor not started shooting, Kelly would have killed more people in the church. Can we be sure of that? No, of course not.
The example illustrates how uncertain facts are in many cases. The apparently indubitable conclusions both pro- and anti- gun advocates draw are often unjustified. Exaggerating conclusions merely serves to make a real conversation from which all could learn into a useless repetition of unsupported dogmas.
The question about gun safety has many different aspects. Who will be safer if they own guns? Against whom will guns protect us? Guns may protect us against robbers who invade our house But they also open possibilities of errors as when a father, hearing someone outside his house shoots his own son coming home, thinking it might be a robber. (Last year 1300 accidental shootings killed innocent victims) Will guns play a significant role in domestic violence? Women are regularly killed by the guns of husbands, boy friends, former lovers. (1250 women killed by intimate partners in 2000. Half of them shot by guns.) Guns are often used in suicides. (More than 21000 in 2013--two thirds of all gun deaths in the US) Questions whether gun owners attempt suicide more often, and succeed in their attempts more frequently are inescapable. Guns are often involved in gun accidents, especially, among children who find a parents' gun and playing with them kill a relative, not infrequently the parent who owned the gun.
These issues are being studied but the results are difficult to interpret. Different studies show correlations between gun ownership and domestic violence, suicides and accidents. But few causal connection have been established convincingly.
The efforts to get a better understanding of the role of guns is seriously inhibited by a 1996 federal law that prohibits federal funding of research into gun violence. The law makes it impossible for the two government agencies that keep track of the health and well-being of citizens--the CDC and the National Institutes of Health--to do any research having to do with guns, for instance, how to prevent gun violence, what, if any, are the signs that someone will attack a crowd of people.
Kelly bought his gun legally although, being a guilty of domestic violence, he should not have been able to get a gun from a legitimate gun dealer. The case is interesting: passing gun control legislation will not be effective if it is not enforced. After Kelly served his time for domestic violence, the Air Force should have reported this to the National Criminal Information database but failed to do so. It appears the military neglected to report most domestic violence convictions in the military. Passing gun control legislation may well remain ineffective.
Many people have very firm opinions whether every citizen should be armed or whether laws should be passed to radically reduce the number of guns owned by civilians in the country. Once we look at the different issues we see clearly that the certainty with which people hold their positions is unjustified. The matter of gun ownership does not only have to do with the question of security from home invasions or random attacks, it has to do with the role guns play in domestic violence and in suicides. It has to do with the number of preventable gun accidents that happen every year.
The correlations between gun legislation and security of gun owners, frequency of gun use in domestic conflicts and in suicides are often uncertain. Causal connections have not been established scientifically. There is a great deal we do not know about the advantages and disadvantages of private gun ownership. No one should claim to know that guns are good or bad for us.
The debate over guns is just one example of the deplorable state of our political system. Supposedly we govern ourselves. But in a world of complex issues on which citizens disagree, self-government requires that citizens talk to each other in order to discover the best policies in a given setting. Talking to each other means that we do not claim to know what we do not, but to recognize the difficulties of the problems we confront. Talking to each other requires modesty, a willingness to admit ignorance, to ask others for their insights and willingness to cooperate.
Let us begin by admitting that we are in no position to make strong statements about guns. Let us no longer claim knowledge where we are ignorant.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Racism and Hate?

In the last two weeks lawn signs have sprung up all over our neighborhood condemning hate. The intent of those lawn signs is clear: they oppose racism.
But this identification of racism with hate is attracting well-deserved criticism. Racism in the form of slavery was not a matter of slave owners hating their slaves. They may have hated some who were particularly difficult and loved others. But slavery was an economic system that produced significant wealth for the slave owners who worked their plantations with slaves – a workforce that was owned and did not receive wages and was maintained at fairly minimal levels.
           Any business that produces goods – regardless of whether it is cotton or electronic appliances – thrives to the extent that it can sell its products for more than it costs to produce them. One source of wealth is keeping one's production costs down. Wages are one important part of production costs. Where labor earns little, a business has a chance to thrive. Slavery was attractive because its labor costs were low. Slavery was supported because it enriched an entire class of landowners, not because these owners hated black people.
The end of the Civil War put an end to the institution of slavery. Afterwards the super exploitation of black labor was arranged in different ways by means of a set of laws we now refer to as "Jim Crow." No longer were black workers the private property of white plantation owners but their exploitation was enforced by new laws and random violence such as lynching.
