Favorite

Race is not destiny 

From sea to shining sea, college students seem determined to make us argue about race to the exclusion of all else.

From sea to shining sea, college students seem determined to make us argue about race to the exclusion of all else. So here's something I learned in college: Virtually every ugly stereotype applied to African-Americans by white racists was applied to my Irish-Catholic ancestors as well. Their English oppressors caricatured Irish peasants as shiftless, drunken, sexually promiscuous, donkey-strong but mentally deficient.

The Celtic race was good at singing, dancing, lifting heavy objects and prizefighting. Red-haired women were thought sexually insatiable. We Celts also had an appalling odor.

Little historical imagination is required to grasp why slave owners needed to call their victims subhuman. Yes, I said slaves. During the 17th century, many thousands of native Irish were transported to the Caribbean and North America and sold into indentured servitude. During the potato famine of the 1840s, England sent soldiers to guard ships exporting food crops from Irish farms while the native population starved or emigrated.

Feeding them, it was believed, would compromise their work ethic.

But here's the thing: At no point was I tempted to wonder if my ancestors were, in fact, inferior. Not once, not ever. Nor did I see any point in holding it against the Rolling Stones or The Who (although my grandfather Connors pretended to). It was ancient history to me, fascinating, but of little import to my life as a first-generation college student.

My father, a donkey-strong man of fierce opinions, had a slogan he'd often repeat. It was his personal credo, a bedrock statement of Irish-American patriotism.

"You're no better than anybody else," he'd growl. "And NOBODY'S BETTER THAN YOU."

It's become my personal motto as well. You see, I don't believe it of you or your ancestors either. That they're inferior (or superior, for that matter.) Never have. I used to joke that being Irish, I only looked white. But hardly anybody gets it anymore, so I quit saying it.

"History ... is a nightmare," said James Joyce's Stephen Daedalus, "from which I am trying to awake."

I understand that it's easier to resign from being Irish (in the political sense) than it is to resign from being black, or Asian, or Hispanic, or whatever. But to me, the freedom to redefine yourself is the essence of being American.

We used to sit around in our freshman dorm at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, all us first-generation college boys with immigrant ancestors, comparing notes about the crazy stories our grandparents told us about the old country. Me and Czyza, and Finelli, and Sussman, and Piskorowski, and Sugarman, and Grasso, and Maloney ... . Well, you get the point.

Hardly a WASP in sight, although I'd actually dated one in high school.

So no, I won't apologize for my "white privilege" either. Nor will I turn myself inside-out trying to prove my good faith to somebody who doubts it. I'm no better than you, and you're no better than I am. If we can't agree to meet in the middle, then maybe it's best we not meet at all.

It will be seen that I'm temperamentally unqualified to be a college administrator, compelled as they are to remain solemn as impassioned 19-year-olds demand — demand, no less — an immediate end to not only "white supremacy" but to "heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma and classism."

That's from a recent list of grievances presented to the president of Amherst College. Somehow, they left out the designated hitter rule.

Writing in The Nation, Michelle Goldberg complained about "left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea ... that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression." She met fierce resistance from Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper in (where else?) Salon, who countered that "[T]he demand to be reasonable is a disingenuous demand. Black folks have been reasoning with white people forever. Racism is unreasonable, and that means reason has limited currency in the fight against it."

No, it doesn't. Quite the opposite.

My view is that they're being intellectually defrauded, all these idealistic kids who are being taught their race is destiny, and destiny is race.

Better by far that they should study entomology, urban planning, or 18th century French literature — anything that fascinates them — than waste their college years pondering the exact color of their navels and compiling lists of fruitless demands.

End xenophobia? Wonderful. Tell it to ISIS.

However, how it seems to work on many campuses these days is that a tenured commissar like Cooper gets to make both ends of the argument: yours and hers. Needless to say, you're wrong by definition.

Anyway, here's what I'd tell her students if they asked me:

Yes, race can still be an obstacle. However, most Americans want to be fair. People will meet you more than halfway if you let them. As President Obama has shown, bigots no longer have the power to define your life.

Unless, that is, you give it to them.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Trump unfit

    Even as an oligarch, President Trump turns out to be breathtakingly incompetent. Is there any reason to suppose he's even loyal to the United States? Does he even understand the concept? Trump is loyal to Trump, and to his absurdly swollen ego. Nothing and nobody else.
    • May 18, 2017
  • America's pastime

    Sometimes, the most important things that happen at the ballpark are only tangentially related to the games themselves. I speak as one who hasn't missed a televised Boston Red Sox game this season, and may not between now and October. Win or lose, I'm in it for the stories.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • Never wrong

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself — from whence my people emigrated after 1880.
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Trump unfit

    Even as an oligarch, President Trump turns out to be breathtakingly incompetent. Is there any reason to suppose he's even loyal to the United States? Does he even understand the concept? Trump is loyal to Trump, and to his absurdly swollen ego. Nothing and nobody else.
    • May 18, 2017
  • America's pastime

    Sometimes, the most important things that happen at the ballpark are only tangentially related to the games themselves. I speak as one who hasn't missed a televised Boston Red Sox game this season, and may not between now and October. Win or lose, I'm in it for the stories.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Not leaders

    • I like Autumn Tolbert's articles. She uses logical reasoning and makes some good points. My…

    • on May 28, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Did anyone read Gene's column this week? So far no one has commented on it.

    • on May 28, 2017
  • Re: Not leaders

    • Cotton is the most dangerous person in politics.

    • on May 28, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation