Nothing I have said contradicts your opening paragraph. I endorse it whole heartedly. I have never indicated we should ignore the views of those who have suffered an injustice, be it as a victim of racism or some other form of bigotry.

With that said, there’s a lot in your response that frankly misrepresents my argument, to say nothing of my views on racism. You’ve built some strawmen and then spent much of this latest response knocking them down.

First, I am not taking the position that “there is no other way” to fight racism than to use texts that include the N-word — a word that sucks all the oxygen out of the room given there is far more to racism than just its use. The only reason the N-word is the focus of this discussion is because that’s the word the Duluth School District focused on when making their decision to eliminate Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird from the district’s curriculum.

I am arguing that unflattering depictions of racism are the only accurate depiction of racism there is. Even without the N-word any honest depiction of racism will include rhetoric and images that are at least as offensive as that particular word. It’s also true that any depiction of the treatment racism’s victims have received will inevitably be extremely disturbing to read about and/or look at, BUT WE MUST NOT TURN OUR EYES AWAY FROM IT!!!

Second, you’ve argued in this response that I don’t see or validate “the power dynamics of racism.” Honestly, and with all due respect, I don’t even know how anything I’ve written here could be interpreted as an argument against the FACT that racism involves power dynamics. The whole premise of any given racist ideology/worldview is the belief that one race is superior to at least one other, making power over the other race(s) an implicit part of the belief system. Indeed, the power dynamics of racism lie at the heart of Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird, the two books we are eliminating from the curriculum in Duluth because they include the N-Word.

As I said above, I agree that the best place to start any discussion about racism is to talk with minority communities that have suffered through it: invite them into the classroom for discussion, hold community meetings, just listen whenever you get the chance. However, the Duluth School District did NONE OF THOSE THINGS when reaching the decision I criticized in my post. Though you keep insisting African Americans want Mark Twain and Harper Lee out of the classroom (specifically Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird), NONE OF THEM SAID SO IN THIS CASE. The school district didn’t schedule meetings with either the African American community or the community at large to hear what anyone was thinking in this instance. They just did it because they thought maybe the African American community was offended by these texts, and thinking for the African American community — presuming to know what they think on a subject without bothering to ask first — is a form of racism. It’s a kind of power dynamic. It’s being paternalistic and condescending. Had the African American community petitioned for this move, you might have a point. Had they been asked what they thought about it in advance and said they approved, you might have a point. Instead, the decision was made for them, not by them.

If the African American community in town X has a problem with these or other works of literature, they are free to say so and I agree we should listen to them. But not all African Americans necessarily agree these texts are a problem, and not all of them that think they are problematic think so to the same degree or for the same reasons. You keep arguing as though the African American community is speaking not just loudly on this question, but with one voice. Yet you’ve provided no evidence to support that claim. I’m ready to listen. I just don’t hear them saying much of anything about Mark Twain or Harper Lee when they give examples of how racism has made life more difficult for them.

Finally, I do take issue with the notion that our “racism debt” can be paid simply by listening to whatever the victims of racism have to say and then doing whatever they say we should do in response. People from all races and backgrounds are equally capable of coming up with brilliant ideas, but they’re also equally capable of coming up with some pretty stupid ones. If African Americans really think that eliminating all content they find offensive from our schools is going to “pay off the racism debt”(and I don’t believe they do), to say nothing of ending racism, I say that’s a foolish idea that will only make matters worse for all concerned. When it comes to foolish ideas I try to oppose them with equal fervor no matter the skin color of the person(s) advocating them.

There are a lot of problems with this racism as debt idea. First, it again assumes there’s some kind of consensus in minority communities regarding what exactly constitutes paying off the racism debt, or even that a history of racism can be wiped out through some sort of payment plan in the first place. There isn’t any consensus in these communities, to say nothing of the nation as a whole. There’s the idea of reparations, there’s affirmative action programs of various sorts, and (I guess) even a few agitating to tackle problems with literature that depicts racists in a negative light.

But none of that is going to change our history one bit. If we do all of these things tomorrow, the day after tomorrow there will still be just as much racism as there was today. But there will be one difference: the next time a racist discriminates against a black person he’ll simply dismiss any protests by saying “What are they complaining about? We paid off our racism debt.” In other words, paying off our racism “debt” will only be seen by racists as an opportunity to spend another century or two charging up the racist credit card society just paid off. We want to eliminate the borrower (racism), not the debt.

Racism is an idea, not a debt — a very bad idea with a terrible legacy. We can’t change or eliminate the history. We can only learn from it. We can’t kill bad ideas by handing out cash to their victims or by giving their victims veto power over every local school board decision (just keep the power dynamics but change the race that gets to use and abuse them for a while). You kill bad ideas with good ideas that actually take reality (and in this case equality) seriously. I don’t think racism is a disease. I think it’s an example of terribly flawed thinking. Whether the reason people cling to it is because of the power dynamics or just because it gives them a dopamine rush to feel superior to others (probably a little bit of both), it still can’t be justified ethically or by any science of either the soft or hard variety that I’m aware of.

With all that said, I’m glad we at least agree I’m not a bigot :-)

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US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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