Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Race traitor?

Posted by Ron Coleman on January 20, 2008

Can you opt out of negritude? Alan Wolfe in Slate:

Although he was accused of being one, [Randall] Kennedy defends the idea of labeling a person who betrays a cause, or, for that matter, a race, as a sellout. Sometimes it is necessary for a group, in the interests of cohesion, to defend itself in a less than pleasant way, even to the point of coercion. One reason the much-praised Montgomery bus boycott was successful was because those African-Americans tempted to break it were threatened with physical harassment. Compared to that, William Hannibal Thomas made truly harmful comments about his own race and was met not with violence, but with calls for ostracism, two reasons that Kennedy concludes it was justified to call him a sellout.

Kennedy, however, also believes that “choice is always an element of racial citizenship.” Just as one’s citizenship in black America can be revoked by the group, one must also have the right to resign from the group. There is always, as a result, a fine line to walk between group solidarity and individual integrity.

Choice about racial or ethnic “membership”? It is certainly appealing, the idea of being able to choose who you “really are,” and very American. In college I decided that it wasn’t going to work for me. (It’s actually rather pathetic to see watch Eastern European Jews pretend to be Ivy League WASPs, though one of them, Ralph Lifshitz, made a fortune selling the idea.) It frequently doesn’t work out too well at all – just ask the late an unlamented Bobby Fischer, or Michael Jackson.

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One Response to “Race traitor?”

  1. Jack said

    “It is certainly appealing, the idea of being able to choose who you “really are,” and very American.”

    That reminds me of an old story:

    There is a manner by which a man
    By choice can never be,
    An aspect of his human plan
    That change cannot redeem,

    There are measures less than that
    That man can self-control,
    The manner of his circumstance
    The fashion he upholds,

    For in each man are many things
    Some old, some new, some fine,
    A peasant poses as a king
    And so himself refines,

    But in each man are measured marks
    Which want cannot remake,
    As fixed as stars in heaven’s arc
    They will not bend or break,

    And so to men they can reform
    So much within themselves,
    But some things never quite conform
    Intentions dark or well,

    So alter what is good to change
    Yet mar not what is true,
    For in the balance do you hang
    And so your soul ensues.

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