The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Sunday, April 11, 2010

That's How We Roll

A comment was offered hoping that blacks aren't still looking at slavery 350 years from now, a response to my notion that it takes longer to heal a wound--any wound--than it takes to inflict it.

A few thoughts on that, and the commentaries that followed.

1) If you can think of an instance of a wound that heals in LESS time than it takes to inflict it, I'd be very interested.

2) The subject of the Irish came up, and the fact that there actually were real slaves, and not just Indentured Servants. The difference? The exact difference between rape and seduction. Now there are some fascinating things to look at here. One, these cases seem to have been confined to island locations, and not in the Continental U.S. Therefore, no direct comparison can be made with the status of Americans. If you do make a comparison, it would have to be between blacks of island descent and Irish descendants of island slaves. Two, I would not expect the differences to be as drastic: Irish resemble their oppressors sufficiently to "hide" among them far easier than Africans. If the pain gets too bad, you can "pass". Third, I would bet that, on those islands, descendants of Irish slaves are poorer than descendants of their former European masters. Fourth, the Irish kept their names, religions, and culture to a degree FAR beyond that experienced by Africans. Blacks basically had their hard disks "wiped" and then horrifically negative "software" installed: you are inferior, dare not protect your families or chastity, and we will kill you if you say different. Without the self-definition of culture to fight back against this, you are screwed.

3) The period of healing begins when the last piece of shrapnel is removed from the wound. The common mistake made in (for all practical purposes) 100% of white argumentation in this arena is to measure this period from the end of slavery--about 150 years ago. How comforting it must be to forget Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Segregation. In my book, it is reasonable to say blacks became citizens of America as of about 1965-70, somewhere around the Voting Rights amendment. THAT is when the damage really began to heal. Three hundred years of hell, followed by about 45 years of relative equality. If you were fifty years old, and had been abused for the first forty years of your life, I think we could expect some dysfunction still.

3) Will blacks "catch up?" No, I don't think so. Not as a group. All things considered, they would have to be superior to whites to do so, and they ain't. Or there would have to be a period imposed externally of equal disadvantage to whites. That's not going to happen. But what WILL happen is that blacks with 110% of average ability will be able to get 100% average results. Close enough. African immigrants will do well--they still have their mythology, heritage, language, and relationship to their Gods. But looking at the descendants of slaves will be a lot like looking at people who experienced abuse in childhood. As an average, there will be problems.

I'm sorry to seem pessimistic about this...but the other side is that interbreeding is going to make the majority Brown rather than white or black, anyway. In some ways, this is a non-issue long term, similarly to the fact that people worried about the Chinese ruling the world are, in my opinion, missing the fact that countries are becoming obsolete.

None of this implies that blacks are intellectually inferior, or whites morally inferior, although I sympathize with those who interpret the data that way. One of my problems--or advantages--is that in my meditations I flow from black to white, male to female, young to old, human to animal, animate to inanimate, matter to energy. It is too easy to see the sloppy logic use to justify bigotry or political position. When Nicki was a little girl, I watched like a hawk for any signs that the culture would slide backwards in terms of gender relations--or male power. And would not tolerate anyone who tried to place females into a category in any way inferior to male.

Now I have a six year old boy, and I'm seeing that he is going to have to take crap about being male. You guys know that I like Huffington Post. But the Left-leaning Post is just as sexist as some of the Right-leaning organs it decries. The only difference is that...wait for it...Huffpost is bigoted against males. Never, ever, in any column there have I seen a comment to the effect that rights and privileges should be taken away from women. Or that women are inferior to men. But commonly one finds posts suggesting that men are responsible for the evil of the world.

Now...it is possible to make that comment and still be intellectually honest. But damned few are. My standard? If you give men the blame for the wars and violence, and say this is due to intrinsic problems with men, then also give them credit for creating most of the science, art, and exploration...and maintain that this is also due to their innate differences.

But of course there are damned few who would take this position. Usually, you get "well, men have accomplished more because they oppress women. And they are more violent because they are inherently violent. " In all honesty, I see this as intellectual cowardice.

What do I think? That thousands of generations ago, men and women made a deal, and both agreed to it: women, whose bodies carry children, would raise those children and maintain the home circle. Males, who were larger and stronger, would specialize in dealing with aggressive threats, and take the dangerous jobs (and how many women died in that mine collapse? Anyone? Anyone?). Both sides contributed to the social rules, myths, songs, stories and cultural reinforcements that encouraged men to be "men" and women to be "women." It worked...for the production of children, but with a caveat: women's dreams were disposable. As were men's lives. I have been horrified at the callous reactions of those who say it doesn't matter if far more men die in wars...since men start the wars. As if when women start wars, they send women to fight in them. As if to the man dying on a beach with his intestines blown out, it matters that Stalin or Hitler or whoever were men. As if women don't encourage men to be aggressive, and profit when their men bring home the loot.

