The Dream that We Are All the Same
I grew up across the street from a miniaturized rendition of a ghetto, scaled to fit a medium-sized Midwestern town. It amounted to an oversized block of single-story apartments, barracks-like buildings scattered at odd angles, built to house workers during World War Two. I am not sure how or when it came to be occupied almost exclusively by black people, but it was.
I saw the inside of one of the tiny apartments only once. A schoolmate invited me inside his family's "home" — a home that clearly humiliated him. It was a sad place, even from a child's naïve perspective. The cinderblock walls were painted the same institutional pink inside and out. The kitchen sink was like a laundry sink, a galvanized sheet-metal tub — the kind of sink you might find in a normal house's basement. There were three diminutive rooms: a bathroom with exposed water pipes, a dark bedroom, and another room for everything else. The front yard, no bigger than the largest of the rooms, was just a patch of dirt surround by a wall, a low wall made of cinderblocks in the same nasty pastel pink. My lower-middle-class home, a three-minute walk away, was a palace by comparison — a palace in a different world.
I knew little about the residents of the block other than the children who attended my elementary school. No one from outside ventured in. No one walked the blacktop pathways across the block on his way to anywhere else. I coexisted indifferently with this ghetto until, sometime in my late teens, the city found the wherewithal to tear it down. I strain to remember it now.
Once there was a murder on the far end of the ghetto, something that didn't happen often in my hometown in the 1970s. The police took a man away. I remember the sirens piercing the heavy air of an otherwise unremarkable summer afternoon and the sight of the police car rolling ominously down my street. We only found out later about the murder. No one was especially surprised.
Also, in my mind's eye, I can still see one of the more notorious families of the block, whose name I still recall, stealing one shopping cart after another from the local grocery. How many times I watched that person from my front porch, wheeling the loads of junk food down the tree-lined street, shouting and laughing, pitiable and uncouth. The block filled slowly with abandoned grocery carts in various thicknesses of rust. Grocery carts were all made of steel in those days. Everything that touched the ghetto rusted to pieces in one way or another.
Lastly, I remember that one spring, whoever owned or managed the apartments had screen doors installed on all of them. This spruced the place up only slightly. These screen doors were quickly torn off their hinges by the residents and discarded in the lanes and yards like all the other refuse. Few survived the summer. They lay discarded around the block for several years, deteriorating in the elements.
Along two sides of the ghetto, there were modest but well kept houses owned by other black families who were of a completely different sort. Most of them, I think, worked in the local factories. Almost everyone in my hometown worked in factories back then, and still does. These more successful blacks were quiet and ordinary people, having little in common with the ghetto families other than the dialect their parents had brought with them long ago from the far parts of the South. The prosperous sides of these two streets were parts of the civilized world, inhabited by people who just happened to have brown skin. They would smile at me when I passed, and I knew a few of them by name. They had a well kept little church with a green roof — Methodist, I believe. Even in elementary school, it wasn't hard to tell who lived in the ghetto and who lived in the adjoining two streets — just as it was obvious which people were civilized among the white population and which were not.
On television, even then, the story was completely different. The TV said everybody is born equal and is basically good and that the idea that someone might not be equal and good is a sign of backward thinking. My teachers, for the most part, sang this hopeful anthem, too. The government hands that directed them behind the scenes were, even then, perceptible if not quite yet visible. Being liberals, my parents did their best to echo what they were hearing. In their hearts, they surely must have had their doubts.
This once egalitarian chorus has grown louder year by year and decade by decade, in direct proportion to its implausibility. What it once whispered, it now shrieks. I hear it not just on television, but in my mind. It tells me to stop seeing what I see, to genuflect reflexively to anyone who is non-white, or foreign, or homosexual, or anything else that might confer a right to vent a grievance. Worse still, the chorus has taught me, little by little, to feel good about myself for denigrating my own culture, for making excuses for the dangerous and the dysfunctional — for reviling the normal, the decent, and the productive.
Cultural Marxism is the most insidious disease of the soul that has ever been devised. It enters through the ears, derails the mind, and is spread to other victims by a virtue-signaling mouth.
I am awake now — not woke, I tell you, but awake. To be "woke," in the progressive parlance, is the modern equivalent to having one's "consciousness raised" by a hefty dose of LSD. I am awakened in a different sense — raised like Lazarus from an untimely spiritual death. I see with bitter clarity what I saw perfectly well when I was seven or eight years old. People are not blank slates on which the manicured fingernails of reformers can scratch their pretty ideas. People come readymade into this world with certain capacities and certain limitations. They live their lives with such machinery as providence has given them. Some are suited for a civilized life, and some are not. Some make good neighbors, and some do not. All races have members in each camp — a truth to be proclaimed from the rooftops in the name of decency and actual justice — but to insist that all races will naturally fail or prosper in the same proportion is just contrary to the facts. Everyone is not made equal simply by wishing it were so. People are not made into productive citizens by paying them enough to rot noisily in subsidized housing. It was not so fifty years ago, and it is not so now.
Most of us have always known exactly what real racism is. It is the intellectual laziness of over-generalizing in either direction. Human beings are neither guilty nor innocent by the light of their appearance, nor by the peculiarities of their grandparents' lives. In a truly just society, each of us would have to stand on his own merits. We are what we are. We cannot change our inmost natures. We cannot remake our history.