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Glorious past, glorious future!

Mrs. Anthony Lewis, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, has given us “gay marriage” on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. She’s evidently timing her benefaction to stick a moral point to us and wrap herself and her deed in glory even beyond their merits. Not to fall behind, here are some odds and ends in honor of the day:

  • A letter from Zora Neale Hurston on Brown v. Board. She asks the obvious question: why does it show respect for black people to say that their well-being requires integration into white society—and thus the abolition of black society as something that functions? If you look at rates of imprisonment and illegitimacy it seems that black society has indeed become much less functional in the past 50 years. If you look at the historical statistics it appears that the decline really set in—and the rate of black economic advance slowed down—during the late sixties and early 70s, just when “civil rights protections” were growing teeth in the form of “affirmative action” and the like. Is that just an unfortunate coincidence, or should it have been obvious all along that Brown and allied initiatives would bring something of the sort?
  • A slightly edited exchange with an antiracist Evangelical correspondent:

    Antiracist Evangelical: How does a Christian not feel guilty after preferring his own ethnicity in matter of immigration? As Christians, aren’t we all called to see the person and soul rather than the skin?

    Jim Kalb: I’m not sure what the problem is here, although I recognize that people believe there is one.

    The basic question in immigration policy is not whether someone who wants to immigrate is more or less worthy as a human being than some other person but what policy best promotes the well-being of the country and its people and whether that policy is at odds with the well-being of the world at large. If the way people organize themselves socially means that there’s more social trust and cooperation and a more coherent and functional culture if there aren’t a lot of new members, and what new members there are mostly have historical connections, loyalties, memories etc. similar to those already present, then limiting immigration and taking ethnic background into account makes sense. What’s un-Christian about it?

    AE: I think what may be un-Christian is the fact one is perhaps glorifying flesh and denying someone the ability to be with them just because they are not white. Aren’t Christians called to see beyond race?

    JK: But human society can’t operate as an undifferentiated blob that includes everyone in the world in everything. It depends on picking and choosing—including and excluding—on some basis or other. If an employer wants to hire someone does he have to hire everyone who says he wants the job, because if he doesn’t he’ll be glorifying something or other and denying the humanity of those who aren’t hired?

    AE: I suppose the employer can discriminate on anything but race. I guess I don’t see how the Christian can use race as a legitimate form of discrimination, as it’s not the same as ability.

    JK: Why is race radioactive, so it can’t have anything to do with any legitimate human connection? What’s so special about it? Suppose an employer hires A because he’s family, B because he’s an old friend, C because he went to the employer’s old school, D because D really needs the job, E because he happens to like the guy, and F because F has the same ethnic background as other employees. The employer has been told that diversity is a “challenge,” and so far as he’s concerned he already has enough challenges to worry about. He believes that common ethnic background eliminates one common source of suspicion, misunderstanding, and conflicting habits and expectations. He thinks it makes it more likely that unforced informal productive working relations will develop based on common habits, attitudes, values, loyalties, interests, etc. Do you believe that what the employer did in cases A - E is OK, but what he did in case F is absolutely unacceptable? If so, why?

    AE: I cannot help but feel God would prefer a heterogenous population, than one that discriminates based on flesh.

    JK: Does God dislike family celebrations, because family connections are fleshly? Does he believe people should get together only when they have no previous connection to each other?

    The real question is the existence of distinct countries, peoples and cultures. Does God believe that every country, city, neighborhood, organization and activity should feature a random assortment of people from all possible backgrounds? The effect would be that distinct peoples and cultures couldn’t exist. But then you couldn’t expect people to have the common habits, expectations and whatnot needed to run their own affairs and work together without supervision, so you’d have to put some custodian in charge of everyone. Why would that be a good thing? Why wouldn’t God view it as destructive?

    AE: Family and ethnicity are different. Families are social structures that can feature adopted children from different racial backgrounds. People of the same ethnicity aren’t automatically my family, they are strangers.

    JK: Sure they’re different. Families are one sort of human connection, ethnicity is another. As you point out, it’s possible to share common ethnicity with a person of different family background and it’s possible to share family ties with a person of different ethnic background. Both connections naturally arise among human beings and both have functions. Neither has much to do with the abilities or moral worthiness of the persons to whom one is connected. Nonetheless, both help provide a setting in which a good life becomes possible. A man without a family finds it harder to connect to the social world and so live a good life, and a man without a particular ethnic culture is I think in a similar position.

    You and many others seem to believe that taking ethnicity into account in choosing associates and building a common life denies common humanity while taking other qualities not directly related to merit like family into account doesn’t. I don’t understand why that’s so.

    AE: Why is race so special you ask? I think because it’s the only criteria that provides a solid glass ceiling without compromise. At least with nepotism, an adopted person from a different racial background may benefit. But with race, unlike nepotism, merit, ability, there is no compromise or room to advance.

    JK: Why is there such a difference? One might as well say that as least with ethnic ties a person from a different family background may benefit. I don’t see why the one has to be treated as more of an absolute than the other. I thought the question was whether ethnicity can be a legitimate consideration, not whether it’s a consideration that automatically trumps all other considerations in all circumstances.

    AE: I didn’t say God wouldn’t like distinct cultures, but when it comes down to do what is moral in these times of rapid population migrations, how can a Christian look 2 men in the eye, one white like himself, the other black, both hard-working and Christian even, but choose to not allow the black man in?

    JK: Do you believe all countries should have open borders? If not, then if you allow any immigration at all you’ll have to let some in and keep some out. Why not base the decision on what seems most likely to be beneficial overall? And why wouldn’t ethnic issues enter into that? After all, they do make a difference to social life. And why is large scale ethnic mixture a good thing that we should choose? What benefits does it confer? The costs seem more obvious to me.