Someone below noted the influence of Andrew on my thinking. I get that a lot--but mostly from people scared that I will leave my family, marry a white woman named "Katie" (or some such), move to New England and start bashing poor people. That doesn't sound so bad to me. Unfortunately, a significant source of my writing is Kenyatta and her big chess club brain. The boy is generally OK too, as long as he's not asking me to clothe or feed him. I guess that rules Katie out. Damn. Oh well, there's still time to head to New England and rail against the underclass. I really need to start taking my career seriously.
Sarcasm aside, the fact is that Sullivan, and Fallows for that matter, have come up a little different than me, and have seen a little more. The temptation to sit back and absorb is tough to counter--especially when you're trying to get to New England. I don't short-change myself one bit (Indeed, Kenyatta would plead the opposite) but being here has clarified what I've learned so far, and what I've missed.
One thing that I've missed is the way in which Christianity informs American political thought, and particularly African-American political thought. I was raised well outside the church, and the thus the Christian aspect of black leadership--the religiosity, the sense that God will someday make everything right, the role of heaven in aspirations--always seemed bizarre to me. I was a Malcolmite--I believed in the necessity of the black man remaking the world, of "by any means necessary, of "too much singing and too little swinging." I came across this quote some months ago from a black soldier which sent shivers down my spine:
I was very eager to become a soldier, in order to prove by my feeble efforts the black man's rights to untrammeled manhood.
Untrammeled Manhood. That's what I believed in, and confronted with the essentially conservative/reformist history of black leadership (as opposed to radical/revolutionary,) confronted with lawsuits, marches and pickets, instead of gun clubs, vigilantism and hand grenades, I was left seething.
As I got older, I came to get the political critique of black radicalism--the unfeasible, and in fact undersirable, aspects of militancy. But this recent interview with Andrew left me thinking about the Christian aspect--the sense that one can't remake earth into heaven. Believe it or not, this was a big debate when I was kid. The Muslim and Rasta cats around the way would say that God was man, that heaven and hell are right here, and I was drawn to that immediacy, to that power
But the older I get, the more I think that that message is about psychological comfort, as oppose to affecting meaningful change. After we filmed this clip, we went to dinner, and I expounded on a query I make in the film--Conservatism holds that change is slow, and that the world will never be perfect. But, in fact, some people bear the burdens of the world's imperfection more than others. The price for the slow pace of change isn't uniform. How do you tell those bearing more, or all, to hold on? How do you say to blacks cordoned off by red-lining, watching their leaders assassinated, "Hold on?" How do you say to gays today, in the face of Pop 8, "Hold on?"
I come at this from the question from the side of the Black Panther Party, literally from people who stoically answered racial pogroms with lawsuits, and then one day said, "Fuck this shit, I've had enough." There's an old Black Panther song that goes, "Believe my friends, the silence must end\And we'll just have to get guns and be men." The lyric addresses people who'd been waiting peacefully for over a century, and just got tired of waiting. It addresses the argument that H. Rap Brown--not the racism of the FHA--ruined our cities. For me, the conservative argument of slow progress, even in the form of King saying "How long?" never held much sway with me. I loved (still love) that Bob Marley line
How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?
Some say it's just a part of it, we've got to fulfill the Book.
That is always the dilemma, no? Even with Obama and those of us who want him to fight back.
Anyway, Andrew talked about some gay cats he knew, who were printing out shirts that said "Fuck the Straights," or "I Hate Straights," or some such, and I understood the sentiment. He said his conservative response to that sort of radicalism was always, "I understand why you feel this way. And it's fine if you want to go down that road, but don't do it because you think it will succeed. It won't. Do it because it will make you feel better. And be honest about that."
I don't trust that Buckley's defense of segregation came out of anything other than racism. That may not be who he was at the end of his life, but when you're speculating that the Birmingham church bombings "set back the cause of white people, there" or claiming that they were the work of a "crazed Negro," you forfeit the benefit of the doubt. But the Christian aspect of patience, of accepting imperfection is one I understand a lot better now. I still have questions about the morality of asking the people on the bottom to bear the brunt of all that accepting.