Moving On from Victimhood

Claiming to be a victim makes you one.

In an age of unprecedented complexity and fake news, our world has become impossible to understand if the viewpoint of the observer or storyteller is narrow. The truth may be told in many different ways, and partial stories, while true, do not communicate reality.

We see ill-informed people drawing the wrong conclusions about what they think they see or hear, even physically attacking people who put forth opinions not actually very different from their own, gathering in mobs to protest people who generally agree with them, and other irrational actions.

There are many who side with groups simply because they are of the correct race for this week’s protestations of inequality. Then there are those who refuse to have any relations of any kind with people not of their color – the recent spate of black mobs attacking whites and Hispanics come to mind.

There is a new intolerance brought about among many black people. And yet, there is evidence that these extreme individuals are disapproved of by their fellow blacks. There is hope that cooler heads will prevail.

The Wall Street Journal recently contained two articles that illustrate the dichotomy of our current time - and both are upbeat, working against the narrative of most news.

One is a telling observation by the great writer Shelby Steele, who chronicles the loss of a crutch that the black subculture has employed since right after the rise of the civil rights movement. The other is an article concerning the blossoming of students at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, where traditional values are being taught and appreciated.

Those two articles are very different: one is about how the black race in the US is maturing, and the other is about how black college students in the Bronx are maturing.  Wait a minute! Maybe they’re not so different.

Shelby Steele observes the black race as it has evolved from a universally angry un-appeasable group to one with a much more mature outlook. There are still many black Americans who think of reality as themselves versus their enemy, whitey; but far and away, most black people no longer think this way, according to Mr. Steele who ought to know.

And on the other front, the Bronx, of all places, is home to a college dedicated to the wisdom of Plato and values espoused by the Bill of Rights and other writings by Dead White Men.

“First, you need to know the concept of what freedom means to be hungry for it,” says Maria Diaz, a student at the Hostos Community College, part of the City University of New York and affiliated with Columbia University.

Hostos has been offering these courses as core curricula for only a few years, but the contrast is stark when compared to so many schools which offer racial studies and other fields of study which lack any vestiges of traditional coursework, learning, true scholarship, or even sanity.

America’s black citizens are the focus of both WSJ articles – and both articles illustrate points of hope for our society. The Steele article makes the statement that our country has lost interest in the civil rights agenda because most of us believe it is, except for a few diehards, irrelevant and already accomplished.

The Hostos Community College article points out that the return to traditional topics and emphasis on enduring wisdom is finally being re-recognized in academia. Many black Americans seem no longer to be considering themselves ‘special,’ aloof from day-to-day relations with whites.

Pondering these two articles brings several thoughts to mind. First, it is astounding how 1/8 of the population occupies so much of our national attention.  In places like Mississippi, the percentage of Blacks is higher than it is in other places like Montana, but the national average is between 12 and 13%.

Next time you are in a group of people who do not follow news and current events closely, raise that question, “What is the percentage of black people in this country?” It will be astounding to hear the perceptions of population that most people have: the local quantities will fluctuate, but estimates of national percentages will vary between 25 and 50%.  Anyone who gets the 12 to 13% number correctly deserves a gold star.

The reason that the American population of blacks is perceived so wrongly is probably their presence in the news and other topical TV shows. For years, blacks complained – and still do – about under-representation. But now, they are vastly over-represented: Twenty percent of all series regulars were black in the 2016 – 2017 season, by actual count.

And other groups clamor to be overrepresented too: the whole panoply of LBGTQ or whatever label they are going by today. Women correctly complain that they are under-represented, with 44% on television and 52% in reality.

The ones who really get screwed, Hispanics, are 8% of TV actors and 17% of the population, although there are arguments that Hispanics really are somewhere above 20% of the US population because so many of them are considered to be white.

What does all this mean? Black people have been noisier about this for many years. The 1970s comedy show “All in the Family” had a show (one episode!) that brought up the presence of black people on TV as a topic of discussion amongst the Bunkers. Norman Lear, the series producer, heard feedback about that show, and came out with “The Jeffersons” as a new series starring an upscale black family the next year.

This was followed by “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” and “Maude.” These were all landmarks for TV: Until Norman Lear, the tube was lily white.

Things proceeded apace; when TV finds a winning formula, it copies itself until the winning formula becomes a loser. The Norman Lear set of series continued until they finally ran out of steam sometime in the early 80s. Lear’s production company was copied by others for a very long time, but the pioneering effort at presenting the plight of blacks, Hispanics, and women was all Norman Lear.

There are charges that these series were exploitative and insincere, among other ill-intentioned allegations. Whatever the intent, no one was even taking on these topics until Lear came along, and within a few months, TV screens were full of blacks, Hispanics, women, and put-upon men of all stripes, spouting clever lines. Lear brought the level of TV programming to heights it had never known.

The only previous show – the exception to the all-white tube – that had starred blacks was the hilarious “Amos and Andy” sitcom which had aired during the 50s and 60s. That show had blacks speaking in caricature dialect that some people, mostly white, found offensive.

Any show that has a trace of humor will be found to be offensive by some people. “Amos and Andy” was a hilarious show, written well, original, and thoroughly entertaining. It was taken off the air to assuage the sensibilities of a noisy minority.

TV is a barometer of society. It isn’t a very quick responder to the foibles of the moment, but historically it has been a roughly accurate way to gauge overall trends in mood of the people.

This may be no more. There is a new proliferation of black TV shows that are not from the pens of the stables of writers employed by the networks.  There are whole networks of black people. There are many networks of Hispanics. There are Cuban, Chinese, Lithuanian, ad-nauseam networks for every minority group.

There are no whole networks of white people. Nobody would dare.  That is reality. It isn’t a very important point, and this writer is not offended by the fact, but it is a fact.

Race relations, which Shelby Steele is confident are on the mend, are a historically important fact of life. We in the South got it wrong for a very long time, but today we are trying manfully to get it right – as we have been for decades, with increasing fervency and success.

At its best, Martin Luther King Day should be a way to keep from forgetting that.

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Good article, overall, and especially the part about Norman Lear's role in bringing forward those who were behind the curtain in the entertainment industry.
I might add two details. One, Desi Arnaz was a Hollywood genius whose marriage to Lucille Ball in 1940 was extraordinary. Desi, a Cuban bongo player, and Lucy rose to become some of the richest people in Hollywood. But it was not an interracial marriage, which brings me to the second point.
Hispanic is not a race. Latino is not a race. We Cubans come in all colors. My ancestors are from Spain, France, Italy and Germany and their race did not change when they boarded a ship to Havana.
The article is very well done and brings forward a great number of topics, both implicit and explicit.
Thank you,
Luis A. Martinez

January 22, 2018 12:17 PM

Could Norman Leer even make those shows today and show them on prime portals?

Are there too many vested interests rather than bias holding back the remaining changes to get great education to people in inner-cities and in many rural communities?

Over-representation is fine as long as bias is not at the root. America needs all our great people to have legitimate opportunity. And all Americans at heart... those that want America to succeed honestly are great

January 24, 2018 8:09 AM

Excellent piece. As you suggest, in the wonderful new world of identity politics, the identification process is mindlessly instantaneous. The only pause for reflection is a quick check of the makeup, or beard, in the mirror.

January 28, 2018 9:39 AM
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