Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle offers some reflections on linked fate

I recently commented on Zora’s thought-provoking post about linked fate. In my comment, I noted that, even after years of wrestling with linked fate, I am unable to articulate a clear philosophy.

A string of recent events have helped me work through some of my difficulties with linked fate, so that now I’m at least able to throw out some inchoate thoughts on the subject:

First, on Thursday I began my second year as a volunteer reading mentor at a public school in which all of the students are poor and black. This is the youngest group of children (2nd Graders) I’ve ever mentored.

Then, minutes after leaving the school, I saw a woman in her late 20s waiting at the bus stop. She had her name written on the back of her tracksuit, but I could only see part of the name. When she got on the bus ahead of me, I saw the full name in all its glory: FALACIA!

Finally, on Friday I snagged front row seats to a stellar performance by a troupe of West African dancers. Before they even started dancing, I caught a whiff of one dancer who smelled like a mildewed onion frying in vinegar. Instead of devoting my full attention to the show, I found myself trying to pinpoint which of them was so damn musty. Ultimately, I located the culprit and decided to breathe through my mouth when he was near.

All three events occupied my mind throughout the weekend (the dance show largely because I was haunted by traumatic olfactory flashbacks). While these events haven’t led me to a coherent position on linked fate, they’ve at least started the ball rolling.

Before I detail what I learned from the events, let me reiterate what I said in response to Zora: linked fate may be a practical reality, but it doesn’t have to carry moral implications. I’m tied to black degenerates because those who accept white supremacy are too corrupted to distinguish between me and the degenerates; I do not, as Zora said, feel any moral connection to degenerates.

“this makes us look bad”
I have tutored and mentored poor black children for over a decade, primarily because I exhibit a sense of race pride when it comes to black folks’ academic and professional successes. The flipside, of course, is that I have a deep sense of shame about black folks’ academic and professional failings. For whatever reason, even though the failures aren’t my own, they feel like my own. It goes without saying that this should be the ethos of all members of a community, but given the numbers, it is especially important for black communities.

Lesson: As it turns out, I do have a moral sense of linked fate, but it applies mostly to children, and especially to their educational achievement; once these children grow up, however, my sense of linked fate only extends to them if they chose to be respectable. By “respectable” I mean that they work hard, they try not to bring kids into the world unless they can support them, they support kids they do bring into the world, they have a respect for the law (when the law makes sense), they act beyond mere impulse and self-satisfaction, and they have a regard for the common good.

This only sounds like a right-wing talking point because the left has failed to address the matter in a serious way. I’m about treating children like children and treating adults like adults. This runs counter to the approaches of most conservatives—who want to treat children like adults—and many liberals—who want to treat adults like children.

“this makes her look bad”
Ah, the hours I’ve spent thinking about Falacia (I wonder if her brother’s name is Connalingus). Whenever I see black people with bizarre names, I feel bad for the individual, because I know that her life chances will likely be unfairly limited, Falacia may be an intelligent, industrious woman. And though her name should have no bearing on her success, it probably will. Unlike some respectable negroes, I don’t recoil in horror and argue that her weird name somehow embarrasses black people as a whole. I feel the same way about black folks who dress in loud, tacky clothes or consume ghetto lit and crappy music and TV shows.

Lesson: When it comes to black taste (child names, taste in clothes, books, movies, TV, music), I think that each black person’s taste reflects only on that person. TAN seemed to suggest the opposite when he inquired why there is a dearth of mainstream black satire. He worried that this lack might make it seem as if black people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand satire. This is, without question, the wrong way to look at these matters, and I scolded TAN accordingly.

“this makes them look bad”
When I first smelled the one pungent dancer, my thoughts immediately focused on the other 13 dancers. I was concerned that the funky one would reinforce stereotypes not about African-Americans, but about Africans and “foreigners” in general. All it takes is one rotten apple to taint the whole bunch.

Lesson: Whatever sense of black linked fate I have doesn’t really extend past African-Americans, but I am sympathetic to the linked fate situations of other groups of black people.

Now that I've put these thoughts out there, I invite our readers (and Zora and Chauncey) to tear them apart. Do any of these ponits need to be clarified? Am I contradicting myself somewhere?


MG said...

1) The link between odd, ethnic names and success, or lack thereof, is hard to prove, although the notion that such a link exists is widely believed.

2) I don't know what "morally linked fate" is. I do know, and despise the fact, that to this day when I read about a crime that's been committed the thought goes through my mind "Please don't let the perpetrator be black. Please don't let the perpetrator be black." Not a thought for the victim. Perhaps that's "Immorally linked fate." There's a point in there somewhere if you want to puzzle it out.

gordon gartrelle said...

Great points.

I'm convinced that we hope perpetrators aren't black because we get a minor form of psychological relief when a stereotype isn't confirmed this time, even though this makes no difference in the long run: one fewer black criminal won't change negative perceptions of black people.