Racism remains an economic system. The majority of black Americans are there to take up the slack of an economic system that is unable to create decent jobs for all who want to work. Black Americans are the first to be unemployed when jobs disappear. When they do work, they often work for little to do menial jobs.
The same applies to racism against other persons of color. Mexicans and other immigrants from Central and South American play the same role in the labor market as African-Americans. Immigrants from China built significant portions of the railroads in the 19th century and worked in mines. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented further immigration from China and made it impossible to unite the families of men who had come here to work but had left their families back in China. Different laws restricted immigration from Asia until, during World War II, China and the US were allies in fighting Japan.
Racism has always played a political role. In the slave south not all whites were rich plantation owners. Many whites were also poor. Their farms were small, their land barren; they had to work hard to wring a poor living from the soil. But the rich white people reminded them that they were after all white people. They had something significant in common with the plantation owners who were wealthy and politically powerful. This served to conceal the fact that the poor whites had in fact a lot more in common with the poor black laborers and tenant-farmers.
The racial divisions in our society were and are not primarily a matter of everyone's feelings about each other. The racial divisions were maintained because they were in the economic and political interest of the most powerful families in the region. The interests of the rich and powerful to maintain racist exclusions can continue to be concealed because most white people know next to nothing about what it is like for persons of color to live in this society. They don't know about the experiments where applicants with "white" names and applicants with what sounded like "black" names both put in applications for jobs and the persons with what sounded like black names were a lot less likely to get any response from the employers advertising jobs. They don't know about the different ways in which black and white students are treated in public schools, or the various myths circulating about how most people on welfare are black and that they are on welfare only because they are too lazy to work.
They don't know the sad history of the G.I. Bill for black veterans at the end of World War II. The G.I. Bill gave substantial support to all veterans to get an education and to get mortgages to buy a house in the suburbs. But black veterans in the South could only attend segregated black colleges that offered a very limited education. Colleges and universities in the North would admit only small numbers of Blacks. Many white veterans managed to go to graduate school and end up being college professors. That possibility was only rarely open to black veterans. The G.I. Bill guarantees of mortgages were of no use to black veterans because banks did not issue mortgages in black neighborhoods and those were the only places where black veterans would have been able to buy a house. Realtors would not sell homes in white neighborhoods to Blacks.
And on and on.
            If we want to reduce the ravages of racism on our black fellow citizens we should stop talking about love and hate. Diagnosing racism as a form of hate misdirects our attention. It completely misdiagnoses the problems our society creates for person of color and why it does so. Accordingly well-meaning efforts to reduce the damages created by racism will miscarry because they address imaginary causes and conceal real ones. Talking about racism as a form of hate is not just an innocent error. It gets in the way of addressing racism.
We need, instead, to make sure that where we work or where we study black Americans are given the same chances as whites. That means that everyone is treated with equal respect. It means that each of us patrols their thoughts and behaviors motivated by derogatory mythologies about African-Americans and other people of color.
            Well-meaning whites are often eager to "help" African-Americans as if somehow their difficulties in getting ahead, in getting and keeping a decent job, in finding housing in secure communities, in securing a good education for their children are due to their inadequacies which we, the well-meaning whites, can help repair.
            But the disadvantages suffered by people of color in this white supremacist society are imposed by white people. If whites want to help, they need to learn what limitations we, the white people, impose on persons of color and try to remove those.
I do not think that persons of color in this society are aching to be loved by whites. They want to be given an equal chance to live agreeable and secure lives without being judged defective--morally and otherwise--by people who know no more about them than that this skin is dark.

Monday, October 23, 2017

In 1620 110 Pilgrims left Europe for the New World. Their first winter was disastrous. In Spring 1621 no more than 50 of the original immigrants survived. These too might well have died had it not been for two Native Americans, Samoset and Squanto, who assisted the English Pilgrims to adjust to the new country, its climate and soils. The native inhabitants were not Christians, they were not committed by their religion to help strangers in distress. Nevertheless they welcomed immigrants and eased their transition.
Quite a contrast with today's Americans who profess Christianity and a commitment to helping their neighbors!
This contrast challenges us to think more carefully about the plight of the people whom we call "illegal" or "undocumented." European immigrants who arrived on American soil until about 1890 had no papers. They were not documented or undocumented. They simply arrived, except for the African-Americans who were imported against their will and some whites who also came involuntarily--convicts or victims of kidnaps shipped to America to work. But the preponderance of whites chose to immigrate and did so without any bureaucratic permission.
