America WTF is wrong with you?

In my final blog entry on the George Yancy situation I will presume to take a stab at analyzing America’s current situation. My analysis is free, take it for what it is worth. It’s just my two cents added to the conversation. What we have seen since the end of the 1970’s is twofold:  a belief among many folks that we are living in a zero sum game where if someone else is winning they must be losing; and a loss of a sense of community that people outside of our “tribe” are part of our community. “Tribe” can be defined many ways and most anthropologists are loathe to use the word because it is so slippery. I am using it to describe the group a person identifies with at a given time. As we have several crosscutting identities we can in a sense belong to several tribes at any given moment. We can define that tribe by class, skin color, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference, politics, nationality, or region among other things. In any case it is defined by “us” versus “them.” By “community” I mean those within our orbit including those who are not part of our tribe.

To over-simplify, the civil rights movements of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was really a clash of two senses of community. Segregationists wanted to include African Americans as a subservient part of their community because of the belief that they were subhumans who were fine as long as they knew their “place.” Enough other white Americans felt that blacks were part of the larger community and deserved the same rights as all Americans. Other groups like women or gays started movements to be included with equal rights in the larger community. There has always been opposition to the idea that people not members of our tribe should be be included in our community and many rationalizations as to why they should be excluded. Over time this backlash against the expansion of the idea of community has grown with a sense that as other groups have gained rights one’s tribe (if different from the groups that have won rights) has lost something. Tribes have become more insular and more defensive. At the same time America has grown more diverse because of changes in the immigration policies and demographic change thus exacerbating the problem.

All of this has put the brakes on the granting of equal rights which has not progressed much past the stage of removing discriminatory laws and policies plus condemning those who overtly use derogatory terms. We have barely begun to examine how racist policies are built into the structures of America so that we have been unable to do the sort of self reflection that George Yancy recommends. The most we have done is to pursue “diversity” to offset the “tribal” effects of the deep structures within America.

We are now facing a situation in which the tribal exclusion of others has reached the point where a president of the United States can be elected solely because of his defense of the white tribe. The exclusion of derogatory words or actions towards non members of the white tribe is derided as “political correctness,” instead of common decency. The non-members of the white tribe be they excluded by race, religion or country of origin, have become an enemy to be feared, attacked, or killed. Juries keep acquitting cops who kill black people because they believe the defense “I was in fear for my life” for they too fear the outsider who is not a member of the tribe. “Make America Great Again” is dog whistle code for rolling back the advances by non white groups so that the white tribe can feel safe again. The vehemence of the reaction to George Yancy’s piece is just a sign of how nasty the defense of the white tribe has become for some people.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying that this disease only affects whites or that all whites exhibit it. I have met plenty of people both black, white and other colors, who are working to eradicate any such feeling within themselves and others. I am saying there is work to be done before we have a society as a whole that has enough such people in it. I’m not as sure as Martin Luther King that we’ll get to the promised land though I’m pretty sure I won’t get there with you for we are far away from it. My hope is that my little granddaughter will see it or a version closer to it than we are now.

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