The image was chilling. It was the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a history book used to justify the racist Jim Crow laws. et there it was, brand new for 2020: An infographic developed as part of the new "Talking about Race" exhibit now showing at the taxpayer funded Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC).
According to the NMAAHC, hard work, rational thought, the nuclear family, a respect for private property, and delayed gratification are all attributes of "whiteness." That's the polite way of promoting the defamatory racist stereotype of "non-white" people as lazy, incoherent, promiscuous, thieves hellbent on instant gratification.
The museum explained:
The exhibit did not launch as smoothly as its curators might have hoped. The very next day:
Mission accomplished. This short-lived graphic provided America with a truly teachable moment — a moment that calls out for a genuine reconsideration of the approach chosen by the NMAAHC and others.
Apparently, the highly professional, credentialed, trained staff of an institution dedicated to honoring African-American contributions to America and combating anti-black racism needed comments from the general public to notice that it was reinforcing some of the most damaging racist stereotypes in American history.
This shocking blindness is symptomatic of a deep problem plaguing America's educational institutions — and a full generation of recent graduates. The progressive obsession with race has inverted so many terms that explicit racism is now routinely forwarded as the necessary corrective for a phenomenon called "structural" or "systemic racism." MLK's dream of a colorblind society is now widely cast as part of the problem — if not explicitly racist itself.
Over the past six weeks, we've watched videos of "anti-racist" demonstrators proudly dividing themselves into racial categories and forcing one group to humble itself to another. We've seen an "anti-racist" occupation zone create a community garden declared off-limits to those deemed racially undesirable. We've witnessed "anti-racist" rioters harass, denigrate, and attack black cops as penance for the past harassment, denigration, and attacks on black people.
These and similar brazen manifestations of pure, unadulterated racism emanating from (mostly young) people committed to fighting the scourge of racism is hardly accidental. It's the predictable result of decades of miseducation. So yes, the NMAAHC has it right. It's time for America's educational institutions to reconsider their approach — from the ground up.
An excellent first step might be a reconsideration of hard work, rational thought, the nuclear family, a respect for private property, and delayed gratification — or in sum, personal responsibility. These behaviors are not hallmarks of "whiteness." They are hallmarks of success. "White" communities throughout the U.S. that fail to embrace them descend quickly into dysfunction. "Non-white" communities that embrace them ascend quickly to achieve the American Dream.
The next step might be to wonder why anyone might associate these glorious virtues with "whiteness." The answer lies in a much-maligned direction: Western history. Prior to the 15th century, Europe hardly had pride of place among the world's civilizations. Chinese, Japanese, Arab and Hindu cultures had all made far greater contributions to the world. Mediterranean Greece and Rome considered their European neighbors barbaric. Even Christianity was a Judean import.
For reasons historians still dispute, the West suddenly became the first of the world's great civilizations to harness the power of innovation. Enforceable property and contract rights enabled Westerners to trust strangers. Rational thought helped them internalize the connection between effort and consequences. Delayed gratification introduced them to the balance between short- and long-term planning. The nuclear family kept them grounded in tradition and anchored their senses of self. Hard work allowed them to direct their individual efforts toward desired consequences; property rights permitting them to enjoy the long-term fruits of success pushed the entire system over the top.
The extension of rights into the realm of ideas — intellectual property — impelled the West even further forward. People had always been motivated to innovate to make their own lives easier, but with little incentive to share their novel solutions widely, few innovations benefited society as a whole. Together, these strands of development impelled Western culture to commanding heights in transportation, manufacturing, food preservation, medicine, communications, finance, warfare — and nearly every other human endeavor.
Those behavioral and cultural innovations eventually spread around the world. Every culture or individual that adopted them quickly became healthier, stronger, and more prosperous. The past two centuries have taught the world that there was never anything inherently European, Western, or "white" about success. Success is attainable by anyone who embraces personal responsibility, thrift, rationality and hard work.
That's how we should be "talking about race." We should be distilling the cultural and behavioral elements necessary for success from those the cultural elements that add flavor variety to life. There's no better place to start than with our educational institutions — particularly those, like the NAAMHC, whose charter includes helping America overcome its vestigial racism.
Let's not let this truly teachable moment pass without reorienting our approach to talking about race.
Bruce Abramson, Ph.D. J.D., is a principal at B2 Strategic, senior fellow and director at ACEK Fund, founder of the American Restoration Institute and the author of "American Restoration: Winning America's Second Civil War." Read Bruce Abramson's Reports — More Here.
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