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Jewish World Review
May 4, 2010
20 Iyar 5770
Race and Resentment
Recent stories out of both Philadelphia and San Francisco tell of black students beating up Asian American students. This is especially painful for those who expected that the election of Barack Obama would mark the beginning of a post-racial America.
While Obama's winning the majority of the votes in overwhelmingly white states suggests that many Americans are ready to move beyond race, it is painfully clear that others are not.
Those who explain racial antagonisms on some rationalistic basis will have a hard time demonstrating how Asian Americans have made blacks worse off. Certainly none of the historic wrongs done to blacks was done by the small Asian American population who, for most of their history in this country, have not had enough clout to prevent themselves from being discriminated against.
While ugly racial or ethnic conflicts can seldom be explained by rational economic or other self-interest, they have been too common to be just inexplicable oddities-- whether in America or in other countries around the world, and whether today or in centuries past.
Resentments and hostility toward people with higher achievements are one of the most widespread of human failings. Resentments of achievements are more deadly than envy of wealth.
The hatred of people who started at the bottom and worked their way up has far exceeded any hostility toward those who were simply born into wealth. None of the sultans who inherited extraordinary fortunes in Malaysia has been hated like the Chinese, who arrived there destitute and rose by their own efforts.
Inheritors of the Rockefeller fortune have been elected as popular governors in three states, attracting nothing like the hostility toward the Jewish immigrants who rose from poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side to prosperity in a variety of fields.
Others who started at the bottom and rose to prosperity-- the Lebanese in West Africa, the Indians in Fiji, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, for example-- have likewise been hated for their achievements. Being born a sultan or a Rockefeller is not an achievement.
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Achievements are a reflection on others who may have had similar, and sometimes better, chances but who did not make the most of their chances. Achievements are like a slap across the face to those who are not achieving, and many people react with the same kind of anger that such an insult would provoke.
In our own times, especially, this is not just a spontaneous reaction. Many of our educators, our intelligentsia and our media -- not to mention our politicians-- promote an attitude that other people's achievements are grievances, rather than examples.
When black school children who are working hard in school and succeeding academically are attacked and beaten up by black classmates for "acting white," why is it surprising that similar hostility is turned against Asian Americans, who are often achieving academically more so than whites?
This attitude is not peculiar to some in the black community or to the United States. The same phenomenon is found among lower-class whites in Britain, where academically achieving white students have been beaten up badly enough by their white classmates to require hospital treatment.
These are poisonous and self-destructive consequences of a steady drumbeat of ideological hype about differences that are translated into "disparities" and "inequities," provoking envy and resentments under their more prettied-up name of "social justice."
Asian American school children who are beaten up are just some of the victims of these resentments that are whipped up. Young people who are seething with resentments, instead of seizing educational and other opportunities around them, are bigger victims in the long run, whether they are blacks in the US or lower-class whites in the UK. A decade after these beatings, these Asian Americans will be headed up in the world, while the hoodlums who beat them up are more likely to be headed for crime and prison.
People who call differences "inequities" and achievements "privilege" leave social havoc in their wake, while feeling noble about siding with the less fortunate. It would never occur to them that they have any responsibility for the harm done to both blacks and Asian Americans.
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