I've known whites who thought blacks were superior, and thought them sick. Blacks who think whites are superior. Sick. Women who thought men were superior. Brain-washed.

You can guess where THAT line of reasoning goes. But as the pendulum swings, and women take more of the power in the world (a natural consequence of effective birth control and expanded educational opportunities) watch for women dominating men in commercials, situation comedies, academic environments. Watch for it to be "funny" for women to strike or dominate men in ways that would be abhorrent if the shoe was on the other foot. Watch for political organs like HuffPost to allow comments that would be seen as rabidly sexist if said by men about women.

And never, ever let yourself forget: they're the same as men, only they have female reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics. Sexism is sexism, and if they were guys they probably would have been "a woman's place is in the home" types. "Barefoot and pregnant" types.

In politics of all kinds: national, gender, racial, sexual...I automatically discount the opinions of the most radical 10% on either side: Liberals who think Conservatives are fools or knaves...or vice versa. Blacks who think whites are evil, or whites who think blacks are mental midgets. Men who think women are weak and manipulative, women who think men are violent and evil. Straights who think gays are diseased perverts, gays who think straights are sexually repressed hypocrites. And on and on. I am quite certain that my insistence on staying to a point of balance creates its own problems--there really are times that one polarity or another is simply correct. It happens.

But as I've said before, what I see is whites who conveniently forget the history of race relations. Women who forget that those who stop the raping men...are also, usually, men. Straights who forget that homosexuality exists in nature. Christians who forget the history of aggression between the West and the Arab world.

When will blacks stop talking about slavery? When individuals stop blaming their childhoods for their obesity, depression, and bad relationships. When religious groups stop orbiting their lives around events that took place thousands of years ago. When nations stop celebrating events that took place before any living citizen was born. When American women stop blaming men for their status in life.

In other words--when human beings stop being what they are: strong, smart, tough...and also whiny little bitches.

That's how we roll.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If you can think of an instance of a wound that heals in LESS time than it takes to inflict it, I'd be very interested."

I have no idea how I could give an answer to that that anybody would find convincing, so I won't even try.

What I will say is this: if it's going to take from 1975 to 2325 before American blacks are healed from slavery, then God help them, because I don't think the rest of the human race is going to stand still over those three coming centuries. Even if the entire U.S. manages to become a stagnant civilization (unfortunately possible), my guess is that India and China will have invented warp drive and started colonizing the rest of the galaxy well before 2300. If blacks haven't, by then, at least achieved the levels of success seen for Indians and Chinese, then that'll lead to a certain degree of what we could call "disparity of outcomes".

So, I hope you're wrong and that American blacks will have caught up with the rest of American society -- and, more importantly, the entire human race outside of the U.S. itself -- well before the twenty-fourth century A.D. There's just likely to be far too much progress among the rest of humankind for blacks to be able to afford to wait that long to get over what I agree was a horrific experience ... but which, for better or worse, is the past.

The human race isn't going to wait 300 years for blacks to get well -- certainly, two billion human beings in China and India aren't going to do that, even if the whites here in America decide to spend a third of a millenium feeling guilty and sucking their thumbs.

History is the past. Life is now. Game on, man.


--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

Steve says countries are obsolete. Eric says History is the past. I disagree with both Steve and Eric. I say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. After the depression certain safeguards were put in place to prevent future depressions. After fifty years or so of this working well we forgot why we had those safeguards and took some away. The result was a repeat of some of the behaviors that caused the depression and the the resulting steep downturn in the economy. We had two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. Then along came nuclear weapons and Mutually Assured Destruction, which made a major war unacceptable. Now after sixty plus years without such a major war, some think we have outgrown them and no longer need nuclear weapons and MAD. This scares the hell out of me.

Steven Barnes said...

Erich--
I said things are blending together, becoming browner, and that will deal with much of this. And that African blacks coming to the U.S. will perform fine. God help indeed--this is why you have to be careful how you treat people. I have never asked whites to compensate for what was done. Nor do I suggest that anyone forget what was done. I suspect that this triggers some very strong guilt and fear feelings among many whites--sorry about that. If you abused your niece in childhood, if she is struggling in adulthood you can say "just get over it" I suppose. That's between you and your conscience, now, isn't it?

Travis said...

"In other words--when human beings stop being what they are: strong, smart, tough...and also whiny little bitches. "


LOL!

