Ex-Slave Morality


The recent flap over the astonishing remarks of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s 20-year spiritual guide and mentor, has overturned a stone that many constantly trip over but the squirming underside of which we seldom look at. Or want to. That is the race issue. As Chris Matthews said, it is such a charged issue that anything a white devil says is going to be taken as an offense, an outrage, a racist remark. And that is why there is no substantive dialogue on race issues. White folks feel we have to just sit back and wait till somebody within the African-American community, like Bill Cosby, ventures to break the silence and speak what we privately think about African-American problems, their causes and solutions. And I’m sure opinions such as Cosby voices have long since tagged him as an Uncle Tom. One thing’s for sure, no one’s going to be calling Jeremiah Wright an Uncle Tom, though Obama did call him an eccentric old uncle who makes occasional crazy statements you have to wince at and move on.

But that is disingenuous. And it is part of a larger pattern, a long-standing strategy, among African-American spokesmen who feel they must maintain a united front against any and all criticism of African-Americans. Mike Tyson, noted rapist, ear-cannibal, and all-around brute, gets out of jail with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at his side, as if Tyson were Dr. King. All Dr. King and this Neanderthal have in common is that they were African-American celebrities, and that ain’t much. Trash-talking, woman-exploiting rappers who rhapsodize over murdering policemen are regaled with “Black Achievement Awards” from the NAACP (shouldn’t that be “NAAPoC”?). Jeremiah Wright embraces racist demagogue Louis Farrakhan (who believes the late and Honorable Elijah Muhammad communicates with him from an orbiting space ship) simply because he is notorious and African American. Those who cooperate in Farrakhan’s apparently good efforts are only letting themselves be used, making this racist lunatic appear acceptable and respectable. And I’m afraid it’s the same with those who apologize for Wright.

Since his viciously anti-American and paranoid remarks have been aired and re-aired, Wright has been awarded prizes of his own from African-American ministerial groups. The United Church of Christ, to which Wright (like another great social activist, the Reverend Jim Jones) belongs, has dismissed all criticism of Wright as bigotry against the African American church. You see, that is the united front strategy again: if you dare to criticize anything African-Americans (as long as they’re not successful and Republican, that is) do, you might as well run a linen laundry for the Ku Klux Klan. “Agree with us, or be branded a racist.” No thanks.

As far as I am concerned, Senator Obama simply cannot explain his way out of the paper bag (or is it fly paper?) into which his long association with Jeremiah Wright places him. Some commentator cogently observed how, if it were a white candidate, and we discovered he had sat under the preaching of some Dominionist (Reconstructionist) preacher advocating the Old Testament as American law, killing homosexuals, etc., no amount of back-pedaling would be sufficient to clear him. None could be taken seriously. Nor can it, I am truly sorry to say, in Obama’s case.

My blood pressure rises when I see talking African-American heads on TV defending Wright as typical of African-American preaching. I hope they are lying! I can’t imagine most African-Americans are ignorant America-hating paranoids who believe the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill all African-Americans! They love to say that Wright’s rants were “taken out of context.” Come on: the only way that dodge would carry any weight is if Wright had prefaced each and every one with the words: “Here’s the craziest nonsense you’ve ever heard…” But somehow I doubt he did. If he didn’t, I just don’t need to know any more about “context.” I’m afraid you’ll only be digging yourself and Reverend Wright in deeper.

The problem I see is this: as Nietzsche called Christianity a “slave morality,” the African-American community is victim to an “ex-slave morality.” They believe they have to cherish the memory of horrific race-wide persecution and let it define them as perpetual victims. They will never get anywhere that way. They must learn the lesson that the best revenge is to succeed. But so twisted has their paranoia (abetted by nihilistic “leaders” like Wright, Jackson, and Sharpton) grown that they believe success can be achieved only at the cost of becoming like whitey and that that would be racial treason.

The truth is: one can become successful by imitating the successful. The added African-American assumption is that whites have so stacked the deck that one may advance only by “acting white.” Being successful and being white are the same thing in their eyes. For them, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice are not gifted African-Americans whose success ought to be admired and emulated; they are examples of selling out to become “house n-----s.” African-American children ridicule their classmates who study hard and get good grades as “acting white.” How terrible a self-condemnation. These poor people see themselves as locked into a white American Gulag, but they are not. Not any more. They are instead like the inmates of the asylum in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They are incarcerated by their own choice. Their worldview is a self-sealing premise of excuses that makes any attempt at success seem not only futile but even treasonous to a community which is defined by failure, like certain homosexuals who say you’re not really Gay if you don’t have AIDS.

This community of the ex-slave morality/mentality is powered by ressentiment, a cowardly refusal to act marked by the morbid feeding of revenge fantasies and the misery which loves company. To get anywhere, African-Americans who have not yet succeeded and climbed into the Middle Class must stop taking despair as their creed and start to believe they can succeed. Without that hope, there is no target to aim for—or to hit.

It is not as if I believe racism in America is over and done with. It is still sadly alive and well, but it has taken refuge in some very strange and surprising places. The notion of Affirmative Action is obviously racist as well as patronizing. There is no attempt to equalize the academic preparation and professional competence of minority students or job candidates. The facile policy is instead simply to act as if all had the same opportunities of preparation and education. One so pretends throughout both the processes of hiring and of evaluation, because any criticism would brand one a racist. A good liberal would embrace the stone-walling party-line: no criticism of African-Americans need be, nor even may be, taken seriously, and only a racist would. White liberals embrace the stonewall position out of a sense of survivor guilt. Not having been the victim of prejudice, they feel ashamed of themselves and cave in to the ressentiment of the disadvantaged. To suggest self-help strategies (“learning to fish”) would be read as implying that unsuccessful African-Americans have only themselves to blame. (It is not as if no African-American leaders preach self-sufficiency; the problem is that they do so in a context of implicit or explicit separatism: FUBU (“For Us By Us”). Ditto Farrakhan. Ditto Jeremiah Wright. 

Such a mindset accounts for the paralysis of interracial communication Chris Matthews laments: African-American leaders have learned well that the survivor guilt and self-hatred of white liberals makes them easy to manipulate: “You’re not one of us; you can’t know what it’s like.” How convenient! You need not try to see yourselves as others see you, because you tell yourselves others cannot really see you at all. You live in a different cosmos in which Jeremiah Wright’s tirades look good and true. I say that is a world of fun-house mirrors. And we can only account for it by diagnosing this community as neurotic. They are like a psychoanalytic patient addicted to wallowing in a neurosis, when the only way to be cured is to name the trauma of the past, face it, and move on, no longer its prisoner and slave. Emancipate your culture! Throw off your psychic chains! Your slave-master is your own victim mentality.

So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
April 2008


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