WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16, 2022
Our "multiracial democracy:" "The eternal note of sadness" had been brought in, the poet once famously said.
For us, that note was introduced by the first thing we read this morning. It was a news report in the New York Times. It appeared beneath this headline:
Indian Court Upholds Ban on Hijabs in Schools
Ugh. Briefly, we considered refusing to click. When we did click, we encountered this:
YASIR (3/16/22): A top court in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on Tuesday upheld a government order banning Muslim girls from wearing head scarves inside schools, a ruling that is likely to heighten tensions at a time when India is increasingly polarized along religious lines.
The court said that wearing the hijab is not part of essential religious practice under Islam. The ruling came at a time when members of India’s minority community are increasingly coming under attack as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted Hindu-first policies.
Religious freedom is protected under the country’s Constitution, but there has been a proliferation of religious-based hate crimes, particularly against members of the Muslim community. Their members and right-wing Hindu activists have also been clashing at school campuses around Karnataka.
The dispute began in September at a college preparatory school for girls...
For domestic consumption, we're not sure that we'd endorse the unexplained use of the term "right-wing" in that passage. That said, the overall sadness conveyed by this report involves a basic fact about our imperfect human race:
It involves the difficulties we humans tend to have in dealing with perceived difference.
All over the globe, a pattern obtains involving perception of difference. Any way we humans can do it, we tend to split into tribes and move toward war with the others.
We split into tribes based upon perceived difference—difference of religion, of language, of ethnicity or of "race." We rush to establish a sense of difference based upon gender and / or generation.
According to Sameer Yasir's news report, contemporary India "is increasingly polarized along religious lines." According to Yasir, it's gotten so bad that "[extremist] Hindu monks have made calls for other Hindus to arm themselves and kill Muslims."
(We're substituting the word "extremist" for the unexplained term "right-wing.")
Historically, we human beings have tended to have a very hard time dealing with perceived difference—and we tend to see difference under every bed.
In this country, our brutal history is tied to perceived difference in the realm of so-called "race." These perceptions come to us, live and direct, from "the world the slaveholders made."
These perceptions suffuse the world in which we all live. In this passage, Professors Gates and Curran, quite correctly, brought the note of sadness in:
GATES AND CURRAN (3/6/22): Race is, to steal a line from Wordsworth, “too much with us.” Its history is too long, its presence and usage too common, for it to magically disappear anytime soon. While, biologically speaking, the idea of individual human races with different origins is as farcical as the medieval belief that elves cause hiccups, the social reality of race is undeniable. And genetics—or, for that matter, any science— has the potential to be misused, co-opted by racist ideologies and employed to bolster harmful narratives about racial purity or biological superiority.
Biologically speaking, the concept of race is farcical, the professors say. But its social reality is undeniable and everywhere. There's no way it can be escaped.
We note these facts for a reason. We'd direct your attention to the difficult task we Americans have set for ourselves in our attempt to create "a multiracial democracy."
Within our liberal / progressive tribe, we tend to praise the glory of the attempt while underselling the depth of the anthropological challenge. We've shown you one headline from today's Times—but this same morning, on pages A20 and A21, these additional headlines appear:
Suspect in Shootings of 5 Homeless Men Arrested in Washington
Suspect in New York MoMA Stabbing Is Arrested in Philadelphia
Man Hit Woman in the Head 125 Times Because She Was Asian, Officials Say
Client Charged in Fatal Stabbing of Lawyer, a Tiananmen Activist
That second incident doesn't seem to involve an issue of racial difference. Neither does the fourth item, in which an attorney of Asian descent was fatally stabbed by a 25-year-old Chinese woman who had been seeking asylum in this country, apparently under what she had just revealed to be false pretenses.
The third incident seems to involve a gruesomely violent physical attack based upon perceptions of "race." The first incident doesn't seem to involve a racial motivation, but it does involve a series of murders of a different group of others.
Race was overtly present in the third headline. For many readers, it might have seemed to be present in the fourth.
That said, it's plain in the newspapers, every day, that—in large part due to our brutal history—"race is [perhaps] too much with us." The web site of the Washington Post is featuring a new column by Paul Butler which is promoted a shown:
Why jailing Jussie Smollett is unjust
Butler's column begins as shown. The column is followed by predictable warring comments, often from readers who don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about:
BUTLER (3/15/22): I don’t believe Jussie Smollett but I recognize when a Black man gets railroaded through a justice system that is out to get him. A rich entitled actor is hardly the most sympathetic face of reform. Still, Smollett’s case demonstrates that when powerful elites decide they want a Black man locked up, nothing and nobody—not even the elected prosecutor—will stop them.
Smollett’s the Black, gay actor who falsely claimed he had been the victim of a hate crime—attacked, he said, by two masked men who used racist and homophobic slurs and tied a rope around his neck.
Smollett’s story quickly fell apart, even as he continued to maintain his victimhood. He was charged with disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped in exchange for community service and surrender of his $10,000 bond—an appropriate result for a first-time offender in a nonviolent crime.
But that wasn’t enough for many White people—and some Black people as well—who wanted a pound of Smollett’s flesh...
Butler believes that Smollett is lying when he continues [present tense] to say he was the victim of a two-pronged hate crime.
Still, Butler says that Smollett is being sent to jail because he's black. According to Butler, many white people—and some black people—wanted a pound of Smollett's flesh.
How many Hispanic people wanted a pound of Smollett's flesh? Butler doesn't tell us that, but he goes on to make additional statements such as these—and for all we know, he may be right in his overall assessment of this particular case:
"If those in power want a Black man locked up, they will find a way to do it."
"So a White male lawyer in private practice was handed more control over a criminal case than the Black female prosecutor elected to make those kinds of decisions."
"As for Smollett, he is just another Black man serving time—in a system more perverted than his crime."
Is Smollett "just another Black man serving time" in a perverted system? We can't answer that question!
It isn't just "race" which is too much with us; so is complexification. Butler's column involves the vast complexities of a legal system which very few readers will be qualified to assess or understand.
Still, the predictable angry comments follow, from those on the left and those of the right, most of whom don't seem to understand the fact that they can't understand the complexities of this case.
The knowledge is AWOL; the anger is real. This is part of the very large challenge of a "multiracial democracy."
The woods are lovely, dark and deep; our society is perhaps becoming a tiny small bit of a Babel. Identity groups are proliferating—and every group has a complaint, none of which is necessarily invalid.
In Ukraine, everyone's a Ukrainian; that's not how we score matters here. We admire the way the Ukrainians have come together to fight, while failing to note an obvious fact—in the face of any imaginable challenge, it would be very, very, very hard for us to do anything like that.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. We're a nation of many "identities."
It isn't that something is "wrong" with our attempt to conduct a multiracial democracy. But human nature being what it is, the challenge involved there is great.
At the very least, we should resist a journalistic impulse, one which strikes us as highly performative:
We should avoid creating a journalistic world in which no complaint, no matter how trivial, unfounded or plainly misstated, can ever be left behind.
In India, extremists are calling for death for one group of (perceived) Others. According to major anthropologists, our brains are wired this way.
That's what's happening way far away. In our own somewhat Babel-adjacent nation, an unimpressive mainstream press corps now leaves few complaints behind.
Tomorrow: Was this a solid complaint?