race & religion

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at jhu.edu
Thu Jun 11 10:30:58 PDT 1998

At 10:42 AM 6/11/98 -0400, Doug Henwood wrote:
>I proposed it for a discussion topic because it seems rather important to
>me. Left anticlericals are happy to kick around white evangelicals, but
>they lose their voice when it comes to discussing what I think - do I have
>permission to say this? - is the often pernicious influence of Christianity
>on African-American political life. (Reed, whom you hold in low regard, is
>one of the few people who dares pick up this hot potato.)

You must have missed my debate with Rev. Coates on PSN a couple of months ago. Do you still subsribe to that list? I attach a copy of my main posting in that debate.


attachment: --------------------------------------------------------

At 12:08 PM 1/30/98 -0800, you wrote, inter alia:

>this a moment...I ur4ge you to look at the literaturee on white privilege..
> Or i would ask you to consider a recetn issue in California..i think in
>Riverside..where the school board wanted to name a predoinantly white
>school...Martin Luther King Jr. High School...and most of the white parents
>strongly objected because they did not want their children stigmatized..now
>what is this about..again..those who refuse to see are the most blind..


I think that we really misunderstand each other on that issue. I am not talking about what I _read_ on the race issue, because I admit I read very little. I am talking about what I experienced. And, on the top of it, I do not give a damn about petty debates over names, and for a good reason.

You see, Rodney, I am not your typical American white male, I am an Eastern European immigrant. I am free of the cultural baggage that burdens the discussion about the so-called race relations in this country, especially on the part of the white academe.

The stereotypical "white liberal" treatment of "race" relations is nothing more than a form of collective psychotherapy to get over a guilt trip, a mythology completely lost in its own imaginary realm that enchants rather than explains -- yet harmless and producing only a minor nuissance, sort of like Hare Krishna followers at the airports.

On the other hand, the neo-con "end of racism" not only is a form of collective psychotherapy to get over the side effects of the liberal psychotherapy, and equally if not more lost in its own non-reality -- it is also an extremely dangerous mobilization of reactionary elements. These guys do not just chant at the airports, they instigate those who blast them.

>From where I stand, both liberal and "end of racism" approaches are nothing
more than semi-religious psychotherapy cults, complete with their own gurus, moral entrepreneurs, fetishes and mythology. I sense that you tend to intrepret my missive on 'race' from within the framework of that mythology, you are, pardon my metaphor, like a priest who sees the signs of his god in everything that appears before his eyes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that other (perhaps more plausible) interpretations are possible.

I do not produce any "race" mythology, liberal, conservative, identity or otherwise. I wrote about the empirical reality I first-hand experience and that reality defies the notion of race. I live in the "empowerment zone" in downtown Baltimore (I refuse moving to the burbs for various reasons) which is nearly 100% Black. It is also poor, disintegrating, desolate, drug- and crime-ridden, an urban wasteland if you will (despite the meager, inept and inadequate revitalization efforts).

What I see around me has very little to do with the skin color of the people who live there, and much to do with their social class. In fact, I saw very similar behavior patterns in the Eastern European lumenproletraiat (100% Caucasian!) forced out of their pre-modern village ways to either urban employment or state farms. And I see the same behavioral traits as the Black lumpenproletariat in Baltimore, a few epoiphenomenal differences notwithstanding.

So attributing these behavioral traits to some special treatment due to skin color is, in my eyes, a religious mythology of the "do not believe your own eyes, believe what I tell you" variety. And I am a nonbeliever: religion and psychotherapy turn me off.

But that is not all. The Eastern European authorities recognized that the problem in question is caused by the kind of cultural adaptation, or rather mal-adaptation, of the uprooted rural masses to the modern environment. They also understood that a solution would require breaking up that culture of maladaptation (often reinforced by ethnic or familial ties) and they did that, sometimes quite drastically (breaking up ethnic communities, forced relocation, forced integration, forced settlement, compulsory employment, standardized education, etc.).

In my view, solving the "race problem" in the US would require very similar measures - a forced breakup of the ghetto culture, and forced integration of its dwellers into the mainstream society. But that sounds like a blasphemy to both conservatives who oppose the integration, as well as liberals who cherish cultural relativism (which is easy to do, if you do not live in a ghetto), not to mention the hordes of reverends whose personal cults and empires, built on ghetto misery, would be torn down.

The reverends (at least some of them) are perhaps the main reproducers of the ghetto culture. Their poison the minds of their followers, imbue them with the feeling of otherwordlines as a substitue for real action, and worse of all -- they sap their meager economic resources that otherwise could be spent on secular goods which would attract business to the area.

To give you an example from my own neighborhood - a revered of the nearby church bought form the city, at a substantial discount, serveral properties on the condition he would rehabilitate them . Several years have passed, and most adjacent properties have been rehabilitated by commercial developers, except the ones acquired by the reverend. These boarded up homes attract petty criminals, the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, they pose a fire hazard, yet the reverend stubbornly refuses to rehabilitate them as he had promised. Why? The rumor has it that he needs a parking lot for his church, but he cannot legally demolish the houses, so he waits until they dilapidate beyond repair. So who sustains the ghetto here: capitalist (presumably 'racist') developers or the reverend?

So to sum things up, my view on the 'race' relations is that all that race mythology, liberal, conservative or identity-related alike, is not worth the paper on which it is written -- it is the opium of the poor, a psychotherapy cult for the guilt ridden white liberals, a smoke screen for the conservatives, and a sacred cash cow for moral entrepreneurs and symbol manipulators. For me, dealing with race reelations means essentially three things: (i) a forced breakup of the ghetto, ghetto culture and cultural identities associated with it; (ii) forced integration of its dwellers into the mainstream society, complete with standard education job training programs, health care, social services, and the institutionalization of those incapable of- or resistant to- that integration ; and (iii) a good kick in the teeth to all those moral entrepreneurs who bemoan that _real_ deconstruction of the ghetto in the name of cultutral relativism, religion, identity, and kindred abstractions.

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