Seven of the 39 men who signed the Constitution were immigrants. In fact, two of the three men most associated with its passage, Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson, were foreign-born. Hamilton was one of three men who wrote the Federalist Papers explaining and urging ratification of the Constitution. Hamilton had no citizenship or immigration papers. By today's standards he was "undocumented." By the mean-spirited standards dominating politics today, the 18th century equivalent of Homeland Security should have arrested these Founders of our country and sent them back to where they came from.
Persecution of immigrants is justified, in the minds of many, because after all this land is our land and we have every right to regulate who enters and who lives here and who will be excluded. The 50 states are ours and we may make laws to regulate who comes in and who stays.
Yes, but what makes it our land?
When the Pilgrims made landfall the land belonged to a variety of smaller and larger Native American tribes who lived, farmed, and perpetuated themselves and their cultures in these different places. How did it become our property. Yes, the Dutch bought Manhattan--or so we are told. But Native Americans did not have a concept of private property in land. Land was sacred. One could no buy or sell it. People used the land and it was against customs to try to take land where someone else had planted a garden or erected a dwelling. The so-called "sale" of Manhattan was most likely obtaining permission for hunting and farming the land in Manhattan. No white immigrant ever bought any American lands from its native inhabitants.
Yes we did buy Louisiana from France and Alaska from Russia. (How did France and Russia come to be able to sell land in the Americas?) But the land of the 50 states "belongs" to us because we took it by force in a long series of Indian wars. We took Texas, California and the Southwest --where keeping out the "undocumented" is a particularly incendiary issue--from Mexico in the Mexican American War in 1848. The ancestors of some of the "undocumented" lived in the states which now wants to exclude them.
We are not legitimate inhabitants of this land.
Many of the "undocumented" immigrants from Mexico and farther south are what they call "mestizos." Their ancestors include many indigenous persons--inhabitants of this hemisphere for thousands of years--and Spanish colonizers. They are likely to have a better claim to living in South and North America than the descendants of White Europeans by virtue of their ancestors who have cultivated this land for many centuries, who lived here long before Christopher Columbus and others ravaged the hemisphere and its inhabitants.
The white settlers, and their descendants, have no right to keep out the descendants of peoples who have lived here for many centuries. They stole the lands we now inhabit. But robbery cannot yield a legitimate property title. If someone steals your car, is it now his?
We have an obligation to welcome migrants from South of our border and to ask them to allow us to share this land of theirs.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Environmentalism and White Privilege

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend an especially beautiful wedding. The experience was extraordinary for many reasons. But one of them was that during the ceremony, as well as in the toasts afterwards, no one only spoke about the couple and their future life together. Instead the two of them were always thought of as working together to preserve and enhance their environment. They were gardening, taking care of a stand of trees, raising chickens. Their future will be a future trying to protect and promote the well-being of their natural environment. The relationship we celebrated was not just the connection of two individuals but of two individuals whose future life together will be committed to enhancing the world in which they live.
These two young people did not think of themselves merely as two individuals striving for happiness together. They thought of themselves as responsible for their world and its protection and improvement. It made me think about patriotism – so much in the news lately. For many people patriotism consists of honoring our soldiers in many foreign wars – even in wars, like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, which are generally considered terrible mistakes. Perhaps we should think of patriotism instead as actively caring for the part of the world in which we live rather than of honoring those who have destroyed large parts of the world belonging to total strangers – the people of Vietnam, Iraq and of Afghanistan.
Another thought that wedding brought up is the connection between this different kind of patriotism, of love of the land and of our obligation as its caretakers, and the racial differences that divide us. White people tend to assume that obligations to care for our natural environment are incumbent on all of us. All Americans who profess to love their country are to express that love in caring for our land. But white people rarely understand that for the last 150 years, ever since the end of Reconstruction in 1870 or so, we have used many different subterfuges to take land away from African-Americans, to make sure that they would be deprived of whatever land they were working hard to own, to prevent them from owning property and homes in most suburbs.
At the end of the Civil War, African Americans in the southern states flourished. They ran for elected office and won. They governed well. The South recovered from the ravages of the Civil War. Then, 10 years after the end of the war, federal troops were removed from the South and the whites instituted a regime of terror with beatings and lynchings. Black elected officials surrendered their offices. Black voters were intimidated and stayed away from the ballot box. Black farmers were deprived of their land. The local government would claim that they owed large amounts of taxes. The black farmers, often unable to read and write, without the assistance of an attorney were deprived of their land and turned into sharecroppers. When it came time to assess how much the sharecropper had produced, more chicanery kept the farmer in debt. They lost their land to unscrupulous whites. Stealing from blacks was an accepted practice.
