The campaign to promote diversity has focused on race, gender, and ethnicity as key indicators of a pluralistic society; and individuals should be seen first and foremost through this particular lens.
It is important to retain this focus, advocates say, because of the discrimination directed at members of racial groups, those of alternate sexuality, and immigrants from backgrounds different from those of white, Christian America.
Racial, sexual, and ethnic identity should not only be a source of pride which validates individual worth but which provides strength in numbers. Only if members of such disadvantaged and marginalized communities march together and adhere to a common agenda, mission, and purpose can the cause of final, full, and unequivocal acceptance in America be achieved.
Such political solidarity has strong historical antecedents – the labor movement, for example, succeeded in America largely because the AFL-CIO, a national organization which included unions of many different trades and millions of members, had political clout and workingman muscle. Although such solidarity came at a price – threats and intimidation were how union leaders ensured a loyal membership – it was essential in the fight for better wages and benefits.
Political movements organized to fight global warming, protect women’s rights to abortion or fight to limit its access have been successful because they are unified collectivities, all of whose members hew to the same, clear, and unwavering party line. When AARP lobbies Congress, Representatives and Senators know that is speaking with one voice for tens of millions of older Americans.
The fight for civil rights has been one characterized both by peaceful demonstration and by violent protest. The marches led by Martin Luther King throughout the South and the March on Washington were examples of non-violence and the power of peaceful collectivity. The defiant and violent protests encouraged by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were necessary, supporters said, because the cause of the Negro would never be furthered in a white society which which for centuries had kept black people in their place and expected obedience and complaisance. The race riots of Detroit, Newark, and Watts in the late 60s were examples of the frustrated rage that had long festered within black inner-city communities.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement combines elements of MLK’s peaceful marches and demonstrations and Malcolm X’s militant defiance of the white power structure. Although there has not yet been the level of civil disorder seen in the Sixties, the threat of it is felt. BLM protests, while non-violent in action have been threatening in character. No one can miss the virulent anti-police rhetoric of the movement. The police are the armed extension of a privileged, entrenched, white political and social elite which has and always will do anything to preserve it.
The repercussions of recent violent events involving black people and the police are still to unfold; but partisan positions have never been more hardened. Black Americans joining BLM and who feel disaffected, marginalized, increasingly angry, and frustrated by what they see is the slow progress towards full acceptance, have felt that anything other than a full frontal assault on their oppressors – the police, the courts, the Congress, mayors, aldermen, and the white, smug, rich – is not acceptable.
White conservatives see only an illegitimately empowered mob given the license, cover, and immunity of ‘diversity’ by a radically ‘progressive’ liberal elite. The rest of America is frustrated, appreciative of both sides of the argument, but befuddled, concerned, if not afraid.
What has been lost in this contentious and now dangerous clash of wills is responsibility. Any group which claims legitimacy and feels the right to present its grievances and to demand recompense and radical change must operate from a position of a moral authority. It is not enough to demonstrate in the name of moral injustice – discrimination – but to protest with full disclosure and objective determination of the nature of discrimination.
The champions of ‘diversity’ have delayed this acceptance of responsibility and examination of those factors originating in the black community which may have led to the persistent delay in its social and economic progress. ‘Progressives’ have chosen to ignore social dysfunction. By accepting if not glamorizing the street culture of macho swagger, an ethos of intimidation and ‘respect’, and a dismissal of traditional majority values, ‘progressives’ have done an irreparable disservice to the black community.
A by-product of this attitude is the sluice of entitlement money poured into inner-city communities without exacting any conditions. The damage done to them by centuries of slavery, racism, and discrimination is so serious, progressives claim, that demanding internal reform according to white standards is in itself racist and unacceptable.
Black politicians thrive on this misguided conclusion. In cities like Washington, Detroit, and Chicago, they are quite happy to demand reparations in the form of unconditional transfers of public funds to be administered by the community itself. Their political longevity is based largely on being able to deliver such unencumbered funds.
Those members of the community in the best positions to promote a renewed and restored culture of responsibility – preachers – have not done so convincingly. They whose livelihood also depends on the will of their constituents are unlikely to challenge received wisdom.
While there is no doubt that police have overstepped their authority and have in certain instances acted more on racial prejudice than principles of law enforcement (the LAPD recognized the problem and set out to rectify it), there is equally no doubt that they are aware of the violent communities in which they work. They are aware that anyone stopped for even a minor offense may be carrying an illegal weapon. They are aware that in communities where shootings are common even in minor disputes, where schools are policed by armed officers and protected by metal detectors, and where disrespect for law enforcement is at a new high, they might be the next victim.
This is not to exonerate police who use unnecessary force; but only to expose the socio-cultural envir0nment within which law enforcement operates.
A black Washington, DC policeman, about to retire after 30 years on the force, related how things have changed since when he began his career. In the old days, he said, when someone was pulled over, the officer would be treated with deference and respect – an attitude which encouraged the same response from the police. Now, he said, the officer is often met with angry defiance and threat.
“Why do you suppose?”, the policeman was asked. “Because they feel entitled”, he answered.
Unless communities can accept responsibility for their dysfunction and resolve to do something about it, they will always be marginalized if not demonized. Unless they fully and willingly accept the need to adhere to majority norms of behavior and in fact do so, they will be perpetually behind the curve.
It is no surprise that a black man is President of the United States or that a black man was Secretary of State; or that black professionals thrive in law, banking, and industry. Their color disappears when they perform according to the standards set by the community at large – i.e., the nation. Residents in white neighborhoods will be the first to call the police when a black hooded sweatshirt-wearing teenager is seen walking at night; but they will also be the first to welcome a black CEO or White House official.
These men and women have achieved success despite great hardship. Many of their stories are familiar – sons and daughters of sharecroppers, victims of discrimination and racism in the South – but all have found ways to survive and to thrive. America may – with some justification – categorize individuals by the groups to which they belong; but they also value and appreciate people of any background who have achieved recognition within the rules of American values.
Few young men and women manage to escape the urban ghetto; but some do, largely because of strong families, religious faith, and individual intelligence and will. Many more are consigned to the streets because these values have not been generalized. If communities as a whole valued family, faith, enterprise, intelligence, and ambition like selected families do, then the road out would be a lot less difficult to travel.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democratic Senator, adviser to Presidents, Harvard scholar and confirmed liberal wrote the following in the mid-Sixties:
The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure. The evidence—not final, but powerfully persuasive—is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. A middle-class group has managed to save itself, but for vast numbers of the unskilled, poorly educated city working class the fabric of conventional social relationships has all but disintegrated. There are indications that the situation may have been arrested in the past few years, but the general post-war trend is unmistakable. So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.The situation described by Moynihan has become far worse, aided and abetted by those who, in the name of ‘diversity’ and inclusiveness, have ignored these social and cultural determinants of success and chosen to focus more on racial identity.
The conclusion is clear. There is no way for minority communities to advance into the mainstream of American life – to be integrated – unless reform is begun from within. No civilization since the Ancient Greeks and before has not adhered to the same basic, fundamental notions of honesty, courage, discipline, respect, compassion, and faith; and no community today can survive without adopting and adhering to them.
Polity – an organized society – depends on these values. They must be first and foremost, and must precede the demand for civil rights. Jefferson and the Founding Fathers knew quite well that although the new Republic valued individuals, it could never survive without respect for commonly accepted norms and standards. The value of the individual has worth only within a community context.