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Saturday, April 15, 2023

Questioning Diversity - The Stick To Your Own Kind 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

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  Although we may cling to outdated notions of cultural and racial separatism, the musical suggests we will eventually realize our common humanity and such divisions will disappear.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.   The story of human pre-history sets the tone.  Historians have concluded that the first racial groups – Neanderthal  and Homo Sapiens - tried to kill each other off.

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.

'Diversity' only perpetuates separatism and blocks the natural tendency of groups to form and reform of their own accord. Human beings should be left alone to regroup around values of a much higher order than race, gender, and ethnicity. 

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. He in turn, can join groups other than black ones.  He is free to be diverse on his own terms. 

Color has only been a convenient marker for the economically, socially, and educationally divergent.  Once a black man rejects the culture of the streets and subscribes and adheres to majority (white/Asian) norms, he will get 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 clanning 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. 

Affirmative action initially designed to facilitate the integration of blacks who, because of the legacy of slavery, needed a leg up in education and business, has become a tautology – black is good because it is good.  Race has become a signifier not of past history but of inherent value; and when that assumption becomes received wisdom, racial divisions and the suspicions they encourage will continue if not increase.  Only when race-based policy and identity are ended can individuals join groups of their own accord in a society that is naturally diverse - not one which has inhibited choice of association. 

Given the example of human history, people will find new ways to separate and divide -  expanding and contracting social universe.  The current attempts to force racial accommodation - affirmative action is but one example - make no sense at all.  Sharing common ideals in a universal ethos is the best one can hope for. 

Identity politics - the political expression of progressive 'diversity' does not promote integration only separatism.  The prospect of a more unified, tolerant, and accommodating society has been set back for decades at the very least. 

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 encourage 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.

Without such idealistic notions of integration, natural affinity groups would form, dissolve, and form again in other forms.  Sticking to one's own kind is not a manufactured idea, but a fact of human nature. Left alone, individuals will associate according to interest and ability as well as by more superficial markers. 

Let’s face it.  We like to be around our own kind.  Very few upper middle class white professionals are living anywhere near Anacostia, the most entrenched black ghetto in Washington.  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.  Poverty, he implied, is  valuable social indicator and part of ‘diversity’. Unless he was to break the bank to pay off developers who were hungry to transform shaky residential areas into condos and upscale commercial areas, market distortion would continue unabated.

Since time immemorial those who could not afford to live in one place, moved to another; but because it is now assumed that by engineering a harmonious rich-poor mix, both groups will be better off.  Nonsense, given the spectrum of history. Left to the devices of the market and social dynamics, the poor will move out of Manhattan, live for a generation in Queens, and when more affluent and able, move back to Manhattan. 

In Washington where the city council has been promoting ‘affordable’ housing and forcing developers to include low-rent apartments within their upper middle class developments, the developers have agreed and sectioned off apartments for the poor in bottom floor units overlooking the parking lot.  What did the council expect? Without such social engineering lower income families would move to Gaithersburg, in to Bethesda, and eventually back to Washington. 

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.  

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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