David Brooks nails it:
Besides being offended by the racist comments made by members of the Los Angeles City Council — as so many people were — I was also struck by the underlying worldview revealed during their leaked conversation.
Council President Nury Martinez — who has since resigned from the Council — along with two colleagues and a labor ally talked about a range of subjects, including redistricting, but two assumptions undergirded much of what they said. Their first assumption was that America is divided into monolithic racial blocs. The world they take for granted is not a world of persons; it’s a world of rigid racial categories.
At one point Martinez vulgarly derided someone because “he’s with the Blacks.” You’re either with one racial army or you’re with another.
The second assumption was that these monolithic racial blocs are locked in a never-ending ethnic war for power. The core topic of their conversation was to redraw Council districts to benefit Latino leaders.
“It’s real simple,” one of the participants in the conversation said at one point. “You got 100 people, right? Fifty-two of them are Mexicano. I feel pretty good about it. I feel pretty good about my chances of beating your ass.”
Those two assumptions didn’t come out of nowhere. We have had a long-running debate in this country over how to think about racial categories. On the one side there are those, often associated with Ibram X. Kendi and others, who see American society as a conflict between oppressor and oppressed groups. They center race and race consciousness when talking about a person’s identity. Justice will come when minority group power is used to push back on white supremacy. “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination,” is how Kendi puts it.
On the other side, there are others, like Thomas Chatterton Williams, Coleman Hughes and Reihan Salam, who argue that racial categorization itself can be the problem. The concept of systemic racism is built upon crude racial categorization. As Williams puts it, America should fight racism while over the long term getting rid of “the categories that come out of the collision of Africa and Europe in the slave trade and the New World.”
You do that by emphasizing how much all humans have in common and by emphasizing how complex each person’s identity is — that it includes race but so many other things, too. The last thing you want to do is traffic in the sort of racial essentialist categories that were so rampantly on display during that conversation among the City Council members.
That conversation is what happens when the assumptions of the former school of thought are embraced as a matter of course. You don’t get a righteous struggle against oppression. You get a bunch of people who assume that public life is a brutal struggle of group against group, and who are probably going to develop derogatory views of people in rival groups.
Read the rest here.