Monday, February 18, 2013

Compromise IS American, And That's the Problem

James Wagner, the president of Emory University, wrote an editorial on how compromise is a good thing, is fundamental to how the US operates, is a higher order for a good cause. It's important, he states, for getting by, for learning how to negotiate, and for political discourse.

He outlines this all in his Letter from the President, “As American as … Compromise.”

He's wrong about pretty much everything. Citizens and students don't become better and wiser citizens and students through compromise. We do through listening and experience and higher ordered thinking and going through the wringer of experience and critical thinking and listening again and again. And we learn through history, especially history of the marginalized. And we make connections and we consider again and again how these connections are relevant to not just ourselves but those inside and outside our neighborhoods, those who work for us, those who make our products, those who are in our prisons, those the majority society consider less-thans.

And we repent where we need to repent. We recognize the evil and the grave mistakes that we as a society and a people have done and in many ways continue to do and we take that evil seriously in order to exorcise it from our collective and individual actions.

But James Wagoner demonstrates that White America has yet to repent. Has yet to listen or make connections or consider history or the present through non-privileged perspectives. Has yet to consider amends because it hasn't made a conscious choice yet to repent of the very horrible sins that made it phenomenally rich.

To much of White America, the three-fifths compromise was a necessity in order "to form a more perfect union." The ultimate compromise on slavery - which allowed it to operate mercilessly for generations and allowed its primary stakeholders undue influence in US politics - wasn't appalling, wasn't a sign that the United States was based more on slavery and destruction of human beings and families than on its alleged "freedom." No. According to Wagoner (and many textbooks from my own childhood), the need to bring the two opposing sides together for the lofty goal of making a United States was a "higher aspiration."

Higher, apparently, to minds in the 21st Century, than an unequivocal call for the end of any form of slavery, than for an end to the slave trade or the end to considering human beings as chattel.

Compromise may sometimes be a negotiable we have to work through. But consider what there is to negotiate. The so-called "Third Way" isn't necessarily a better way because it's more expedient. In the case of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the lives of millions of African and Black slaves were disregarded and then monetized for political "purity" of white folks. That's not a good thing. Not back then. Not now. In the case of the so-called Fiscal Cliff, the lives of millions of poor people hang in the balance of a highly politicized scandal of American-styled "justice."

It is a great evil that rich, white men can claim the stakes for everyone else and then dress up their card game as a noble pursuit.

Card game. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA. 1932
Insert tired Frenchie joke here.

The underclass is not something to "balance" or compromise on, are not tokens, are not poker chips.

With his response/clarification, Wagner apologizes for his insensitivity, makes some profound statements that gave me pause to think that he would retract his earlier statement, but then doubles down on the "higher aspirations" language and reprints the original.

Why not just admit it was a complete failure? Are the "chattel" not worth it?

1 comment:

Be kind. Rewind.