Two Activist Groups Stuck in the Past

There were more than the usual number of "year in review" recaps for 2015, and I am bracing for a wave of "what's in store" predictions for 2016, especially because a big election is coming up.  So let's look generally at decades-long trends here.  Two "progressive" movements need to stop living in the past.  This is a friendly intervention.

  1. The New Anti-Anti-Black Movement

The New York Times ruined countless readers' Christmas Eve by publishing a smarmy letter entitled "Dear White America."  It was by Emory professor George Yancy (not George Yancey, who is a wonderful guy living in Texas!).  The zealously and pretentiously titled epistle tries clumsily to adapt James Baldwin's famous 1962 letter to his nephew, best known as "My Dungeon Shook" in the collection Fire Next Time.

A rash of Baldwin imitators seemed to follow, with Jasmine Belkhyr, the editor in chief of a Columbia journal called Winter Tangerine, writing two even more pompous pieces on December 27 ("An Open Letter to Columbia Journal and Columbia University") and December 29 ("An Open Letter to the Whole Wide World").  Not to be left out of the race-guilt Olympics, on December 30, Dexter Thomas added his own missive via the Los Angeles Times, addressing all white people about their culpability for the "embarrassing figure" of Donald Trump with the opening salvo "White people, come get your boy."

(I'm trying to imagine the reaction if the Los Angeles Times were to publish a critique of Obama by a white writer saying, "Black people, come get your boy.")

Open letters?  Really?  It's not 1962 anymore, and the genre has been done to death.  Moreover, all four of these attempts to resurrect Baldwinian eloquence fail miserably because they lack Baldwin's shrewdness about historical context.

Baldwin's letter is a delight to teach in English classes because it is a masterpiece of prose. "My Dungeon Shook" strikes the right tone in the midst of racial upheaval, as Baldwin writes to his younger namesake and seeks to save him from despair and race hatred.  The uncertainty of 1962 weighed heavily on the author; he sought in good faith to understand the landscape awaiting his young nephew.  St. Paul is used as a biblical inspiration. White people are described as a complex third party irreducible to simple stereotypes.

Yancy, Belkhyr, and Thomas do not write to a black person they love to instill hope; rather, they point fingers and impose on their audience.  Their condescension to white people is as infuriating as their neglect of fellow African-Americans.  Whereas James Baldwin was writing with authentic concern for a black relative, these three copycats show little interest in involving other black people in a conversation, choosing rather to arrogate to themselves the privilege of speaking for the whole race.  They want to air racial grievances before white America, but they fail to acknowledge with any accuracy the backdrop against which the readers are living their lives.

Barack Obama is black, even if his mother was white.  He arrived at the White House with a black wife and two black daughters.  The Obamas brought with them an enormous archive of theoretical perspectives from their racially conscious mentors.  The president appointed black attorneys general, a black national security adviser, a Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice, a black director of homeland security, etc. – all members of a well-connected and cosseted coterie of racially self-aware college-educated intellectuals.  The Obamas stayed in close communication with leaders of the black community during eight years of an exceptionally muscular presidency, one in which executive orders were common, resistance from the press was minimal, and opposition from Republicans was timid and self-limiting.

We've collectively witnessed the arc of social justice.  A black person can be elected by popular majorities not once, but twice.  We've watched the most powerful nation in the world trust an African-American in leadership, then grapple with his bad economic decisions, foreign policy disasters, and polarizing rhetoric.

Black lives matter, including the life and presidency of the black individual named Barack Obama.  The complete absence of criticism toward the White House among the latest crop of anti-racist activists destroys their credibility.  Are the agitators so simple-minded that they can't criticize a black president when race relations go south?  When James Baldwin wrote to his nephew, both the author and recipient of the letter belonged to a disadvantaged race that had no leverage with the powerful institutions driving society. The average white person in America in 1962 stood to learn a lot from Baldwin's moving words, because most whites had very little exposure to black people's history, motivations, or beliefs.

People born in 1962 grew up with The Jeffersons in the 1970s, Bill Cosby in the 1980s, Living Single in the 1990s, and a black-dominated music industry in the 2000s.  There is now a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.  Schools across the country teach important authors like Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright for February, Black History Month.  We get it.  Who cares what random accusers at Emory or Columbia think about white people?  The average white person in America has been force-fed a steady diet of Barack Obama's propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, CNN, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NBC, NPR, Instagram, T-shirts, billboards, and the pages of every major publication in the country.

White America's been listening to black America.  In fact, black America has been in charge of all of America for eight years.  (If Bush stands in for all whites, well?)  These open letters presume that it's still 1970 and white people haven't trusted or made sacrifices for black people, so they will feel guilty and shocked.  Sorry, aspiring neo-Baldwins: been there, done that.  Nobody has any reason to believe that you can propose anything better than what's been put in place already.

