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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Stick To Your Own Kind–The Wisdom Of West Side Story

In Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, the Broadway 50s musical based on Romeo and Juliet, a boy and girl from two opposing gangs, one white and the other Puerto Rican, fall in love. Anita, a friend of Maria, warns her against getting involved with someone from a different community.  She sings:

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

“Stick to your own kind” is her refrain. If you don’t, you’re asking for trouble.  Of course Maria does not listen, bad turns to worse, and the final scene is a melodramatic replay of the end of the star-crossed lovers.

Wandering onto the playground, Tony sees Maria, at first thinking that it is only in his mind, then realizing it really is her, but as they run towards each other, Chino appears out of nowhere and shoots Tony. As the Jets and Sharks appear, Maria and Tony reaffirm their love ("Somewhere"), but Tony dies in her arms. Maria takes the gun from Chino and accuses everybody in sight of the deaths of Tony, Bernardo, and Riff. The police and gang members arrive. When they see Tony dead, some of the Jets lift him, and the Sharks join them, while Chino is taken away by the police. As in Romeo and Juliet, tragedy has brought the feuding between the two gangs to an end

In short, the story is about diversity.

The remake of Bernstein’s original, faithful to theme, music, and lyrics attempted to make the story one of today – all traces of racial and ethnic stereotypes removed and the upbeat, happy ending emphasized.  Although we may cling to outdated notions of cultural and racial separatism, we will eventually realize our common humanity and such divisions will disappear.

However, this will never happen – history since the first human settlements records the persistent identity of tribes, clans, religious sects, communities, states, and nations. Although recent DNA analysis has shown that homo sapiens did interbreed with Neanderthals, it probably was no more common than clowns marrying circus freaks. In fact historians of pre-history conclude that the two ‘racial’ groups tried to kill each other off, and thankfully the right side won.

Why is this lesson so hard to accept? Don’t birds of a feather flock together?

Don’t they peck at the intruder until he leaves?

No society – not even Margaret Mead’s Trobriand Islanders whose kinship and community patterns she distorted to suit her theories – exists without social, ethnic, economic, or racial divisions.  Whether India with its persistent caste system; our division by wealth, income, and race; or Iraq’s splintering divisions by Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, we all do it.

American Indian tribes fought each other to the death. African tribes slaughtered each other and used captured warriors as slave currency. Chinese dynasties rose to power after battles with pretenders and likely enemies; and the Han Chinese today would like to eliminate any ethnic diversity to maintain polity.

Today separatism is being promoted by the very groups that advocate for racial and ethnic equality.  Separate dorms, clubs, houses, and tables are designated for black students whose collectivity will, these advocates say, promote self-esteem, pride, and strengthen the defiance of the oppressed against the white oppressor; but this of course has only deepened the conviction of racial separatism held by white students.  

Affirmative action is responsible for matriculating students below academic par, so administrators go out of their way to claim equality and harmonious integration while instituting policies which confirm the opposite. The great homogenizing experiment will never succeed unless the dynamics of social enterprise are allowed to work.  Whites will accept blacks once they have achieved through free enterprise and equal opportunity the social, economic, educational, and professional status of whites.  Whites have never had a problem with Barack Obama, Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice

No amount of persuasion or appeals to moral rectitude or Christian generosity can change the facts – people stick to their own kind and open their doors once the outsider acts like them. Functional integration results in educational and economic parity. A black Harvard Law School graduate working as a Washington lawyer is immediately accepted in the white community.  He, by dint of his pedigree, is considered an insider. His color is irrelevant.  

Color has only been a convenient marker for the economically, socially, and educationally divergent.  Once a black man has gotten rid of his bling, attitude, and homeboy posturing; subscribed and adhered to majority (white/Asian) norms, he gets a key to the executive washroom and membership in the Cosmos Club.

Yet because of the natural, human impulse to stick with one’s own kind and progressive attempts to reinforce it through social engineering, races as well as social, cultural, and economic groups will remain intact.  Social homogeneity has been the rule since the Paleolithic, an important marker for defense, territorial expansion, and economic progress. 

