Wednesday, April 13, 2005
A while back Cobb, a blogger I've always enjoyed, put together a group he named the Conservative Brotherhood, a blog-roll of black conservative voices in the blogosphere. The other day he noted a commenter on Wizbang that apparently took deference to a group of "black" conservatives, believing their racially-based identification and membership criteria constituted a sort of racism that should be beyond conservatives. A similar, though less stridently expressed, sentiment was raised by fellow steeley-eyed killer of the deep and all around good guy Chap (of Chapomatic fame), who while uncomfortable with the idea of racially based exclusivity recognized that similar types of self-imposed selective grouping (MilBlogs, regional blog groups, even SubBlogs) is evident every day with little comment.
While I think the commenter on Wizbang may be speaking from a genuine belief that we should move toward a color blind society and that this is only made more difficult by continually highlighting race and ascribing a racial angle to every aspect of life, I believe his focus is off here. In the first place, there can be little argument that the experiences of Cobb, Juliette, La Shawn or any other of the CB in developing and expressing their conservative ideas as well as handling the reaction to their ideas is markedly different than those shared by many other conservatives and this difference is probably greatly related to cultural or societal expectations based upon race. As such, one would probably be just as accurate to describe the CB as a group based upon a shared experience resulting from skin color and political persuasion more than a group based just upon skin color and political persuasion. Secondly, no more than closing your eyes kept you hidden as a child, ignoring the real-world effects of racial identification (either self-identification or assumed identification on behalf of an observer) on experience does nothing to change that experience or make it less real. And third, that recognizing the impact that racial identification has in a situation where it implicitly and explicitly effects expectations and perceptions is not the same as creating arbitraty racial aspects to everything. If we were discussing the Brotherhood of Left-Handed Blacks, however, the commenter might have a stronger point.
Like many things, though, I believe much of this is yet another potato-poTAHto issue and a result of conflicting assumptions, beacuse the word "black" carries the potential for conveying much more than just color, especially when used to refer to cultural identification and experience. As such, I feel that the depth of its meaning in cultural terms is, to a degree, lost on my brother Chap, just as it is largely lost on me. This is a result of the cultural homoginization of much of America, an effect I think is especially evidenced in "white" America. This watering down of culture was brought home to me very strongly while living in Japan (an experience Chap shares). The strength and clarity of the Japanese cultural identity was so evident that I couldn't help but find it to be in great contrast with my own identity, one formed more strongly from a sense of individualism rather than one of group or culture. I see a parallel between my experience in Japan and this discussion that really amounts to understanding the effects of "black culture" on identity. I'm certainly not claiming to have any special insight on the world of "black culture," but I do recognize it exists as a distinct entity that is as significant or more so to the identity of most black Americans as the culture of one's origin country is to our imigrant population. Perhaps one day the black cultural identity will be diffused throughout America's melting pot like Irish or German culture is, but that is not the case today.
As such, I welcome the diversity of ideas and perspectives the CB brings, allowing me a peek into thoughts and experiences I'd never even be aware of otherwise. And, in building a fuller view of the issues and engaging them with my thoughts, we work toward what I think is a better goal than a color blind society. That is a society in which it's OK to use skin color to identify a person just as you'd use hair color or the shape of their face without feeling self conscious or wondering if someone else might read more into your observation than you'd like. A society where you can recognize the different effects of culture upon identity without having that recognition presumed to be biased. A society that understands and embraces diversity as the celebration of what makes each person unique and individual and yet still a part of the whole. This, I think, is a better realization of Dr. King's dream than that of blindly assuming color blindness in all matters.