Calling BS on the Victimhood Narrative

We Have Overcome: An Immigrant's Letter to the American People by Jason Hill, Bombardier Books, New York, July 10, 2018 (192 pages, $19.07, hardcover)

One can scarcely imagine the ideological venom generated among leftists by a well-spoken black professor with a doctorate in philosophy who has the temerity to make public statements like these:

  • "Americans as a group of people are good people.  But hatred of the good for being good ... has become a fashionable emotion among certain elitist groups who resent America and her people for such virtues."  
  • "America in the 21st century is one essentially free of racial, ethnical, and religious clashes and violence among all her varied peoples."  
  • "America is a place of universal belonging.  It is the prototype of what a benevolent universe looks like[.] ... It celebrates civic nationalism as the political principle that would forge a common identity among strangers and foreigners from disparate parts of the globe." 
  • "[A]n insidious cottage-industry of victimology [is] often predicated on black suffering and white guilt, guilt for past transgressions that whites have long atoned for as a group."

If even a third of America's black citizens shared the views of Jason Hill, a 1985 Jamaican immigrant to this country, the Democratic Party as currently constituted would not exist.  Consequently, Hill and black Americans with similar views are despised and vilified by "compassionate" Dems and by blacks who've embraced the victim status assigned to them by Alt-Left politicians and academicians like Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This is how Professor Hill puts it:

Hell ... hath no greater fury like a far-left-winger rejected for his or her redemptive gestures[.] ... Because if the moral meaning and purpose of your existence as a far-left liberal rests on my suffering and victimization as a black person, then you will need me to suffer indefinitely in order to continue to cull some meaning and purpose from your life.

Beyond being labeled a traitor to his race, Hill suffered professionally in the corrupt halls of academia for his non-racial, self-reliant, capitalist beliefs.  In that setting, Hill struggled mightily for admission to numerous graduate schools (despite having excellent qualifications) and was ultimately denied tenure by his "far-left, postmodern, Marxist-infected" colleagues (despite possessing a sterling teaching and publication record).  Fortunately, this essentially "racist" decision for the "uppity" black professor was overturned by the university's president, who was, uncharacteristically, "a huge fan" of Hill's work.

Adding fuel to the fire of leftist hatred is this hard-to-refute argument: "I adduce my own life as evidence of the utter nonsense of this [minorities-as-victims] narrative."  That life included interactions with countless whites in and around Stone Mountain, Georgia – an area once considered (and by leftists still considered) Klan country.  Here, in the late '80s, Caribbean families bought homes and conversed with neighbors "in utter fearlessness."  "None of us ever missed a night's sleep," Hill notes.  Indeed, his grandmother went to an all white church, "and soon she was its most beloved parishioner."

In addition to his own experience, Hill relates with sympathy the stories of many non-white immigrant friends.  Dinesh, for example, was an "untouchable" in his native India but was "embraced as an equal" by Hill's friends, a group that included "foreigners from all over the world" as well as white Southerners.  Hill provides the most detail when discussing the success story of Thai, a young Vietnamese man who couldn't speak English but who, with the help of his friends, was able to learn enough of the language to gain admission to Georgia State University and later to open his own restaurant.  Thai, who ultimately graduated magna cum laude, accomplished all this with no help from his family in Vietnam – "illiterate peasants too poor even to visit."

Countless stories like Thai's refute the assertion by black academicians like Ta-Nehisi Coates that the American Dream is an illusion – that it is not only unattainable for blacks and immigrants, but also a denial of their true cultural selves.  In a touching episode near the book's end, Hill contacts Thai by phone twenty years later and is "shocked to hear the American twang in his accent."  Thai, who made additional money in the stock market and real estate, had sold his "three restaurants" and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his grandchildren.  All this success occurred after his first restaurant failed.  When asked by Hill what he now thought about America, Thai replied, "America has brought me where I am.  I can't imagine a world without, you know, this place."  So much for Ta-Nehisi Coates and his America-hating cohorts. 

Hill's love for America has as its logical corollary a passionate hatred for America's corrupt universities.  "The biggest breach in this country," Hill declares, "is not between blacks and whites.  It is between the intellectuals and the people."  Put more succinctly, "[t]he American professoriate hates America!"  Consequently, the author boldly declares a remedy that would do wonders were it actually implemented: "The solution is not just to defund the American humanities and social science departments in current universities, but to also shut them down entirely and rebuild them from scratch."  Beyond seeking the unlikely defunding of these institutions by the government and alumni, Hill's "rebuild from scratch" prescription appears to be, for all its rhetorical merit, a dream too far.

Overall, Hill's book is marvelous for its use of personal details to bolster profound psycho-political insights.  On occasion, however, the author's academic language detracts from his mostly engrossing narrative.  This "scholarly" tilt often produces needlessly complex and extended formulations.  (The term "metaphysical," for example, appears as a qualifier dozens of times.)  This problem unfortunately characterizes much of Hill's introduction.  I would advise readers to skip all but the first few pages of that section and to read the intro in full after finishing the book.  One other problem I had was the insertion of material where Hill describes, with poetic sensitivity, to be sure, his own battle with suicide – a struggle that was not linked clearly to any professional or political issues and had a familial precedent.

That said, Hill's book is well worth reading for its glowing tribute to America, its penetrating insight into the essentially racist mentality of the left, and its concrete examples of these two conclusions.    