When African Americans moved north, they encountered the same opposition to their acquiring a piece of land and a home of their own. As early as the period before World War I a silent campaigns of arson and vandalism kept African Americans out of "white" suburbs. Banks and real estate groups developed the practice of "redlining." Maps clearly indicated areas where black people could own homes and live. Realtors would not sell property to African-Americans outside those areas and banks refused mortgages.
Suburbs invented zoning ordinances which prevented black owners of building lots from building their houses. Needless to say, the ordinances applied scrupulously to African-Americans were not enforced against white homeowners. The federal government contributed to this concerted effort against blacks owning land and property. At the end of World War II Congress passed generous legislation that empowered the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) to give low cost mortgages to veterans for buying homes in the new suburbs springing up around the major cities. But these mortgages were for whites only. African Americans did not need to apply. If they did they were turned down. The fact that black Americans had fought as bravely as whites in World War II counted for nothing.
As a result black families today, even if they earn good wages, own a lot less property, have smaller savings and retirement funds than whites. The extended campaign to deprive African-Americans of the possibility of owning land and homes has been terribly successful. It has not only perpetuated a major injustice against black Americans. It has also contributed to the divisions among us. Even today few white Americans have black neighbors; few black Americans live next to whites.
One result of this geographic division of different parts of our nation is that whites know very little about the history of violence against Blacks, of the systematic theft of black property, and exploitation of black labor. When athletes protest this long and brutal history, whites do not understand because they have not seen it with their own eyes. Had they lived next door to each other, there would be fewer whites who are entirely clueless when it comes to the life of black Americans in our country.
When young white couples marry, they can promise each other not only to cherish the other person but also to be good stewards of their land and the animals that live on it. But all of us whites should promise each other and the black members of our nation to do whatever they can to repair the injuries done to them by previous and present generations of whites.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to recognize racism when you see it

 After they got into a tiff with the president about demonstrations while the national anthem was being sung, the three large sports clubs in Boston got together to plan a series of actions against racism. There are plans for a some advertisements and other actions. So far the plans are pretty vague and that is an important part of my story today.
Interestingly enough, as they announced these plans with some fanfare they had an opportunity to act very concretely against racism.
Within the same fortnight Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico unbelievably. Communications are down; there is no power. Many roads are destroyed. People have no water and little food. Medicines are scare; the healthcare system not really functioning. The US government, the President, the military, FEMA, and other government agencies did not pay a whole lot of attention to the immense suffering of people on the island for about a week. It took them that long to send a general there to see what sort of military assistance would be needed.
When hurricanes had hit Texas and Florida help was on the way immediately. We might say that hurricane Maria was the third hurricane in a very short period and people were simply tired. But when Mexico City was hit by two major earthquakes we did not seem to show any interest. (Perhaps the President is still miffed by the Mexicans refusal to pay for the border wall.) It is hard to believe that if a catastrophic natural disaster hit Toronto or Montréal we would simply ignore that. Surely military planes and trucks and machinery would be on the way in no time at all.
But the people on the island of Puerto Rico are not Canadians. They are not white. Neither are Mexicans. The neglect of the tremendous suffering of Puerto Rico is not a result of battle fatigue; it is a clear manifestation of racism.
Here was a splendid opportunity for the athletes in Boston to show their opposition to racism by getting on the phone and calling the White House – President Trump is a personal friend of some of them – to urge immediate action. But nobody noticed the crisis.
There is a lot to be learned from this story. Puerto Rico was not neglected and left to suffer without help because the government “hates” Puerto Ricans. The Boston athletes did not overlook what was happening – or rather not happening-- in Puerto Rico because they hate Puerto Ricans. But white people don't pay as much attention to people of color as they do to their own kind (Unless they rape or murder). We take ourselves terribly seriously. We think we are terribly important and do not see people of color as quite as important. So what happened in Puerto Rico did not ring any loud alarm bells, it did not get the ambulances and fire trucks out, bells ringing and sirens blaring. Everybody deplored the suffering and then paid attention to something else – most likely something concerning white people.
You don't have to beat up on people of color to be a racist. You just need to not take them quite as seriously as we take ourselves.
