Cultural Caviar

Ungenuine Article

April 14, 2018

He places human races in a hierarchy, though not the traditional one of intelligence, ranging from inferior to superior, but of victimhood. Presumably it is even better, as he puts it, to have African descent than Amerindian because Africans have been even worse used than Amerindians and are therefore even greater victims. By having black blood coursing through his veins he participates in their victimhood, which, of course, conveys upon him the moral authority of a victimized martyr, even though he may have gone to all the best schools, etc. That he is principally of Norwegian descent is, by contrast (and as a corollary), a matter of shame that besmirches anything that he may have achieved in life because his achievements must have been the product of privilege, that is to say the privilege borne in his blood.

In the times when Haiti was still a French possession, there was a table of racial descent that included 64 degrees of white purity, that is to say one black great-great-great-great-grandparent was enough to pollute your blood. The author of this article would agree with this point of view wholeheartedly, except that, of course, he would assign a different, or opposite, value to the blood that the French would have regarded as polluting. Nor will I repeat the old Southern saying about one drop of blood, a saying with which the author of this article would also agree, except that one drop of African blood in his case would wash away all his sins, rather like the waters of the Ganges at Allahabad during the Kumbh Mela.

The question of racial or national pride (or shame) is of such complexity that I prefer not to think about it, and I sweep it under my mental carpet, where so many problems belong. Most patriots, for example, are proud of the achievements of their country—usually the country of their birth—even though they personally contributed nothing to them. Such pride is not wholly to be deprecated, as it often acts as a spur to further achievement, though it can also result in condescension to or the despising of people of other nations. As to collective guilt, it can on occasion lead to a determination never to allow anyone to repeat the same heinous crime, even where the individual concerned bore no personal responsibility for it.

But the article in El País seemed to me to have the authentic ring of humbug.


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