So true!

Steven Barnes said...

Marty--
read more carefully, please. I didn't say countries are obsolete. I said they are BECOMING obsolete. That the circumstances that birthed them are being superceded by rapid transportation, instant communication, and multinational corporations as well as tremendous genetic drift. It will take generations, but I see no way to avoid it without building walls around nations. By the time China steps fully into its power (I think) it will be too late for their language to dominate the planet.
##
Do we need defense? Absolutely. Do we need nukes? Probably. Do we need as many of them as we have had..? Even Ronald Reagan thought we didn't. Perhaps he was wrong, but this is hardly a Liberal dream.

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that this triggers some very strong guilt and fear feelings among many whites--sorry about that."

I can't speak for every single white in the U.S., just for myself.

For myself: my reaction has nothing to do with Jim Crow (which LBJ abolished, via his Civil Rights Bill, the year I was born); it has a lot to do with working at Caltech, which pretty much gives me a sense of living at least a bit in the near-future.

And what I think I see when I look at the near-future is this:

1. Fantastic, radical scientific and technical advances, world-wide -- which demand ever higher levels of literacy and numeracy from people who want to participate in and contribute to them.

2. Large quantities of people from India and China participating in those advances (I have probably worked with more people born in India and China, over the course of my career, than with people born in the U.S. such as myself).

3. Not nearly enough American blacks involved with all of this at any level. The number isn't zero, but it's much smaller than it ideally would be.

So, when I read something that suggests to me that we're going to have to wait until 2300+ for the legacy of slavery to be laid to rest, my reaction isn't guilt (over what? stuff that stopped before I was born?); it's dismay that some major chunk of my countrymen are going to be kept back from participating in what I see China and India racing to achieve.

And, no, this is not just a worry I have about blacks in America -- it's pretty much a general worry I have about the whole U.S., black and white. I can all too easily imagine the U.S. gradually turning into a society like western Europe, for which life is still fairly pleasant but for which most of the economic and scientific innovation and growth seems to happen elsewhere.

Working in biology's convinced me that the world just won't wait three centuries for anybody, black or white, to get with the program.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"If you abused your niece in childhood, if she is struggling in adulthood you can say 'just get over it' I suppose. That's between you and your conscience, now, isn't it?"

Who is the "you" here? I was born in 1964 and wasn't old enough to vote until 1982; exactly what sort of power was I, or anybody of my now middle-aged generation, supposed to have to cause or prevent abuses of blacks before the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by LBJ and the Democratic Congress?

But, assume for the sake of discussion that I'm willing and able to say whatever it is to American blacks that I'm supposed to tell them. If I did that ... what good would it do? If I take your statements about the persistence of slavery as an emotional dead weight on blacks, what I say or do literally makes no difference -- we're just going to have to wait out those 300 years regardless.

Moreover, what makes you think that American blacks are competing against me and my racial group? They're not. Perhaps I didn't make it sufficiently clear, but if I didn't, I'll say it bluntly -- I think American whites are collectively just as likely to get left behind by the next 300 years of technological progress as American blacks. When I cited "China and India" as two billion human beings collectively most likely to invent warp drive and start colonizing the galaxy, I meant just that.

The problem with saying that American blacks need three centuries of time to move past the legacy of slavery isn't that it's untrue -- for all I know, it may well be true. It isn't that any particular white person is or isn't willing to be as considerate of blacks' feelings as you'd like. It isn't that you can't make some sort of case why blacks "deserve" those three centuries of time.

It's that the rest of the human race outside of America is probably not going to give anybody in the U.S. -- black or white -- those three centuries. We can collectively decide in the U.S. to stand still or stagnate. Indeed, we may be making that decision as I write this. But, the bulk of the human race are not citizens of the U.S. Three centuries of progress will happen; they may just bypass us here in America, regardless of anybody's feelings.

Assume, purely for the sake of discussion, that I really did personally abuse all the blacks in America. It doesn't matter. If American blacks spend three centuries emotionally stuck on my abuse, the Chinese and Indians will eat their lunch anyway, even if I am personally a villain. Chinese and Indians never were part of the U.S.'s story. They don't care about it. They're not going to take a third of millenium to let American blacks catch up with them. So, I hope it's not going to take three centuries for that legacy to stop being a roadblock.


--Erich Schwarz

Travis said...

The Chinese and Indians are going to eat everyone's lunch.

They've already grabbed the appetizers and are just waiting for the main dish to come around.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; ebb and flow of commericial and military superiority is the way the world works but we need to let your kids know the world is changing.

Mike Ralls said...