But there is a second lesson. Racism is not a general thing which we can combat – well-meaning white folks that we are – any day in any way by showing videos and going to sensitivity workshops. Racism is like a chronic disease that flares up here and it flares up there perhaps with different symptoms. One way of being racist is not to notice what is happening. A more serious way of being racist is not noticing what you are doing.
If some persons of color in your nation are suffering grievously and you are not moved to action, if only to call your friend the president of the United States and tell him to go and do his job now, today, then you are being racist because you are not noticing what is happening and, if truth be told, you don't care.
The third lesson is this: what you can do to fight racism may not be the same thing that I can do. Each of us, as white people, are involved in the perpetuation of racism in different ways. Each of us has to find the places where he or she are contributing to maintaining present racist abuses and must then work hard to withdraw their complicity. There is no general prescription of what you can do. Advertising against racism has been tried for 50 years with little effect. Holding dialogues about race between city officials and leaders of the community is not only a waste of time but it does positive damage because it persuades white people that they are doing all they can to fight racism while, in fact, they're doing zilch.
Racism has little to do with hate. It has to do with not paying attention, with not being able to be bothered, with not taking seriously the misery of others just because their skin is darker than ours. Racism is systematic. White people work to maintain that system most often without explicitly meaning to. But not paying attention to how the system works (and doesn't), and what you and I do to promote it, is itself being racist however good your intentions might be.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What we can learn from the adventures of Chelsea Manning


Last year Chelsea Manning was in prison serving a 35 year sentence for releasing a lot of classified information to WikiLeaks. She had entered prison seven years before as Bradley Manning a male soldier. While in prison she transitioned to Chelsea Manning, a woman soldier.
Then Pres. Obama commuted her sentence. Not too long afterward Harvard University invited her to be a visitor at its Kennedy School where future diplomats and bureaucrats train to work in the US government. Every year the Kennedy School invites a number of notables to be available to talk to the schools students. The invitees this year included Manning. It also included Sean Spicer, until recently spokesperson for President Trump and a notorious liar. A third questionable appointment was Cory Lewandowski, one time campaign manager for President Trump, known for his disrespectful treatment of women journalists.
No one cared much about Spicer and Lewandowski. But the appointment of Manning created an uproar. The current head of the CIA protested loudly. One of the other appointees as visitors to the Kennedy school, Michael Morell, a former CIA manager resigned his appointment to the School.
Harvard folded and uninvited Chelsea Manning. The Dean who had first invited her professed that he was not aware that her appointment would be controversial. Where has he been all these years?
(Manning has since been invited to a prestigious book discussion on Nantucket. Having been uninvited by Harvard has made her a desirable person to invite to fancy events.)
There are some interesting lessons to be learned from this whole misadventure besides that you can be a dean at Harvard and be incompetent or untruthful.
Pompeo, the current head of the CIA, and the other former CIA manager protested against Manning's appointment on the grounds that Manning was "a traitor" and that releasing the information she did possibly endangered many lives. Present and past managers on the CIA stood up in protest against persons endangering human lives.
Impressive, isn't it?
Two days earlier in the newspaper carried a story that the CIA, which was currently waging drone warfare in the Mideast and elsewhere but was barred from using drone killings in Afghanistan, was urging the President to allow them to employ drone weapons also in the war zone. This story reminds us that the CIA is regulalrly killing people with drones. The targets of the drone attacks are presumably terrorists. Some drone attacks have been misdirected and killed large wedding parties. Others may have succeeded in killing a terrorist but only at the cost of also killing women and children at some festive event or another.
The protest of present and past CIA operatives against Manning for possibly endangering human lives is massively hypocritical.
The really interesting aspect of this entire story is that no one I have heard of has called the CIA operatives on their hypocrisy. No one has reminded them of what is part of their job day in day out – killing people who have not been arrested, charged or tried – and often killing people who are innocent of any political involvement.
Harvard acceded to the demands of the CIA managers. Their story that Manning had endangered lives was generally accepted. Manning was uninvited.
What this tells us is that one of the important perks of political power is that you can shape the dominant narratives. The way you tell the story is most likely to be believed by everyone even if you story is transparently false or incomplete or misleading or just a plain lie. The general public does not have to be forced to believe this story spread by the powerful. No threats of arrest by the secret police or of torture persuaded the general public that Manning was not a suitable fellow at the Kennedy school while former CIA managers complicit in the drone killing of civilians were acceptable.