In the movie Freaks (1932) a traveling circus has a wide variety of acts, including a number of sideshow curiosities based on some unusual physical attributes. They include midgets, limbless people, pinheads, conjoined twins, a bearded lady, and a half man/half woman. There are many interpersonal interactions between the entire troupe, those interactions which are generally amiable, although there are some who treat the curiosities merely as freaks. However, there are few romantic relationships between the "normal" troupe members and the curiosities. One of those exceptions is the budding romantic relationship between Hans and Cleopatra, one of the midgets and a trapeze artist.

The moral of the story is captured in the familiar line, “One of us”.  The freak community bands together against the ‘normal’ outsiders.

Everyone sticks together – white people, black people, gay people, professionals, wealthy people – but as long as they are productive, responsible members of the community at large, there is no reason to disrupt this natural, millennia-old tendency of likes to group with likes. There is no demonstrable advantage, profit, or gain from forcing socio-cultural integration.  Too much has been made of sharing experiences of unlike people – encouraging the white, wealthy residents of Ward 3 to look into dysfunctional black Wards 7 and 8.  

Such perception does nothing to incentivize or encourage black entrepreneurial enterprise, to address persistent dysfunctionality, poor education, and poor economic performance.  Attending class with affirmative action students from poor wards does nothing to assure their performance nor to ‘reform’ white students.

At a progressive private school in Washington, DC, black students were admitted in an aggressive affirmative action program.  The founders of the school had a long, storied history of abolitionism and civil rights, and the current administrators, steeped in the same tradition, were determined latter day moral leaders like Isaac Penington, Robert Barclay, Thomas Ellwood, William Penn and Margaret Fell.

Not only did they de facto separate-but-equal facilities for black students, but they insisted that a black student represent the school on every possible occasion.  The result of this enforced ‘diversity’ was just the opposite of that intended – white students quickly saw through the sanctimony and righteousness and ignored or dismissed all black students except those like them – smart, from professional families, socially confident, and ambitious.

A number of foreign critics have seen Washington as a latter-day apartheid South Africa.  Rock Creek Park divides the city along clearly racial lines – west of the park, white; east of the park, black.  North-south busses white; east-west busses black.  East of the park is poor; west of the park is wealthy.  The only places where east and west meet and collaborate on an equal footing is at jury duty.  

While the federal government under strict racial guidelines has assured a significant minority representation, the east-west divide is expressed in upper and lower echelons. DC city government is largely black, reflecting the demographics of the city, and there are few whites – deeply progressive, absolute supporters of black politics, social movements, and antagonists of ‘white privilege’.

Not only is there no point to ‘diversity’ programs; there is no point to the progressive view of diversity - thinly-veiled identity politics which denigrate whites for their supposed systemic racism and privilege, and boost the black man ipso facto solely because of the color of his skin.   

A culture benefits from the assimilation of diverse groups, taking from them their most valuable resources and providing them a productive home within a strong majority community, not shunting them off into racial clans where cultural cross fertilization cannot occur.

Let’s face it.  We like to be around our own kind.  Very few upper middle class white professionals are living anywhere near Anacostia.  Gen X newcomers to the city live for a time with poor black families, but they know full well that it is only a matter of time before they are priced out and the neighborhood will become homogeneous again, but this time majority white professionals.

A former progressive mayor of New York City (De Blasio) was concerned that the city was becoming an enclave for the rich.  Taxpayer money must be used, he says, to subsidize lower income families to stay in Manhattan to enrich the mix. Unless he breaks the bank to pay off developers who are hungry to transform shaky residential areas into condos and upscale commercial areas, market distortion will continue unabated.

Progressives like to look at diversity not live it.  They are content to dip into an ethnic neighborhood or two for dim sum and tamales and then return back to the Upper West Side.

Human society has never changed, especially in its tendency to classify, define, segregate, and distribute by any number of factors.  Despite this social market-based dynamic, homogeneous societies are always challenged from the outside, and it takes decades if not longer to recalibrate and readjust the norm.  Europe is going through this period of adjustment right now. Muslim immigrant groups are militantly demanding to stick to their own kind and ignore secularism and integration into the political state.

So, ‘stick to your own kind’ is a fact of life.  The movements of people will always be fueled by culture, society, race, and especially income.  Societies become homogeneous, diverse, and homogeneous again. All part of the natural ebb and flow. Why tamper with it?

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