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We All Must Be Accountable

September 3, 2020 (534 words)

There is certainly a lot that both the average white citizen and the white power structure has to answer for when it comes to the thorny state of race relations in this country. The playbook for the change that needs to happen is close at hand. It can be found by referencing the dormant Christian ethos whites have been misled into believing does not apply to everyday economic life.

America needs to extend this summer’s collective examination of conscience beyond a mass mea culpa, and turn it into something tangible. Revising the basic rules of economic engagement to be less predatory, and more equitable in the distribution of profit, would be the surest path to social justice.

Figuring out how to reconcile the Christian ethos with everyday economic life may not prove to be all that difficult for the average white citizen. But getting the white power structure to even consider giving up “economic freedom” in favor of “love thy neighbor as thyself” will be a tough sell.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists will eventually have to move past the raw, visceral airing-of-grievances stage.

A prime example of which is the recent letter from Brown University’s senior administration that Glenn C. Loury, the 71 year-old tenured economics professor at Brown, considers to be a “manifesto” that is “obviously the product of a committee”.

It reads, in part:

“The sadness comes from knowing that this is not a mere moment for our country. This is historical, lasting, and persistent. Structures of power, deep-rooted histories of oppression, as well as prejudice, outright bigotry and hate, directly and personally affect the lives of millions of people in this nation every minute and every hour. Black people continue to live in fear for themselves, their children, and their communities, at times in fear of the very systems and structures that are supposed to be in place to ensure safety and justice.”

Professor Loury has said this letter “asserted controversial and arguable positions as though they are axiomatic certainties.” He thinks it “often elided pertinent difference between the many instances cited,” and “reads in part like a loyalty oath.”

I guess the ultimate question for the activists is exactly as Loury has framed it: Does racial domination and “white supremacy” define our national existence even now, a century and a half after the end of slavery?

For my part, I think activists should by all means continue making their case in a clear and forceful manner, while somehow managing to ward off a collective mindset that makes the transgressions inflicted upon blacks the sole focus, the sole pre-occupation. This is admittedly an ongoing challenge, since the transgressions are real and indelible.

The enemy in all this, it seems to me, is conjuring the belief that a minority – any minority – is powerless to affect its own advancement in society. Taken to an extreme, such a pre-occupation could result in a segment of the black population sitting back and not even trying, while it waits for white America to remedy every slight, to right every wrong.

No man or woman, regardless of ethnicity or skin color or station in life, ever gets that degree of justice in this world.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
September 3, 2020

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