When I was young, I had three heroes: Leonardo da Vinci, Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington, three great men with brilliant minds who represented to me creativity, courage and perseverance.
I never thought, nor anyone ever suggested, that I should not be able to see myself as any of these men, or that I could not understand their lives, or that two of them should not be available to me as personal heroes. But times have changed.
Now, a rampant illiberalism says that I can’t understand black lives; white lives are foreign to blacks; black students can only learn when their teachers share their skin tone; whites can only engage in culture declared to be “white”. We all must stay in our racial lane.
So while I learned courage and perseverance from two great Americans who were also black, a modern black child is taught to not see himself in da Vinci, or Newton, or John Glenn. In an age of ideas, constraining students to a limited experience is the worst sort of ghetto.
White people get agitated by the shackles of social justice theory, but really, it’s just an annoyance. My life, nor that of my children and grandchildren, is not impoverished much when I can’t use certain epithets or wear dreadlocks or rap.
( Actually, me not being allowed to do those things probably improves other people’s lives …. )
But a black student’s education is smashed to rubble when activists excise Richard Feynman and James Watt and Thomas Edison and replace them with George Washington Carver. All of those great minds should be available to everyone.
The illiberalism goes even deeper though, rejecting the whole of the Enlightenment and the Western Liberal Tradition as being too “white.” But it isn’t and was never intended to be. The Traditions of Reason and Liberty is a gift to all of humanity, and their origins among white western European males is a minor footnote.
When that origin becomes the basis for rejecting ideas, and the whole Western Liberal project is dismissed as colonialism, black people are prevented from participating in an intellectual tradition that is responsible in the greatest increase in human flourishing in history.
With the end of slavery, Jim Crow and redlining, there is possibly no greater manifestation of racism than to look at the accomplishments of the last 500 years, and the agents of those accomplishments, and decide that black people should not be able to engage with them.