"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, September 14, 2015

Stick With Your Own Kind–The Myth Of Diversity

A lot is made of ‘diversity’ these days, and those communities characterized by a mix of races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations are considered highly desirable.  Yet in most cases even the most progressive-minded young adults after a few year of social experimentation end up with their own kind.  It has always been so. Human settlements have forever been wary of the outsider and The Other.

This narrow self-interest has always made sense. It is not so much that people cannot love or admit someone who was of a different race, religion, or national origin. It’s just that we are naturally suspicious of those who do not conform to our longstanding and comfortable habits and patterns.  Once Muslims wave the American flag; once gays join Rotary and the the Lions club; and once black lawyers and doctors live next door, we lose all reticence and doubt. We wait until they are one of us before opening our doors..

Which is why diversity per se is only a social parlor game.  It is fun to be one of the few white settlers in a transitional urban neighborhood, loving the greens, chitlins, and fatback available in the corner convenience store; the street music and cheap wine; and the thrill of being an urban pioneer.  Once you have a couple of kids and flip your house in Bloomingdale, you have your sights set on Spring Valley, Potomac, or Great Falls. Enough is enough with the ragged edges of your old neighborhood, the ricochets and sirens, and the iron grates.  It is time to re-congregate with your own kind.

West Side Story

A boy like that who'd kill your brother,
Forget that boy and find another,
One of your own kind,
Stick to your own kind!
A boy like that will give you sorrow,
You'll meet another boy tomorrow,
One of your own kind,
Stick to your own kind!

‘Diversity’ is a geographic and generational phenomenon. Anyone travelling through the South will be struck by the consistency of names over generations. Mary Ball, the mother of George Washington. had many descendants; and despite the nearly 250 years since the early days of the Republic, the Ball name is everywhere in the Northern Neck of Virginia, the peninsula between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers, the place of her birth.  The same is true of the Ewells, Trimbles, Carters, Lees, and Monroes all of whose families played an important role in establishing the new Republic and who now run for County Sheriff, Judge, or Clerk of the Court; own car dealerships; and sell real estate.

Image result for image mary ball washington


The point is that fewer Southern families leave their ancestral homes than Northerners. Although economics, opportunity, and the legacy of the Civil War have a lot to do with Southerners’ characteristic immobility, social and cultural traditions are equally as important. “Where are you from?”, asked in the South has little to do with geography or place but family. Northerners get a handle on a newcomer by assessing his education, his wealth, and his profession; but Southerners still judge by lineage, family, and patrimony.

On a recent trip to Marshall, a small town in Mississippi, I was given a tour by someone whose family dated back long before the Civil War.  As we drove through the antebellum neighborhoods of the Southside, he not only dated the homes but related their family history – who lived in them, who had lived in them, where the family’s money had come from, and what might become of the family’s heritage in the next generation. To him what is was only important in reference to what was.

Image result for image antebellum house columbus ms


While in Mississippi I met a number of former residents who had returned to the town to reestablish their roots.  They rebuilt or renovated the houses in which they and their grandparents had grown up.  One woman said that she was restoring her house so faithfully to the way it was “that if Grandpappy ever walked through the front door, he would notice nothing different than when he lived her 100 years ago.”

This same woman whose family had been a pillar of Marshall – clergymen, Confederate officers, plantation owners, and merchants – had invested most of her adult life in social education; had worked as a teacher in East Mississippi Community College, a number of public schools in Aberdeen and Columbus; and had become an advisor to the City Council of Tupelo on educational reform.  She, in other words, was committed to ‘diversity’ and social justice.

Yet she saw no contradiction in her anomalous life.  There was nothing that prevented her from preserving the cultural legacy of her storied family at the same time that she promoted the cause of the descendants of the slaves owned by her ancestors. What was past was history.  The Civil War tarnished but did not corrode the patriotism, faith, and enterprise of her forefathers. The history of the white privileged South and the legacy of it lived side-by-side and she was fine with that.

In fact she was not unlike many of her generation in the Deep South, passionately committed to the cultural identity of the region - its manners, mores, and victories – but deeply engaged in the evolution of the New South.  She saw nothing strange in attending the Pilgrimage Ball, an event held in Marshall since 1840 which celebrated the aristocratic, cavalier tradition of the Old South and until recently ended with a chorus of Dixie; and then working 10 hours in an all-black, failing, and hopeless school in Aberdeen.