It's important to keep things in perspective;

If Black Americans were their own separate country they would have about the GDP and per-capita income as France has today. That's lower than the American average, but still very very high by world averages.

Also, the average Chinese and the average Indian is still, essentially, a peasant tilling the soil. Neither country has an urbanization rate over 50%. Very few Americans, or Westerners or Japanese deal with any Indians or Chinese who aren't in the top 10% of their country. This skews our perspective of them by quite a bit, imagine if you only dealt with the top 10% of Americans, but if either country bordered Mexico then Mexico would have a serious problem trying to keep all the poor Indians or Chinese out.

That's not to say that China and India might not improve a lot over the 21st century, but they both have a long long ways to go and both have serious internal problems to overcome. China, for example, is going to get old before it gets rich.

I disagree with Steve over the coming end of countries. HG Wells said much the same thing, for much the same reasons, and in the almost 150 years since he has been born the overwhelming trend has been for _more_ countries to appear and splinter off, not for unity. The only possible kinda sorta exception is the EU, and that is iffy at best. We'll see how it does over the next decade or two.

Mike Ralls said...

>I said things are blending together, becoming browner, and that will deal with much of this. <

Hey Steve,

I think the evidence and past president supports the position that although the US will become "browner" most of those mixed lineages will come to think of themselves as "white." IIRC, in the last census 1/3rd of Latinos classified themselves as "white." Care to bet that in the 2010 census a higher percentage of Latinos will classify themselves as "white" than in the 2000 census?

Shady_Grady said...


Very few Americans, or Westerners or Japanese deal with any Indians or Chinese who aren't in the top 10% of their country. This skews our perspective of them by quite a bit, imagine if you only dealt with the top 10% of Americans, but if either country bordered Mexico then Mexico would have a serious problem trying to keep all the poor Indians or Chinese out.


I agree with this. It is a really good point.
Also the perspective of an Indian who is lower caste, Muslim or a Dalit or that of a Chinese who is actually of Uighur or Tibetan ancestry might be quite different than his or her countrymen of the dominant religious or ethnic group. Dalits often live in unbelievably bad conditions, even for India.

Anonymous said...

"Very few Americans, or Westerners or Japanese deal with any Indians or Chinese who aren't in the top 10% of their country. This skews our perspective of them by quite a bit..."

There's two billion of them. In written out numbers:

2,000,000,000

Say that only 10% of them are smart enough to be worthy of your concern. Well, let's do the arithmetic on that one:

0.1 x 2,000,000,000
=
200,000,000

i.e., about 200 million people smarter than the average American. Given that there are only 300 million people in all of the U.S., I'd say that represents something of a "challenge" to anybody expecting life to stand still, or expecting to be given three hundred years in which to get past the emotional wounds of history.

I'd also argue that a view of India and China based on working at an elite scientific institution, though skewed, is probably less skewed than a view in which China and India, having been relatively poor and weak nations in 1960, are expected to still be relatively poor and weak nations in 2060.

It seems to me that many Americans -- black and white alike -- subconsciously subscribe to that view, and are thus allowing themselves amazing complacency about just how thoroughly unpleasant the next 50 years are going to be for people in the U.S. expecting life in the next half century to amble along in the same lazy, unfocused way it did during the last half century.


--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

Steve: Obsolete or becoming obsolete either way I disagree. I live in the United STATES. Despite rapid transportation, instant communication,national corporations and until recently a single language the states haven't become obsolete. I also live within a county and town and they haven't become obsolete either.

On the subject of China. I visited China about three years ago. The most striking thing about it was the mix of old and new. By the numbers there may be more poor people and people living the life of the peasant than well off and educated people, but I saw enough of modern China to be convinced that we shouldn't let the percentages of people living at a given level cause us to underestimate China.

Travis said...

Very much agree with what has been said about the numbers vs. percentages in China and India.

I also think it is likly that they are deliberatly not trying to achieve equality for all in their countries. Seems they've adopted the idea that the elite should race ahead and let the rest toil in the mines. Eerily similiar to how the US achieved it's status as an industrial and military superpower. Now, spoiled by success we want EVERYONE to get ahead.

Don't want to seem like I'm making value judments against either approach but the history of the world shows they yield very different results.

wraith808 said...

3. Not nearly enough American blacks involved with all of this at any level. The number isn't zero, but it's much smaller than it ideally would be.

If you're looking at the population of CalTech in response to Black involvement in technical advances, I can pretty much guarantee that your numbers are very skewed.

Anonymous said...

"...The common mistake made in (for all practical purposes) 100% of white argumentation in this arena is to measure this period from the end of slavery--about 150 years ago. How comforting it must be to forget Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Segregation..."

