MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2022
Quiet trailblazer speaks: With apologies, we didn't get very far last week.
More specifically, we didn't get very far with our review of the (very important) essay by Professors Curran and Gates.
The professors advanced an important claim in last Sunday's New York Times. "We need a new language for talking about race," the headline on their guest essay said.
That was an important suggestion about a deeply complex topic. In part because of the vast complexity, we didn't get very far with the strengths and the weaknesses of what the professors said.
A bit more on that will follow. First, let's consider what Mary Frances Early once said.
In 1967, Early became the first African-American to receive a degree from the University of Georgia. She's one of the determined, dedicated trailblazers from the classic "civil rights era" whose names are not well know.
In our view, she hails from our nation's "greatest generation." She has recently written a book about her life, a book called The Quiet Trailblazer.
Early wasn't and isn't a hound for attention. We strongly recommend the hour-long discussion of her new book—a discussion you can watch by way of this C-Span tape.
Early strikes us as a revelation throughout. Beyond that, we recommend the contribution of Emory professor Hank Klibanoff, who interviews Early—they seem to be friends—about her days at UGa and her subsequent life and career.
Early was already a college graduate when she entered UGa seeking an advanced degree in music education. In 1967, she received that degree—from the division of UGa which now bears this name:
The Mary Frances Early School of Education
For our money, there are no dull moments in the hour-long interview recorded by C-Span. Life for Early at UGa was "no crystal stair."
Today, though, we call your attention to something Early wrote in 1953, when she was still 17. Klibanoff read the statement at one point during his interview with Early.
Early was an entering freshman at Clark College—today's Clark Atlanta University. She wrote this statement in a journal which her mother saved:
EARLY (1953): On Saturday evening of Freshman Orientation week, I mused as I walked back to my dorm: Thank God I am an American … an American who can go forward not as a Negro, but as a true American citizen to greater heights and to the pinnacle of success. Tonight, I pray a fervent prayer for the freshman class of Clark College, and the freshman classes all over the world—that they might dedicate themselves to the task of finishing this college course of four years, if possible, and then turn back to help their people who are not as fortunate as they—mold themselves into true citizens of the United States and of America so that someday the Negro race will not be called Negro and the Caucasian race called White, but all will be united together—in one race—the human race, having differences only in the pigment of their skin, texture of their hair, and having this in common—a citizen of the United States of America.
As she embarked on her freshman year, Early "prayed a fervent prayer" for college freshmen all over the world. She was and is a religious person. At this site, we aren't.
Beyond that, she placed a high value on her status as an American—"as a true American citizen." For ourselves, we don't identify that way as strongly as Early did. But we think that part of Early's statement points to a deeply complicating aspect of our nation's emerging Babel.
Early identified as a Christian, and as an American citizen. Mainly, though, we call your attention to what she had to say about the existence of race.
What did Early think about "race?" Her ideas tracked an idea which was once quite common among liberals and progressives.
Someday, this young woman mused, "the Negro race will not be called Negro and the Caucasian race called White." Instead, she offered this notion:
All will be united together—in one race—the human race, having differences only in the pigment of their skin, texture of their hair, and having this in common—a citizen of the United States of America.
There would be only one race—the human race. Skin pigment and texture of hair would be seen as trivial distractions—as the "superficial physical differences" to which Gates and Curran refer at one point in their guest essay.
Early was 17 when she prayed that prayer. At one time, the viewpoint we've highlighted in that passage was quite common within the liberal / progressive world.
On the merits, on the science, here was only one race—the human race! The way we the people had been split into so-called "races" was a misguided artefact of "the world the slaveholders made."
In spite of the way the society worked, there was only one "race"—the human race. The rest was all misdirection.
That's what liberals once widely believed. It was somewhat common for young people to write the word "human" on government forms which asked them to state their "race."
Rather plainly, our failing tribe believes something different today. Or at least, so our behaviors strongly seem to suggest
There's no ultimate right or wrong in such a complex matter, of course. In the main, though, we think Early pretty much had it right on the science:
As everybody knows how to say and no one seems to know how to explain, there's no "inherent biological meaning" to the concept of race. The concept of race is a social construct—a social invention. It's a misguided framework which comes to us, live and direct, from "the world the slaveholders made."
All this week, we'll consider some of the ways things fall apart when we start accepting and stressing the basic conceptual framework which comes to us from that world. Along the way, we'll offer a basic suggestion:
The "new language" we badly need would almost surely have to be built around that older idea—the older idea in which there's only one "race.".
There's no ultimate right or wrong to this, but once in a while it's worth remembering:
The science is on Early's side! The science describes the world she prayed for when she was still 17.
Tomorrow: No complaint currently left behind? We offer a first example