Dunbar Village. All ashore that's going ashore.
I wrote a little bit about this particular horror soon after the story broke and of course thought that was the end of it. And now I see that somehow, for reasons I haven't really bothered to investigate, it has resurfaced. I wonder how many folks who have expressed their outrage over the racially incindiary remarks of Wright at our last racial crossroads are going to continue on their own trains or switch trains to this one.
For any number of reasons we Americans are on different paths based upon the amount and quality of information we take in. Being on the list for the Kwaku Network I know what a large number of black Americans are processing right about now. It will be this outrage, not for any race hustling reasons, but because that's the news we get *in context*.
VDH is dismissing this context, and I think to a certain extent he does have a valid point.
Obama’s evocation of “context” is the new/old defense that one suddenly hears to excuse extremist language against whites, moderate African-Americans, Italians, Jews, America, Israel, the WW II generation, etc. as in:
(1) The Wright slurs were just snippets; or
(2) Came in a context of historic oppression; or
(3) Were part of unique protocols of expression in black churches; or
(4) Were more than balanced by prior good works; or
(5) Were just rhetorical flourishes and hardly offensive; or
(6) The right-wing noise machine is using the Wright sound-bites for the political embarrassment of a Democratic candidate rather than due to genuine anger over his racism.
While some of these mitigations in theory might have some merit, what the Wright defenders—most prominently Sen. Obama himself—don’t realize is that the classical liberal tradition always argued that absolute standards trumped relativism and that situational ethics were never an excuse for extremism.
A clear discussion of the dangers of such relative morality is found in Book III of the historian Thucydides. There the violent revolutionaries on ancient Corfu claim they had cause to destroy the framework of the law and natural decency —and then found no such shelter when they in extremis were in need of it.
The Wright apologia is insidiously tearing down the accepted norms of public expression (sermons in a pulpit merchandised on DVDs qualify as the public domain). And the pastor will sorely miss them should he find himself the victim of racist outbursts against his person that will be inevitably excused by his own contextual contortions.
He's right. We should have absolute standards, and my favorite quote on the matter is found in 'A Man For All Seasons'
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Ahh but we have no law on the matter of racist offense. Moreover, we have no equal society in which those who might apply their ethics would find refuge. If there was a conversation in society anywhere near as consistent as the application of law, then there would be a refuge for those whose conventions have coalesced. But there is no such conversation. At least it is clear that the liberal and the conservative, the black and the white diverge. The forest may have been planted in the Civil Rights Era, but the trees are still saplings and there hasn't grown much shelter.
It is why we're all a bit raw and tender over this and why we cannot really talk about Dunbar Village, or Duke, or Imus or Tookie or OJ or Katrina. There are at least two societies of dialog, separate and unequal whose trains cross not quite often enough for much to arise but pain and regret for opening one's mouth in the first place.
I mention all this, not out of a desire to have any dialog, but I guess to show that I can still remain fearless in that storm, and out of some hope that some stand of saplings will grow to their full height in the fullness of time and provide all of us the shelter we deserve.
And so I expect that those who have spent their inordinate amount of time drubbing Wright will not care to take their outrage to Dunbar Village. Then again, I'm not particularly interested in going there myself.