...and to forget the slavery that *still happens today*, even in the U.S. and India and China, even though it's illegal now!

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/world/slavery/default.stm for more info.

Also see http://www.antislavery.org/english/ - Anti-Slavery International was founded in 1839 and *is still at work*. Its sister organization in the U.S is Free the Slaves at http://www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=183

"...If you give men the blame for the wars and violence, and say this is due to intrinsic problems with men, then also give them credit for creating most of the science, art, and exploration...and maintain that this is also due to their innate differences..."

Yeah, that's why I neither blame the bad stuff nor credit the good stuff to "innate differences" between men and women and "innate similarities" among men...and instead recognize that some people have had more opportunities to do big deeds both bad and good than some other people with equally bad or good intentions have had.

"That thousands of generations ago, men and women made a deal, and both agreed to it: women, whose bodies carry children, would raise those children and maintain the home circle. Males, who were larger and stronger, would specialize in dealing with aggressive threats, and take the dangerous jobs"

Seems more likely that lots of different groups of men and women made lots of different deals back then.

Anonymous said...

"If you're looking at the population of CalTech in response to Black involvement in technical advances, I can pretty much guarantee that your numbers are very skewed."

I've worked in laboratories at UCLA, Harvard, and Columbia, and I've associated for the past 25 years with biologists from not only all three of those places but (at this point of my career) something like 20-40 other major institutions of learning.

It's not just a problem at Caltech. If it were, I wouldn't be deeply worried about this proposed "300 years" timetable.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"...Both sides contributed to the social rules, myths, songs, stories and cultural reinforcements that encouraged men to be 'men' and women to be 'women.' It worked...for the production of children, but with a caveat: women's dreams were disposable. As were men's lives..."

...and as were the lives of older girls and the lives of babies of all sexes too. For three of many examples (in this article, two preteen girls and a newborn losing their lives instead of just their dreams):

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/04/09/yemen.child.bride.death/index.html

"(CNN) -- A 12-year-old Yemeni bride died of internal bleeding following intercourse three days after she was married off to an older man, the United Nations Children's Fund said.

"The girl was married to a man at least twice her age, said Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Her death is 'a painful reminder of the risks girls face when they are married too soon,' Kaag said Thursday.

"Amal Basha, chairwoman of the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, a Yemeni human rights group, identified the girl Friday as Elham Mahdi.

"'Elham was married on March 29th and died three days later' and lived in Yemen's Hajjah province, Basha said.

"The girl's death is the latest in a series of child marriage cases in Yemen, where the minimum age to tie the knot is still under debate.

"Frustrated by the recent revelation, a Yemeni government official called the case 'a stark reminder that the practice of underage marriage must come to an end.'

"'The government has been working tirelessly to cement the minimum marriage age but conservative parliamentarians have stood against it,' said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media. 'Members of the conservative block need to step up to the responsibility of protecting the rights and freedoms of the young. NGOs must continue campaigning to shed the light on this unfortunate practice.'

"In September, a 12-year-old Yemeni girl forced into marriage died during childbirth. Her baby also died, according to the Seyaj Organization for the Protection of Children.

"Fawziya Ammodi was in labor for three days before she died of severe bleeding, said Ahmed al-Qureshi, president of the organization.

"'Although the cause of her death was lack of medical care, the real case was the lack of education in Yemen and the fact that child marriages keep happening,' al-Qureshi said.

"Child brides are common in Yemen, where the United Nations estimates that one in three girls are married before age 18. Most are married off to older men with more than one wife, according to a study by Sanaa University.

"For the girl's parents, marriage means the daughters are no longer a financial or moral burden. Most times, parents get a promise from the husband to wait until the girl is older to consummate the marriage.

"'Early marriage places girls at increased risk of dropping out of school, being exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation, and even losing their lives from pregnancy, childbirth and other complications,' UNICEF said.

"The issue of Yemeni child brides made headlines in 2008 when 10-year-old Nujood Ali was pulled out of school and married. Her husband beat and raped her within weeks of the ceremony.

"To escape, Nujood hailed a taxi -- the first time in her life -- to get to the central courthouse where she sat on a bench and demanded to see a judge.

"After a well-publicized trial, she was granted a divorce."

Anonymous said...

"...As if women don't encourage men to be aggressive..."

This reminds me of the comments to some other posts (like http://darkush.blogspot.com/2010/03/on-keeping-legs-crossed.html ) that boiled down to the idea that aggressive men get turned off by women trying to select them and do select women who don't want them so if you want an aggressive man you should play all hard-to-get as if you don't want him and aren't encouraging him to go for you.