Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rethinking Superiority: Reflections on Whiteness and the Cult of "Progress"

By Tim Wise

(This is only part of an essay found on There is so much to learn in this essay, but I've only included
2 sections of it. On his website you'll see his extensive speaking schedule, and other information about him.)

September 15, 2005
As of this coming year, high school students in Philadelphia, PA will be required to take a course in African American history in order to graduate. In a recent column, I lent my support to the new prerequisite, and responded to those who have attacked the plan, most of whom have criticized such a course for being "divisive," or too narrowly focused, or otherwise a distraction from the presumably more important (and unrelated) work of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Having grown accustomed to hostile e-mails in response to my internet-based essays, I was utterly unsurprised then by the missive I received, shortly after the first piece went up on my website a few weeks ago. Therein, the author attacked the black history requirement, offering reasons for his objections that I suspect were far more honest than those put forth by most, and which reasons were also considerably more racist in both tone and content.
Indeed, his racial hostility virtually leapt off the page when he insisted among other things, that no sub-Saharan African nation had developed a wheel prior to contact with whites, and that ancient Egypt (which he grudgingly admitted was, as with modern-day Egypt, located in Africa) wasn't really African in the sense of being a black nation.
Finally, he self-confidently proclaimed that "blacks have contributed between nil and zilch" to American history, and thus were unworthy of any classroom attention, let alone an entire course dedicated to their non-achievement. To be more specific, my detractor insisted that blacks have contributed no technological advances, no scientific discoveries, or other inventions that would merit a class on Black History.
There is much one could say here, and perhaps some will question why I would even bother to respond at all. Yet the ubiquity with which such pedantry finds its way into my web browser suggests that letting it slide will hardly make such views go away. At the very least, this kind of vapid argumentation points up a number of disturbing conclusions about the people who forward it, and those who believe it--and let us be clear, with regard to the last bunch, the numbers are far greater than are willing to say so openly. Bottom line: racists almost always tell you more about themselves than the people they seek to denigrate, and this is no exception to that rule.

[skipping over a lot of paragraphs....]

Imagine, to survive attempted cultural and physical genocide does not, on this view, merit wonder or amazement, let alone a class to discuss how such a thing could be possible: this, in a nation that has made surviving a few weeks on an island with television cameras and emergency medical assistance at the ready something for which the last person standing should be rewarded one million dollars. In a nation where surviving the consumption of raw pig snouts or bull testicles might well win you $50,000 on Fear Factor.
Since when has survival been seen as such an unimpressive accomplishment? Does not surviving the concerted attempt to destroy or at least subjugate one's people say something about the character of those who manage the feat? Does not leading a struggle for freedom, and the advancement of human dignity not suggest that the persons in question have made a substantial contribution to the nation in which they live, and indeed the world? By what moral, ethical or practical standard could one fairly argue otherwise?

[there is more, and it's well worth reading - for anyone who wants to truly understand our racial "divide"]