Image result for images pilgrimage ball columbus ms


Her work and her social commitments were always kept separate from her family allegiances and celebrations.  Her mind may have been with poor Delta black folk, but her heart was with her own kind.

Tracy Billings was hard-pressed however, to square her feeling with the growing ethnic and racial divisions in the country.  If she was so passionate about preserving the integrity of a small, dwindling, and often maligned sub-group of American history; then why should she be concerned with those who identified first with their sexual orientation, their national origin, or their race instead of with the commonwealth? If she was all about cultural integrity, then why should she criticize others who were trying to establish it?

In more practical if not crass terms, what was wrong with insisting on being with your own kind?

Tracy was of a generation whose goal was either the promotion of social and racial integration or the militant defiance of it.  She, although a Southerner, always sympathized with Werner and Cheney, the lunch-counter sit-ins, Selma, and Rosa Parks.  She had marched with the daughters of sharecroppers and the sons of Wall Street financiers.  She was born to early to see America and the world once again subdivide.  There was no such thing as one world, nor would there ever be. American blacks, Middle Eastern Muslims, and Basque separatists all were denying the value of the nation-state, inclusive liberal democracy, and pluralism. Everyone wanted to stick to their own kind and felt that such a divided, ‘diverse’ world was far better than a homogenized one which diluted everyone’s passions, personality, and beliefs.

Image result for images march on selma


The most obsessive Northern liberals in Washington, DC send their children to public neighborhood schools out of progressive commitment to civil unity and racial progress; but balk at sending them to the city’s junior high and high schools which, drawing from a much wider racial and economic pool, resemble dysfunctional inner city Washington far more than tony Brookfield Park. The send their children to the elite private schools of DC - Sidwell, Cathedral, and Maret – without missing a beat. By day they continue as social activists, progressive lawyers, and environmental lobbyists; but by night they are firmly part of white, upper-middle class, highly-educated Northwest Washington. When push comes to shove, they stick to their own kind.

None of this is meant to be an indictment of either Tracy Billings or Northern liberals. It is human nature to associate with those who most resemble us.  We argue that it is because it is a more intellectually and socially congenial, complementary grouping; but in reality it is because we are suspicious of The Other, the outsider, the interloper.

All of which is a strong indictment of ‘diversity’.  While it is natural to auto-group and to seek out the likeminded, it is dangerous to promote separatism and identity politics.  It is one thing to claim allegiance to one’s ancestors especially of they have played an important role in American history; another thing altogether to promote artificially-articulated groupings like race, gender, and ethnicity.

A French friend of mine whose ancestors fought in the First Crusade was very proud of his French and Christian heritage.  He proudly wore a signet ring engraved with his family’s seal and the date of their march to Jerusalem. He insisted that the aristocracy had always been at the heart of Europe and responsible for its most noteworthy achievements.  His own kind included the most celebrated royal and aristocratic families of the region from Poland to England.  He was disturbed by the increasing ‘diversity’ in France because of the venal, self-centered claims of those minority groups who argued for independence or at least separate identities. French Muslims or North, Africans had done nothing yet for France.  They had built nothing, created nothing, produced nothing of note. It was one thing for Emmanuel to maintain his bond with his Medieval forbears who helped create the French nation; another thing entirely to support separatist sentiments with nothing but venal ambitions.

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Emmanuel was as committed to liberté, égalité, fraternité as any of his fellow citizens; but not at the cost of the Republic. His allegiance to the past and his historical and cultural roots had nothing to do with his desire for a unified, integrated union.  Allegiance to unique social or cultural groupings had to prove its worth before having any legitimacy in seeking to change the fundamental nature of the State.

There is of course a fine line between historically legitimate groupings and new ones created on the basis of ethnicity or religion solely for the purpose of dividing the State for unilateral interests.  When does a social club become a political one?

The world seemed to be headed for harmony after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Francis Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’; but of course it was to be nothing of the sort.  The world, artificially held together by coercion and political autocracy, suddenly broke apart and ‘diversity’ quickly became the world.  In short, human beings reverted to nature.  We have always been self-centered, aggressive, territorial, and protective; and have always stuck to our own kind.  Now we can again – with a vengeance.

Image result for image fukuyama end of history

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