  1. Pro-Choice Feminists

The videos about Planned Parenthood produced by heroic abolitionist David Daleiden are damning.  They revealed that the abortion industry is not only an industry, but also a callous racket, showing scarcely less contempt toward the frightened women who get mid-term abortions than they show toward the aborted babies whose body parts are carved up and sold on grisly à la carte menus.

When confronted, robotic ice queen Cecile Richards stays close to her talking points.  Her proxies read from the same playbook.  Their argument is that they work for women's health in a world where women face countless barriers and interference.  As they paint it, Planned Parenthood is all that stands between a pregnant woman and destitution.

Their reference point is invariably the 1950s, a time when, according to the Centers for Disease Control, fewer than 5% of children were born out of wedlock and the national poverty rate of 25% was nearly twice what it was when President Obama took office.  In the 1950s, breastfeeding in public was frowned upon, families and neighbors would look upon unwed mothers with scorn, maternity leave was still largely unheard of, and few public services were available to help poor single mothers. Adoption was an inhumane business, often forced upon girls in times of distress, and resulting in falsified birth certificates as well as total and permanent separation of mother and child.  Medical advances had not reached the point where pregnancy was particularly safe or easy.

In other words, even as an ardently pro-life person, I can see how in the 1950s an unwanted pregnancy could be a nightmare for a scared girl, especially if a man abused or abandoned her.

But Dwight Eisenhower is not the president of the United States right now.  The rate of unmarried mothers is inching close to half of live births and is over 70% for African-American babies.  Where's the scandal?  Who sees a woman giving birth to a poor baby as a stunning tragedy these days?

Remember when Sarah Palin's daughter gave birth to a child out of wedlock?  While liberals scolded and mocked Bristol's situation, conservatives celebrated the heroic choice of the Palins to raise the child well despite the disadvantageous circumstances.  This is largely because now, unlike in the 1950s, we have the benefit of a pro-life movement that has grown and improved over four decades.  Women who have children out of wedlock have the moral support of conservatives who laud them for not aborting, as well as the generous public services endowed by the welfare state championed by liberals.  Everyone is supposed to have health care now because of the Affordable Care Act.

The social landscape today is completely different.  Middle-aged women speak honestly about regretting that they waited too long to bear children, many putting their careers first and then finding themselves past the comfortable window of fertility.

The shocking problems we now see arising in the lucrative fertility industry are evidence that women's greatest worry is that they will not be able to have children and may have to adopt or hire a surrogate if they want to experience motherhood.  Women struggle more with the stigma of childlessness than they do with prejudice against those who raise children in poverty.  Yet the poverty rate now is lower, and adoption services have changed dramatically.

While still needing reform, adoption services come in a wide range of options.  Many options give greater consideration to the birth mother than we saw in the 1950s.  Mothers can seek cooperative foster care arrangements, joint custody with the fathers, or open adoptions.  Many jobs give generous maternity leave now, and there are tax credits for childcare.  Anecdotally, I've seen most grandparents not ashamed or outraged at the thought of helping their daughters raise babies; if anything, in an age when so many aging Americans nag their kids in vain to give them grandchildren, they're delighted at the cooing and pitter-patter of little feet.

A woman who finds herself four months pregnant is taking the greatest risk by getting an abortion, not by enduring the pregnancy.  If she waits five more months, she can probably get decent health care and help from the welfare state to deliver a healthy baby.  Maybe she'll gain weight, but so what?  America's not a place where extra pounds are a scandal.

If she is willing to let another couple adopt her child, she'll likely be mobbed with offers, given the large number of infertile couples coupled with the growing number of Christian adopters who see it as God's mission to take in fatherless children.  If she chooses to keep the child, she may have to put her career on hold for a while, but now Americans have longer life spans, and most people change careers several times in their lives.

If she chooses to abort at four months, she will be performing traumatic surgery onto her uterus.  She will wonder, for the rest of her life, what would have happened if she'd let the baby live.  The doctors are more sensitive now, the drugs more soothing, the recovery easier.  Testimonials from post-abortive women, some of whom are very close to me, are almost overwhelming in their intensity.

To get large numbers of women to abort, you need organized distortion – a massive behemoth like Planned Parenthood, peddling antiquated 1950s anxieties to women who live in a twenty-first-century world where abortion is a shameful relic far past its necessity.

That is perhaps the greatest danger of being stuck in ancient history – you can get things very, very wrong.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed on Twitter at @baptist4freedom, at English Manif, and on Soundcloud.