Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Burt Prelutsky is a lunkhead

DovBear points us to Burt's latest droppings:

Among the many e-mails I received was one from an black man in New Jersey. He identified himself as a successful entrepreneur in his mid-30s. The tone of his remarks was reasonable and he seemed to be well-educated, but by the time we had had six or eight exchanges, he’d managed to convince me he was an idiot. Let us call him Mr. Christopher.

Got that? Agree with Burt and you're "reasonable," presumably even educated. Disagree with him as many as eight times and you make the idiot list.

The rest of Burt's column is a series of email exchanges, which once again makes me wonder, "why do these guys get paid?"

Among the most annoying tidbits from Burt:

You are merely parroting a lie that has been sold to the people by the Democrats. It was, after all, the Democrats who created the KKK and initiated and enforced Jim Crow laws in the South. It was Earl Warren, a Republican, who was appointed to be chief justice of the Supreme Court by Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican, who ruled that separate but equal was unconstitutional. And although Lyndon Johnson was in the White House in 1964 when he pushed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it became the law of the land because of the Republicans. In the House, only 64% of the Democrats, but 80% of the Republicans, voted for it. In the Senate, while only 68% of the Democrats endorsed the bill, 82% of the Republicans voted to enact it.

And many of those recalcitrant Democrats defected to the GOP after the bill, who welcomed them with open arms, and whose social positions had (and have) close overlaps with the "legislate morality" wing of the GOP. And though the Democratic party has indeed not had that glorious a track record in regard to race relations (or other matters), neither have the Republicans, and it's the reddest of all herrings to connect either party of today with their predecessors from 100-plus years ago.

Burt also is brave enough to buck the ever-so-popular diversity trend, God bless him.
What makes us strong is that we are a nation that was founded by a group of extraordinary men who weren’t very diverse at all. Some of them were Christians, some were deists, but all of them were white and they all spoke English. What they were was brilliant. They created a nation that was based on Judeo-Christian concepts that emphasized justice and freedom for the individual. The diversity came later. But so great was their creation that it managed to accommodate wave after wave of immigrants, and to transform millions of people who had never experienced democracy into a nation willing to fight and die for a notion that was summed up by the Latin phrase, e pluribus unum.

This is interesting. Actually, the beliefs of the Founding Fathers were pretty complicated (especially depending on who you include in that definition)- some were deists, some were less traditional free-thinkers, and a few even dabbled in things like paganism (which, depending on your rituals of choice, may not be that different from Deism). Most of the more educated among them probably spoke several languages, including Latin, and the language of international diplomacy at the time, French. And we won't know until we do DNA tests, but there's still a persistent rumor that Hamilton was part-black. Anyway, I think Burt is subtly trying to say that, yes, America was designed to accommodate diversity, even if its original founders weren't that much (whether diversity should be a goal in of itself might be a different question).

Burt's column this week is just sort-of dumb, though. The real stinker was last week's:

It’s one thing, after all, for this half-white fellow to join the Trinity United Church of (a Black) Christ in order to use it as a launching pad into Chicago’s scummy political scene.

Because a White Christ is so much more accurate and inclusive, right? At least Africa is Middle-East adjacent.

It was back in 1964 that the Civil Rights Act was passed. In the intervening 44 years, this country has spent billions of dollars to compensate people who hadn’t suffered from Jim Crow laws for the simple reason that they hadn’t even been born yet.

This, of course, assumes that things immediately begin improving the day after a law is passed, or that if one is part of a community that has been persecuted and oppressed for generations, merely signing a piece of legislation should be enough to overturn it. Were that it was so. It's a long way to middle or upper-class when you're starting from the very bottom. Yasher koach to those who can make it, black or otherwise. But I don't think that the people who fail to get there should be treated as if they're defective or lazy.
The truth is, in America, anyone with brains, grit and self-discipline, can rise to unimaginable heights.

Sorry, but this simply isn't true. America is a great country in not placing as many stumbling blocks in people's paths as other states do and have. But as someone that knows their family history, the truth is that there is definitely a limit, and all the more so historically, as to how far you could go, particularly with limited education or economics. The wealthiest branch of my family became millionaires because they had connections in the diamond industry. Everyone else worked in sweatshops and groceries and only gradually worked their way out in small increments. And it took generations.

The best line, however, has got to be this one:

we were a racist society, Oprah Winfrey, your fairy godmother, certainly wouldn’t be a billionaire; she’d be fetching someone’s mint julep. And Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice wouldn’t grow up to be secretaries of state; they’d be sweeping out the stables. And Will Smith and Denzel Washington wouldn’t be movie stars; they’d be in the fields picking cotton.

Got that? The absence of institutionalized slavery equals no racism. Brilliant, Burt. And nowhere is this better demonstrated than the 100-odd years between the end of the civil war and the passing of the Civil Rights Act.

Hey, if we'd just listened to you, we could have avoided wasting all that time and money passing the act in the first place.


Jack said...

Prelutsky is PITA, but that is an aside. I do not believe or accept that institutionalized racism is preventing people from succeeding. Not anymore.

The only argument that holds any weight with me is one that discusses the impact of being economically disadvantaged. That can be quite significant, but skin color is no longer a factor.

Friar Yid said...

I take a middle ground- I don't think skin color is the predominant determining factor; it's more about the economic and social baggage often associated with the black or Hispanic communities which CAN play a role in hampering people's success. That said, I'm not sure that pointing out the disadvantages associated with racial background precludes us from describing them as part of a larger "racism" problem.

On a big-picture level, it's got more to do with where your starting point is- no education, economic disadvantage, etc.- rather than specific incidents specific to race. But I'm also aware of some scenarios, such as racial profiling, where that can happen too. And I'm not so sure that this stuff doesn't have an impact as well in terms of shaping the self-perceptions of the black population.

I'm happy to debate where we draw the line at what racism is. My gut feeling is that it isn't "gone," but that's an open discussion. What drove me up the wall was Burt saying, "We CAN'T be racist, where are the plantations?"

Anonymous said...

"At least Africa is Middle-East adjacent."

Geographically true, but there is still significant genetic distance between sub-Saharan Africans and Middle Easterners. This is even more true of "northern Middle East populations" such as Kurds, Anatolians, and Armenians with whom Jews, including Sephardic Jews, seem to cluster in some Y chromosomal studies and more recent whole-genome studies testing tens or even hundreds of thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP's).*

Please excuse my slightly off-topic digression, but I though this research might be really interesting to someone interested in Jewish history.

* See this SNP paper by Bauchet et al. from 2007 (text and diagrams available online) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17436249

Also see the abstract for this older Y-chromsome study by Nebel et al. "The Y chromosome pool of Jews as part of the genetic landscape of the Middle East". http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11573163?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=3