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.

We Have Overcome: An Immigrant's Letter to the American People by Jason Hill, Bombardier Books, New York, July 10, 2018 (192 pages, $19.07, hardcover)

One can scarcely imagine the ideological venom generated among leftists by a well-spoken black professor with a doctorate in philosophy who has the temerity to make public statements like these:

  • "Americans as a group of people are good people.  But hatred of the good for being good ... has become a fashionable emotion among certain elitist groups who resent America and her people for such virtues."  
  • "America in the 21st century is one essentially free of racial, ethnical, and religious clashes and violence among all her varied peoples."  
  • "America is a place of universal belonging.  It is the prototype of what a benevolent universe looks like[.] ... It celebrates civic nationalism as the political principle that would forge a common identity among strangers and foreigners from disparate parts of the globe." 
  • "[A]n insidious cottage-industry of victimology [is] often predicated on black suffering and white guilt, guilt for past transgressions that whites have long atoned for as a group."

If even a third of America's black citizens shared the views of Jason Hill, a 1985 Jamaican immigrant to this country, the Democratic Party as currently constituted would not exist.  Consequently, Hill and black Americans with similar views are despised and vilified by "compassionate" Dems and by blacks who've embraced the victim status assigned to them by Alt-Left politicians and academicians like Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This is how Professor Hill puts it:

Hell ... hath no greater fury like a far-left-winger rejected for his or her redemptive gestures[.] ... Because if the moral meaning and purpose of your existence as a far-left liberal rests on my suffering and victimization as a black person, then you will need me to suffer indefinitely in order to continue to cull some meaning and purpose from your life.

Beyond being labeled a traitor to his race, Hill suffered professionally in the corrupt halls of academia for his non-racial, self-reliant, capitalist beliefs.  In that setting, Hill struggled mightily for admission to numerous graduate schools (despite having excellent qualifications) and was ultimately denied tenure by his "far-left, postmodern, Marxist-infected" colleagues (despite possessing a sterling teaching and publication record).  Fortunately, this essentially "racist" decision for the "uppity" black professor was overturned by the university's president, who was, uncharacteristically, "a huge fan" of Hill's work.

Adding fuel to the fire of leftist hatred is this hard-to-refute argument: "I adduce my own life as evidence of the utter nonsense of this [minorities-as-victims] narrative."  That life included interactions with countless whites in and around Stone Mountain, Georgia – an area once considered (and by leftists still considered) Klan country.  Here, in the late '80s, Caribbean families bought homes and conversed with neighbors "in utter fearlessness."  "None of us ever missed a night's sleep," Hill notes.  Indeed, his grandmother went to an all white church, "and soon she was its most beloved parishioner."

In addition to his own experience, Hill relates with sympathy the stories of many non-white immigrant friends.  Dinesh, for example, was an "untouchable" in his native India but was "embraced as an equal" by Hill's friends, a group that included "foreigners from all over the world" as well as white Southerners.  Hill provides the most detail when discussing the success story of Thai, a young Vietnamese man who couldn't speak English but who, with the help of his friends, was able to learn enough of the language to gain admission to Georgia State University and later to open his own restaurant.  Thai, who ultimately graduated magna cum laude, accomplished all this with no help from his family in Vietnam – "illiterate peasants too poor even to visit."

Countless stories like Thai's refute the assertion by black academicians like Ta-Nehisi Coates that the American Dream is an illusion – that it is not only unattainable for blacks and immigrants, but also a denial of their true cultural selves.  In a touching episode near the book's end, Hill contacts Thai by phone twenty years later and is "shocked to hear the American twang in his accent."  Thai, who made additional money in the stock market and real estate, had sold his "three restaurants" and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his grandchildren.  All this success occurred after his first restaurant failed.  When asked by Hill what he now thought about America, Thai replied, "America has brought me where I am.  I can't imagine a world without, you know, this place."  So much for Ta-Nehisi Coates and his America-hating cohorts. 

Hill's love for America has as its logical corollary a passionate hatred for America's corrupt universities.  "The biggest breach in this country," Hill declares, "is not between blacks and whites.  It is between the intellectuals and the people."  Put more succinctly, "[t]he American professoriate hates America!"  Consequently, the author boldly declares a remedy that would do wonders were it actually implemented: "The solution is not just to defund the American humanities and social science departments in current universities, but to also shut them down entirely and rebuild them from scratch."  Beyond seeking the unlikely defunding of these institutions by the government and alumni, Hill's "rebuild from scratch" prescription appears to be, for all its rhetorical merit, a dream too far.

Overall, Hill's book is marvelous for its use of personal details to bolster profound psycho-political insights.  On occasion, however, the author's academic language detracts from his mostly engrossing narrative.  This "scholarly" tilt often produces needlessly complex and extended formulations.  (The term "metaphysical," for example, appears as a qualifier dozens of times.)  This problem unfortunately characterizes much of Hill's introduction.  I would advise readers to skip all but the first few pages of that section and to read the intro in full after finishing the book.  One other problem I had was the insertion of material where Hill describes, with poetic sensitivity, to be sure, his own battle with suicide – a struggle that was not linked clearly to any professional or political issues and had a familial precedent.

That said, Hill's book is well worth reading for its glowing tribute to America, its penetrating insight into the essentially racist mentality of the left, and its concrete examples of these two conclusions.    

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.