Can't get enough Felix!

Felix_the_Cat_sumka.jpgI think this really could be the end of the Felix the Cat saga, most recently chronicled here and here. Next few items will concern software, China, and of course frogs. But before we turn the page, let us consider Felix's implications for: US-China relations; differences between England and America; and the proud heritage of New Jersey.

I. Felix as distinguished son of the Garden State
Walter Maier, curator of the "Famous New Jerseyans" web site, gives Felix a prominent place among the state's honorees. As he points out, "Felix was born in New Jersey." Go here for details.

II. Felix in the context of Chinese reformers
Taking an admirably post-racial stance, one reader writes in to say: "Surprised you haven't quoted Deng's 'It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.'!"
("不管黑猫白猫,捉到老鼠就是好猫." If I were king, the standard version in English would be "Black cat, white cat -- as long as it catches mice it's a good cat.") Bottom line: if Deng Xiaoping were writing the notorious "Obama reminds me of Felix" essay, he would have begun, "It doesn't matter whether a president is black or white, so long as he fixes the economy."

[Deng, left, not with Felix but with another fine American]

III. Felix as lens for Anglo/American contrasts
A reader writes:
Just a stray observation, which may be outdated by now, based on initial Peace Corps experience meeting with Brit expats in Ghana during the late sixties, but remaining fairly intact after 40 more years of sporadic relevant dialogs with random but typically well educated British folks at home and abroad.

I'm consistently (nearly 100%) struck by the difference between white British and liberal US perceptions of what we both call "racism" or "racialism."
I carry with me the anticipation that the former defines this using logic similar to many self-styled "not a racist" white people in the US.  Such folks typically remain comfortably convinced that racism is a matter of intent rather than of perception.  This attitude would characterize the Felix analogy as racist only if it went something like, "both are black, and both are [pejorative term here]."  Using the positive-to-neutral "lucky" in place of a pejorative like "stupid, ignorant, dumb as hell, hopeless" is a gesture sufficient to absolve the "not a racist" writer with the viewpoint.

Now, in a more up to date context . . .

For whites in this country, however, racism increasingly becomes defined by the actual or putative perception of a target -- similar to the notion that sexual harrassment exists or existed simply because it is or was perceived as such by the victim.  I believe this will lead the US population toward a more universally accepted notion of racism and a more nuanced recognition of social context.  Whether this means, however, that we're actually growing into Dr. King's visceral understanding that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," or alternatively that it just means that more of us realize that we all SHOULD be doing so as time goes on, and that one of the magical, dangerous things about words is their ability to engender beliefs and eventually heartfelt beliefs, comes too close to the number of angels dancing on pinheads [like Mr. Ferguson].

"Not-a-racist" white folks usually profess, as did Ferguson, that this is a matter of fastidious political correctness.  Reminds me of a facile, shallow old saying that "a liberal is nothing more than a conservative who hasn't been mugged" -- but it may be that my "not-a-racist" friends are unwitting racists not yet mugged by the letter from Birmingham jail, or by actual discourse with black people.  Of course not contending that Ferguson is by any means generally shallow, but rather that he might stretch his grasp of racism as a nuanced phenomenon.

A healthy and constructive perception of racism, especially of racism in the US, requires not just intellect, but more -- at a minimum, the ability to imagine onesself clad in African skin, and to imagine vividly.  Most of us white people in this country have further to go even than Mr. Ferguson.  But inevitably, given the current drift of ethnic composition in this country, go we will, undoubtedly kvetching or screeching all the way.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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