Sowing the Wind
From some Olympian height it might be amusing to see the dedication with which mankind pursues folly. No sooner do we flee one error than we fall, swooning, into the arms of another. How naive we were in the 1960s to think that the end of legal racial segregation would mean a gradual lessening of the all-too-natural human tendency to seek the advantage of our own tribe at the expense of all others. The ink was hardly dry on the civil rights legislation of the mid-'60s when we replaced one set of legal racial classifications and preferences with another, in the name of righting wrongs past, present, and future. It was mostly well-meant, but it would be hard to think of anything more toxic to a society in which people of all races must somehow get along, than to begin awarding the favors of government based on race. Instead of striving for a legally color-blind society, we refined and formalized our racial distinctions, and not just in the laws of a small number of southern states but at the federal level.
And how naive it was to suppose that the election of an officially black president would improve the climate. Perhaps it might have; there was a wave of sentimental warmth even among some who did not vote for Obama, who in spite of their opposition to him on policy grounds were happy to think that such a victory could happen, and hoped that at least it might help to reduce racial animosity. But instead the Democrats have used Obama's race as a device for increasing the tension, by their readiness to raise the charge of racism against anyone who opposed his policies.
This discouraging subject has been in the news this week with publicity about the Obama campaign's African-Americans for Obama effort, which was complemented by stories such as this one, about the coach of the Chicago Bears appearance in a video for the campaign. Conservatives responded instantly by noting that something like White People for Romney would be considered intolerable. If such a thing existed and were officially sanctioned by the Romney campaign, his candidacy would be finished, instantly.
Yes, yes, the situation of a minority is different from that of a majority, and the history of white oppression of blacks makes the racial solidarity of the latter more understandable and less sinister. But we are supposed to be trying to get past those things. More importantly, that situation is changing. We're told regularly, usually with ill-concealed pleasure, that white people will soon be a minority in this country. As the legal oppression of blacks fades further into the past, younger white people will less and less agree to accept their stigmatized position as historical oppressor, and the idea that favorable treatment of the historically oppressed should be encoded in law. A 21-year-old white was born in 1991, twenty-six years after the end of legal segregation. We are now approaching the half-century mark. That 21-year-old is not likely to see any reason why racial consciousness should be encouraged and celebrated in every group but his own.
It is, I repeat, toxic to have racial classifications encoded in our laws, and supported by the semi-official apparatus of "diversity." I can't prove it, but I suspect that resentment on this score is greater among younger white people than is commonly recognized, and worse, that it will grow. How could it possibly be otherwise? We have built racial partitions and resentments into our legal system.
They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
The Latter Days of a Once-Noble Movement
Also in the news this week, and also fueling the fires of racial animosity, is the shooting of a black teen-ager by a "neighborhood watch" patrolman in a gated community in Florida. The killer is being described as "white," but seems actually to be Puerto Rican, which in our official scheme makes him not exactly white, but "Hispanic." The facts are pretty murky at this point, and obviously if the watchman committed a crime he should be punished. But the story is only in the national news because it can be framed as an instance of white-against-black racial violence. Al Sharpton is getting into the act. Soon there will be calls for national inquiries, the FBI, soul-searching about white racism, and claims that this killing is representative of a widespread menace., etc. etc. etc.
Meanwhile, poor black communities are being devasted by their own internal lawlessness. Hardly a week goes by that our local paper doesn't contain at least one story about a young (usually) black man being shot by another. If the shooting isn't fatal, it isn't even a big story. And needless to say none of them make the national news, or attract the attention of out-of-town activists.
Here is the most recent. It's not unusual: the victim gunned down suddenly in public, for reasons unknown, though often presumed to relate to the drug trade. There were thirty-one murders in Mobile last year, and I feel confident in saying that young black men are disproportionately involved as both slayers and slain. I'm not sure whether that number includes the predominantly black city of Prichard, which is geographically indistinct from Mobile; if it doesn't, the real number is a good bit higher. (Here, if you care to view it, is one of Prichard's murders captured by a surveillance camera at a gas station. I don't necessarily encourage you to view it. But it does give you an idea of the callousness involved--there is no indication that it is anything but a planned cold-blooded murder, committed openly.)
Everyone knows that the endemic fatherlessness in poor black communities is a major part of the problem, but no one knows what to do about it. In any case the solution to that is not likely to come from outside. So it's not surprising that the Sharptons of the world would focus on the rare white-on-black killing rather than the everyday black-on-black ones. The civil rights movement as it existed until sometime in the 1960s was, whatever flaws it may have had, in its essence one of the most fundamentally virtuous political phenomena in the history of this country. Now it's reduced to looking for the occasional sensational case which it can hope to use to play on the same strings of sympathy that sounded so well in the 1960s, in a very different world, and has little of use to say about the complex catastrophe which has overtaken too many of the people it claims to represent.
About That Mandate
I haven't said much about the struggle between the Obama administration and the Church, as well as much of the larger Christian community, over the HHS mandate that Catholic institutions must provide insurance to their employees that covers contraception, sterilization, and the abortifacent "morning after" pill. Part of the reason is that I find it difficult to say anything about it without going off on a lengthy rant. I must say I am very proud of our bishops. I'll content myself with two links: first, to Janet Cupo's suggestion that we pray to St. John Fisher; second, a cool and calm appraisal of the situation by Ramesh Ponnuru. The frenzy over a so-called "Republican War Against Women" is the most repulsive demagoguery I've seen from the Democrats since George Wallace. They seem to believe it's succeeding, but Ponnuru is not so sure; I hope he's right.
It has been clear for a long time that Obama's idea of overcoming our divisions, at least on the issues that his party really cares about, is that he should tell us what we're going to do, and that we should do it. I think many of the bishops genuinely feel betrayed, because they believed his rhetoric. They don't seem to be falling for it now.
Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers of 1610)
On a more pleasant subject: several months ago my friend Robert sent me, electronically, a copy of the Martin Pearlman / Boston Baroque recording of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers for the Blessed Virgin. I had a lot of trouble finding time to listen to it in its 90-minute entirety. I started it several times and never got past the first twenty minutes. Finally I gave that up and divided it into four playlists of twenty to thirty minutes each, and put those on my iPod. In that way I've listened to the whole thing more than once--not necessarily in order, and not necessarily the same number of times for each section. So perhaps I'm missing some sense of the unity of the work, but I've grown very fond of it. I've found it to be especially welcome as medicine for insomnia. Don't laugh, because I don't mean it's boring and puts me to sleep. I mean, rather, that it interests me without producing tension; it dispels the various anxious thoughts that usually crowd into my mind when I can't sleep, including anxiety about the fact that I can't sleep. The first word that comes to mind when I think of it is "fresh." It seems to open the door to a spring-like place in my mind, a place of sweet and graceful beauty. I've ordered the CD.
Here's the Boston Baroque rehearsing it:
That's what I called the list of sites in the sidebar here, because "blogroll" wasn't exactly accurate. I have been meaning for some time to revise it, to add some things and remove others. It fell victim to a common problem of mine--similar to the one noted above, actually: if I can't set aside the time to do it all at once, I don't do it at all. I wanted not only to make the changes all at once, but to write a post describing and explaining them. I've finally talked myself out of that, and into doing it as I get a moment here and there. Today I added Janet Cupo's excellent (of course) new blog The Three Prayers. And I removed a couple of sites that have been inactive for quite a long time. I'll be doing more of that. I am waiting for someone at The Incarnationalist to start posting again.