How to Celebrate Diversity without Causing Division

In what is now called “The Pound Cake speech,” Bill Cosby made a lot of enemies for himself in the black community by criticizing, even mocking, what he saw as destructive, ignorant, asinine aspects of “black culture.”

Critics of the speech claimed that Cosby was criticizing poor people in black communities more than black culture in general. They saw his rant as the condescending diatribe of a priviledged elite against his lower-class neighbors. Many people called him an Uncle Tom or a house Negro, or implied as much.

This has been something that has frustrated me for years. Bill Cosby speaks proper English. He is dignified in his dress and demeanor. He has a college education. He is hard-working, successful, and responsible. And apparently many black Americans consider all of this “white.”

One of the main obstacles to racial healing is the assumption that culture follows biologically racial lines. The main problem with demonizing white culture is that a lot of white culture and heritage is actually good, and would be of benefit to the black community as well. Many, in fact most, elements of culture transcend skin color and ethnicity. Culture does not intrinsically have anything to do with human biology.

Hard work and thrift are not white. Education is not white. Grammar and technical precision are not white. Good manners are not white. Having two parents is not white. Christianity is not white.

And on the other hand: Laziness is not black. Poverty is not black. Ignorance is not black. Slang is not black. Fatherlessness is not black. Being a thug is not black. Islam is not black.1

Demonizing white culture or black culture in general is stupid. For one, there is no such thing as some monolithic white culture. White culture is extremely broad. It encompasses all sorts of traditions from all over the globe. And it is not homogenous in the least. It regularly adopts customs, words, tropes, styles, and philosophies when those things seem to have value or interest, no matter who originated them.

The only reason why black culture seems to follow racial lines  is because it developed incidentally that way after years of slavery and then racial segregation. And it is more homogenous than white culture because many black Americans have self-limited their understanding of what black culture can include. But black culture should and can be as broad and inclusive as is useful to its members. Any element to black culture that can help fix the obvious problems in black America (e.g., government dependence, fatherlessness, poverty, sub-par education, etc.) should be adopted with alacrity. If that cultural element happens to coincide with so-called white culture, I fail to see why that is necessarily a bad thing.

Celebrating diversity has to be about a community heritage more than a skin color. And each of us, black or white, is American. Thomas Jefferson, for good or bad, is as much a forefather of black Americans as he is of mine.  And Martin Luther King, Jr., for good or bad, is also just as much a forefather of mine as he is of black America. Both of these men had a profound impact on the America we live in. They also both said and did both good and bad things. The color of their skin doesn’t matter much. White and black Americans share the same history, the same language, the same land, and the same future. In that sense, we are the same race. We need to start acting like it, and kill the antagonism.

We differ in culture, for sure. But the fix for that is not a widening of the divide. I’m for merging the cultures, and I think that has already begun. This means that what is good in what has typically been called “white” culture should be equally enjoyed as an inheritance of the black community. And vice versa.

This is already happening at least on one side of the divide. Is it not overwhelmingly the case that white youths are willing to adopt the music, culture, language, and dress of “black” culture? But this exchange is not really mutual, and I am afraid this is only to the detriment of black Americans. And this cultural “trade deficit” is perpetuated by race-baiters and government stooges that are determined to keep the black community firmly under the control of the governing elite.

The way we have celebrated diversity in the past has just been divisive. We don’t need to make up for the fact that black-skinned people have been under-represented in the past by over-representing them now. Justice is justice. As soon as you rig the scale to compensate for past inequities, you aren’t pursuing justice.

I want to see the end to racial inequalities, racism, and racial prejudices. I love diversity and individuality. I don’t think individuality and diversity rests in anything so superficial as skin color, though. And until we all recognize that, we, both black and white, will continue to perpetuate the self-fulfilling prophecy of mutually destructive racial division.

  1. I think it is interesting that many black Americans consider Islam their natural or traditional religion. The Muslim Moors conquered North Africa by force, subjugated their people, and sold many of them into slavery. I fail to see why that’s a heritage to believe in. Especially for a group of people who are dozens of generations from setting foot in Africa. []