Friday, September 2, 2016

Book Review: Uprooting Racism

Title: Uprooting Racism

Author:  Paul Kivel

Date: 1995

Publisher: New Society

ISBN: 0-86571-338-3

Length: 243 pages

Quote: “This is a book about racism for [W]hite people…what it means to those of us who are [W]hite, and how we can make a difference…White racism is the uneven and unfair distribution of power, privilege, land and material goods favoring [W]hite people.”

On page one, Kivel says it all about this book.

A few years ago I read Uprooting Racism, thoroughly. I worked through it, writing out essays to Kivel’s questions. It was a good thought exercise. It would be interesting for a study group.

In the end it’s unsatisfactory, because Kivel’s underlying assumption, throughout, is that a “fair” distribution of power, privilege, land, and material goods would be a mathematically “equal” distribution carried out by an all-powerful central government, rather than a system that offers opportunities to earn those things for individuals, impartially. He thinks fairness can be measured by whether people who fit into different demographic categories have equal amounts of this and of that, rather than whether people who have agreed to do or provide X in exchange for Y have received Y upon the provision of X. He seems not to have noticed, while he was writing this book, that the kinds of government he thought he wanted were crumbling around the world. (He's still alive and, according to some grumpy reviewers, he still hasn't noticed.)

Basically, then, when Kivel asks readers to think about the images of people different from ourselves we observed early in life, the extent to which we may still be reacting to those images when we meet brand-new individual acquaintances who may have little in common with the images, he’s helpful; when he claims that the only improvement possible is to move to the Extreme Political Left and join those squawking about absurdities like “restitution for slavery” long after the last slave died, he’s not helpful.

Are there ways to overcome racism and build social relationships with people different from us, without joining the Extreme Left? There certainly are. This web site has frequently highlighted ways to do that within the allegedly racist Tea Party movement. Color in no way determines whether people are able to notice that they’re Taxed Enough Already. Tea Parties have emerged from all parts of America (including the moderate Left) and built alliances across all the barriers of subculture, even, to some extent, politics. (A majority of Tea Parties were and remain Republicans. Do not be deceived. Policies that worked for FDR, JFK, and even Bill Clinton are acceptable to some Tea Parties.) 

If you are White, or partly White, or part of a minority group that tends to be seen as White during color wars, and you think a bigger federal government, a global government, and/or more regulations and taxes, are not what your country needs…first of all, even before you read this book, I recommend reading something recently written by Thomas Sowell, something by Larry Elder, and something by Ben Carson. Those are three completely different writers. None of them says the same things the others say; none of them says the same things any White, female, or young writer says, so far as I know; if you’ve read several of their books you’ll find that the bits you remember definitely come from one of their books and not another, too. When you’re an older Black male conservative writer you sort of have to make each book unique and fit it into a precise market niche, just to get a publisher to print it. Left-wing Black writers are allowed to sound exactly alike, and often they do, because publishers assume that they have a choir to whom they are preaching. Conservatives who are not White, male, and old have a wide-open space in which to cultivate their ideas, and if they’re not careful, they may let the lefties convince them that they’re all alone in it.

If you really enjoy reading, feel free to repeat this exercise with non-socialist writers from other demographic blocs, as time and money permit. Karibu Books used to do an excellent job of stocking books by multiethnic and multilingual authors; Ishmael Reed has done an excellent job of finding and publishing them. But let’s save the discussion of young and other minority-type writers, even women writers, for another day, for purposes of space. In fact I’d even suggest that you print out or “bookmark” this review, if you’ve not already had the pleasure, and go and read at least one thing by each of Sowell, Elder, and Carson. For people who are fiscally conservative enough to tolerate this web site, that is homework. Know their voices, their differences, the sources of their authority. Know why we can take their word that they know racism, they hate it, and they’ve not allowed it to consume them; they don’t hate White people.

Now it is helpful to think how slavery and segregation may have affected your individual ancestors and what may have been passed down to you—after you’ve read firsthand testimony from people who are old enough to have seen at least segregation, and opposed it. Note the complexities of the problems, of the solutions, and of the failed solutions.

Part of the civil rights story that today’s Left prefers to forget is how racial segregation came to exist in the first place. After slavery ended, young Black people wanted education; they wanted well-paid white-collar jobs. They complained to local officials when their diplomas didn’t get them hired. At least one of those local officials said, on the record, “I’ll get you jobs for young Black doctors and nurses, but you’re not going to like it.” Then he went on the stump and preached to the White majority how horrible it would be if their loved ones had to depend on some filthy disease-infested Black nurse, etc., etc. He was fighting cognitive dissonance since the more affluent voters in his district had been brought up by Black wet nurses, but epidemics of tuberculosis and other diseases were sweeping through slum areas and even nice, clean-living poor people often were plague carriers…and the people voted to fund separate schools and hospitals for Black people in the hope that exposure to fewer bacteria would give them more chance not to come down with those diseases. After a whole demographic generation, or two, had grown up constantly hearing “clean and white” treated as synonyms, in districts like that one there were those pathetic women screaming hate at tiny innocent children who they may have sincerely believed to be disease carriers. And all the while, in places where Big Government had not been systematically preaching hate and prejudice at people, there were also places like Berea College where Black, White, Red, and other types, from North and South, were willing to consider each other as equals, part of their own minority group of gifted and talented students…

Conservatives should most definitely listen to the ethnic minorities in North America today. All of them. The best thinkers, writers, and speakers in a group will not necessarily be the most “conservative”…but, as American thought digests the reality that the socialist experiments of other countries have failed, there will be a correlation between intelligence and movement away from the whole socialist philosophy. It may look “conservative.” Do not be deceived. A movement back toward respecting the primacy of the individual may be to the right side of the Extreme Left, but it won’t mean that the real progressive thinkers of the twenty-first century will think like Archie Bunker.

As a White ally to Black men, since we’re talking about them here, you naturally want to show all due respect and courtesy to any and all Black men you meet, and their wives and children too—but as a fiscal conservative you’ll probably most particularly respect the work of the ones who think like Sowell, Elder, and Carson. That won’t interfere with your enjoyment of Harry Belafonte’s music, Reuben Jackson’s poems, or Morgan Freeman’s movies, of course…but it will remind you to look for Denzel Washington’s movies, Ishmael Reed’s poems, and Lloyd Marcus’s music, too.

Paul Kivel’s main shortcoming is that he’s listened only to the left-wingers in each of the minority groups with which he consulted while writing this book. To some extent the people in those groups who are closer to contemporary reality share the ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, etc. etc., minority experience…but they have different ideas, often better ones, about improving it.

Paul Kivel is still alive; therefore Uprooting Racism is a Fair Trade Book. When you send $5 per copy + $5 per package (which covers as many copies of as many books, or other things, as will fit into the package) + $1 per online payment to either address below, we send $1 to Kivel or a charity of his choice. (If you pay by U.S. postal money order, you don't pay that $1 surcharge to us; the Post Office collects its own surcharge. The total amount is thus $11 for online payment, $10 for postal payment. If you throw in two more copies, or two other books that cost $5 each, the total would be $21 online or $20 via the Post Office.)