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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Go Ahead, Offend Me–How A Thick Skin Contributes To National Integration

For anyone who grew up even a few decades ago, it is hard to understand how American’s skins have become so thin - how insults, innuendos, slights, and insinuating remarks have become such causes célèbres.  Bullying was par for the course on school playgrounds, an element of maturing; a learning process whereby the weak in their defeat learned about the enemy and the middling figured out how to evade, negotiate, compromise, or avoid. 

Taunts were expected – racial and ethnic slurs and remarks about disability were common currency, the labeling of ‘other’, the natural signifiers of difference and threat to the community  No one was animated by hatred.  There was no hostility towards Jews, Poles, or Italians.  They, after all, were the furriers, druggists, and clothiers of our communities; those who worked lathes and presses or cut hair, paved streets, or cut hair.

At the same time, it was assumed that in an America still honoring self-improvement, individualism and enterprise,  foreigners would quickly and surely become economic and social players.  It wasn’t long before ‘No Irish Need Apply’ became ‘Only Irish Need Apply’.  Irish Americans quickly figured out the system and within a generation or two ran Boston, Philadelphia, and New York . 

The Mafia, perhaps the most powerful and influential organization of civil society since the partisans of radical Republicanism during Reconstruction, was quintessentially American.  Its communitarian, hard-knuckled, authoritarian, and generous neighborhood rule after only a few decades of struggle, expressed the best of the Republic.

In a generation the Jews of the Lower East Side, rag-pickers, pushcart-sellers, and money-lenders came to rule New York and Hollywood. 

‘Kike, guinea, wop, mick, hunky, spic’– these were epithets that rolled off the backs of early American immigrants who had known real prejudice and discrimination in their home countries.  Names and verbal slander were nothing compared to pogroms, camps, and abject poverty.

Assimilation – attainment of the American Dream – was the goal of these new immigrants.  They had no interest in retaining let along celebrating their diversity.  Italian Americans who escaped the ghettoes of Wooster Square or Mulberry Street wanted no part of San Gennaro, the Cosa Nostra, arranged marriages, and Sicilian honore and vengeance.  Irish Americans were ashamed of their drunken, brawling stereotype, and yearned like all immigrants to become American, cultured, and calm.

It is no more difficult for minorities to accede to the middle class than it was a century earlier.  The rules and regulations have not changed; and if anything, today’s dynamic social economy offers more opportunity for advancement if not success than ever before.

Mexicans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Ghanaians who have migrated to this country know that it is still and indeed the land of opportunity.  Yes, they will at first be suspect and marginalized; but minorities in any culture have always had a hard row to hoe.  The first settlers in America had been persecuted not because of their Christian faith, but because of their particular denomination and belief.  Sunni, Shia,  Alawite, Orthodox, Reformed, Liberal, animist, Tantrist can only expect discrimination and alienation when attempting to join a majority.

Why, then, has so much been made of ‘inclusivity’, ‘multiculturalism’, and ‘pluralism’?  Why such attempts to protect, defend, and promote minorities when they have done quite well on their own in times past?  Are they more deserving of support?  Are they more vulnerable and worthy of  succor and embrace?

Hardly.  The penury and backwardness of Southern Italy in the late 19th century, the Potato Famine in Ireland, the shtetls of Russia, or the religious oppression of the Puritans in England were at least as harsh as the conditions fled by Central American migrants.   More importantly, the United States had not changed, and was still the mecca of enterprise, individualism, and personal wealth.

The plight of African Americans is qualitatively different.  After 250 years of servitude and many decades of Jim Crow, blacks have had a tougher road to travel than any other American minority.  At the same time, the Civil Rights Act was passed over fifty years ago, and most the remnants of Jim Crow have been expunged from the body politic. 


We have an African-American President, and have had a black Secretary of State, Chief of the Armed Forces, and National Security advisor.  Race is continually raised as an issue by progressives who insist that the white majority community has much to atone for and many reparations to pay.  Yet opportunity is never denied to anyone of color provided they demonstrate the same responsibility, willingness to learn and work, discipline and respect demanded of everyone.

At the same time the African American community continues to lag far behind white and Asian minorities in every social category.  The persistent dysfunction of inner city neighborhoods has not gone away despite billions of dollars of well-meaning progressive investment.  In fact, a culture of entitlement, aided and abetted by the same progressives has deterred and deferred black progress.

What has added to the social stasis in America – the seemingly perennial stagnation of black communities and their inability to rise above dysfunction and anti-social behavior – is the cloture of free speech.  Labeled ‘racist’ by progressive critics, professional and amateur observers alike have been browbeaten and intimidated to hold their tongues.  They cannot decry the lack of responsibility in black communities, the dereliction of black political and religious leaders, the perpetual assumption of entitlement and reparations.  They cannot declare the fifty year government investment in social programs in favor of the disadvantaged minority communities over.  They cannot insist on local enterprise without conditions.

Those mired in economic and social underdevelopment should not expect protection from such criticisms; and those who have supported the cause of minority rights can no longer be shielded from legitimate invectives.  ‘Irresponsible…dysfunctional…entitled…’ are not racist but calls to action.

There is not doubt that minority communities have for far too long benefited from unfounded public largesse and white guilt; have been reluctant to assume aggressive responsibility, and have assumed that political patronage would always go their way.

Similarly, it is ironic to see the term ‘sexist’ so cavalierly applied in every venue when the glass ceiling has been broken, when women make up more than half the nation’s workforce, and when feminism has sent men running.   Gay men and women are having their day with a media juggernaut of articles on the legitimacy and pride of gay marriage and transgender combinations.  There is no reason why either women or gay men should be protected in safe spaces, Why are they, as strong and determined Americans as any Italian or Irish immigrant before them, considered particularly vulnerable if not weak?

We are a coddled, overprotected, covered generation; and yet sooner rather than later our minorities will have to get out onto the street and fend for themselves.  America has not changed.  We are still a Wild West nation, every man for himself; and all the stronger for it. 

Remove safe spaces and rescind ‘hate speech’ injunctions and hate crimes. We as a people have always fended for ourselves rather well; and it is our pertinacious belief in individualism which has been our leg up on the opposition.

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