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Saturday, December 26, 2015

George Yancy's Letter to White America

Yancy's Letter to White America


Professor George Yancy's Christmas gift to our nation is a letter addressed to Dear White America.  The document is at once a plea and a preachment.  It is a contemporary instance of what African American thinkers have been doing since the eighteenth century, namely asking that a social science fiction called White America  will bring honesty to a global conversation  regarding its social construction, its flawed narratives and brazen lies,  and confirmative/affirmative  actions.  If evidence provided by herstory and history is at all credible, it is most probable Yancy's letter will be welcomed with howls of execration.  Most of the inhabitants of the fiction will harden their hearts and curse with alacrity. Had Yancy addressed his letter to Yellow America, Red America, Black America, Brown America, or Rainbow America, there's no reason to believe the probable response would be more favorable. In the United States of 2015, pleas and preachments focused on the need for love devoid of infantile lust or on the kind of love James Baldwin advocated  are fossils of a national culture that is swiftly dying.

It  is fascinating that Yancy chose to publish his letter during Yuletide.  The timing draws attention to the vexed nature of the holiday period from Hanukah through Christmas and Kwanzaa to New Year's Day. It draws peculiar attention to our heritage of having faith in the power of love.

Some of our nineteenth-century  ancestors believed in the Sea of Faith, even if the body of water that informed the metaphor was the one over which their ancestors had made the infamous Middle Passage. As heirs of kidnapped immigrants, they volunteered to believe in the mercy of God and the goodness of Man.  Each December they participated in rituals to remember the birth of Baby Jesus, the god-man who became Jesus the Christ, the crucified Jew, and died to compensate for the sins we had not yet become guilty of and to offer us eternal salvation.  If we repented, performed good works, and loved one another unconditionally, we could regain the earthly Paradise Lost or eventually  live in the more upscale gated community called Heaven. In our tepid religiosity during December, we  displace Christ and faith with Santa Claus, the dream merchant, and make shopping  an act of worship.  Unlike our ancestors who managed to balance the spiritual and the secular, a significant number of us prefer the sexy comfort of waltzing with evil.

During Kwanzaa, we would do well to read some passages from Cornel West's Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (1993).  They will help us to decide whether Yancy's gift is a powerful weapon or a sinister distraction.  All that has happened in the United States during 2015 persuades me to respect Yancy's stunning insights about systemic American  enslavement,  the guilt of our being complicit with it, and the implications for a future.  All that has happened, however, convinces me that White, Yellow, Red, Black and Brown America and other social science fictions are too insane to know what love is or isn't or how to use it properly.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.    December 25, 2015

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