In our present situation, powerful persons do not lie. On the whole, most of us are naive enough to swallow that. This the lesson to be learned from Chelsea Manning’s misadventure at Harvard.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Our moral bankruptcy

The news from home is not good.
Drug deaths, especially in older white men, have increased significantly in recent years. Drug overdoses are more frequent every year.
"Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest level in nearly 30 years." [] The suicide rate is particularly high among veterans and not, as one would think, among combat veterans but among soldiers who spent their tour of duty on military reservations back home. []
The number of women who give birth and then succumb to postpartum depression has increased in recent years. [ releases/2013/10 /131002131400.htm]
And on a slightly different note, there is a steady increase of students who miss classes in middle and in high school for more than 10% of school days.
The news is better with respect to the divorce rate, the frequency of domestic violence, and the rate of physical and sexual abuse of children. The incidence of all three has gone down but all of them, of course, remain serious problems.
All of these statistics are controversial. There are always real and so-called experts who have different numbers. But these statistics are regarded as reliable by people who understand statistics and who know where these particular ones come from.
I came across these data at the same time that newspapers reported an apparently good piece of news, namely that household income has been rising. On closer consideration, however, this good news is very qualified. It turns out that individual income of people who work for wages has remained stagnant. Household income has risen because people work more, work longer hours, work full time where they worked part-time before.
Individual income of wage earners remains unchanged at a time when corporations report rising income. Corporations earn more money because they manage to keep costs down and one significant kind of cost are labor costs. Workers earning the same as what they took home a long time ago is one of the reasons for the rosy earnings reports of corporations. Workers are being exploited to benefit corporate bottom lines.
The failure of workers' wages to rise in a time when the well-to-do, the recipients of dividends, the CEOs of enterprises, lawyers and doctors, see their income go up and their standard of living improving steadily is often blamed for the the reports about depression and suicide and other negative statistics.
But that explanation leaves out an important component of the malaise that has our country in its grip. There are a large number of people who feel insulted, whose sense of their own worth is under attack.
The rise of neo-Nazis, of white supremacists is a clear symptom of this offended sense of self. Significant numbers of Americans rest what little self-esteem they have on their skin color – a characteristic for which they cannot take credit. We are born with different skin colors. They are not earned. They are not an accomplishment. If the best I can say about myself is that I'm white, I admit that I have not done anything that I can take pride in.
The white supremacist will reply: 'I am proud of being white because whites are superior to persons of color.' But consider this analogy. Jimmy is a member of an illustrious family: among his relatives are a US President, a Supreme Court Justice and several super-rich entrepreneurs. For himself, Jimmy has not done so well. Married several times but now divorced, Jimmy has had many jobs but is always living pay-check to pay-check. His life has been a series of failures. But he is proud of his distinguished family. This is pride by association, a poor source of self-esteem for those whose own life is beset with failures.
If your self-affirmation rests on sharing the skin color of persons who are famous for their accomplishments--ignoring for the moment whether those accomplishments are mythical or real--you are acknowledging that your own life is lacking in accomplishments and legitimate sources of pride.
Why are so many Americans unable to achieve a solid self-esteem? Why is the color of their skin the most remarkable about them?
Success, in America rests on being upwardly mobile. As the years pass, one needs to increase one's earnings and in order to accomplish that one needs, most of the time, to increase one's power to extract wealth from other people. The working people whose salaries remain the same year in, year out are the victims of this extraction of value. Because their income is flat, their employer's prosper. The employer has the power to keep them working for low wages. Their income does not substantially rise; their power remains minimal.
By prevailing standards of success in America these working people are not successful. They have not accomplished anything.
This version of success is reprehensible. This idea of what makes a life worth living is utterly immoral. The good life according to this American doctrine rests on the ability to harm others, to extract value from them and their work. The successful people are those who can injure others. Life is not worth living for those who are unable to harm others.
Perhaps this ethic is behind the American love affair with guns and the high murder rate in some of our cities. If you cannot enrich yourself at the expense of others, at least you can threaten them with your guns or shoot them.
The much discussed "opioid crisis," the rate of suicide and of depression and other negative statistics such as the rate of poverty in this, one of the richest countries in the world, is a symptom of our moral failure. The big people, the people in the news, are all rich and they have become rich at the expense of others. In the prevailing morality that is acceptable. Devastated lives, misery, is the result.
Only a moral reformation would make America great again.