Patterson’s Children of Sysiphus. I love that book. It is the man with broad words looking throught the eye of another and desribing that world with all the resolution of a sophisticated vocabulary. The white opressor. The oprssor is white. I am white, ipso facto, I am the opressor? A taxi chauffeur, a rastafari, also began about the white oppressor. When I asked him if that included me. He said “no man”, emphatically. He meant my abstract. But I am the white opressor. The opressor was white, the vicitm was black, what unsurpassed visual symmetry and simplicity. The depth of the problem is intensifid by the clarity of the metaphysical and aesthetic categories.
Should I try to wriggle out of my place as the white oppressor? Should I take such curious logic, that strange use o the syllogism seriously? Should I exploit my whiteness.
The point is that it is true. The “whites” did opress the blacks from the institution of slavery until even now. That is a given upon which all sorts of conditions and qualifiacations act. White born into a system they did not necessarily agree with. Black being no better as human beings than whites. The fierce role of technological superiority.
But the logic all rests on one problem. Racial unity. The question becomes: do I accept the category of whiteness, despite the fact of its cogency, despite its immediacy. Do I accept an affinity to people on the basis of the colour of my own skin?
The answer must be no. And yet. I do feel poud when Holland wins the European Cup. I feel part of Newton’s deliberations on gravity. Therefore I am a hypocrite. Or am I? Do i by my pride exclude? Is my pride relative? Do I also feel proud about the 13th century map of China? Can an African partake in the excitment in the development of BMW technology in the same way as an arbitrary German can? That moves the argument. Can I feel proud of the invention of a car, when I, personally, had nothing to do with it? When I am completely car illiterate? Is the development of technology a white thing? I was always taught it was a European thing. I suppose that means that by implication it is a white thing, as Europeans tend to have white skin.
And yet I do not like people on the basis of whether they are white or black. By sheer coincidence many of my heroes are black. But I am white?
There is an absurdity about racism and racial grouping which pervades all grouping. It is the absurdity of belonging. Experience, well-being and knowledge widen groups. Experience, hardship and ignorance narrow groups and harden their boundaries.
I am the white opressor. I oppress through the opressed. I opress if I fail to supply the tools of overcoming, I opress by encouraging dependency in my tolerance. I opress by letting opinions about me be caught up within the dynamic of desires and repulsions. I opress throught the fact that I am categorised as a white man. I opress by my carriage, my clothes, and my mistakes of behaviour. I opress by my well-meaning nd therefore patronising behaviour. I oppress by being mis-understood. I opress by the way that my word, when it is heard is embedded in a culture over which I have no control, of which I have no specific understanding. I opress by talking about whay I believe. I oppress by thereby becoming part of a conspiracy. I opress by my impatience, my despair. I opress by talking and therefore being listened to.
The assumption is that every man and woman is equal. Ha! He laughed sarcastically. Equality! What a soft sounding word, How Noble! How comforting. And what if we say that equality has always been there? No doubt everyone would rage and feel great indignation. But you see it is true. Equality has always been there. Equality is the condition which allows us to be together at all: together. A joke. But not funny enough by itself. To get there. Together. To be there. There is a condition of equality. It is within our equality that we execrise power. The things not of our equality do not reside within our experience.
Yes, you will say, but that is not the equality we mean. We mean an equality as defined by the american constitution, by the slogans of the French Revolution. And then I reply: yes! So do I! That equality is there. But it is useless. For we will do everything to undermine it. Most of all those seeking their equality. They will perform as victims, segregating themselves from their aspirations so as to be all the better reunited with them. Their game is domination, not equality. For those who truly seek equality are meek. And the meek will only achieve the earth. Their lot is to be dominated by those who seek justice in revenge.
Equality is not a privilege but a torture; it is a hard-edged thing. Equality loses its guilt by the passing of a generation. For if the past generation must carry the guilt of a previous generation, how can they be equal?
Do we want equality?
Should we all carry that guilt equally? Will we then regain our equality? Should “The white man” and “the black man” both carry their history with shame and submission? But what does this guilt consist of: politicised mythology? History? Truth?
We are reduced to being ourselves. We are individuals in a soup of togetherness. The groups we form are formed on the basis of contingencies and choice. They create illusioons and perfom magic. Their reality is in the form of a nightmare. They are creations of ourselves in our image, and how distorted is that image. The languages we utter like morons. We must carry the responsibilities of those groups. Losing the responsibility over their formation is ultimately self-defeating. Groups are an existential phenomenon, a metaphysical decision to make us different, to shed our equality. It is a question of magic. Pronounce the word and you will perform magic: I am a member of the society for the preservation of. There, you have lost your equality and thereby made yourself more equal.
How circular meaning is. How impotent. How can I put it in a concise way? Equality is a circular problem. To have it is to have corrupted it, to stand out as one who is decidedly unequal. Nietszchean in his confidence. One can only achieve equality it by making yourself vulnerable and meek.
To be equal will not help us unless we take the consequences of this paradox and build upon it. We must all stand out equally! And so we will be invisible in our equality, confident in our equality and crushing in our equality.
Equality is a decidedly depressing thing. Heinrich von Kleist defined equality in his definition of the arch: a thing that stays up because all its constituent elements want to crash down simultaneously.
There is our equality. Let us assume we are equal. Let us reject r accpet our repsobnsibility of the past equally, by making it a concern for the future. Let us not use it as a weapon to gloat. The Black man and the white man are men. Their grouping according to colour is not a statement of inequality, for their equality is fundamental. But of a desire. They want to belong to something and the want not to belong to that which they fear.
To belong is to see a border. The scale of belonging: from family, through village to county to country to continent to race etc. is related to exprience. People are so desperate to belong that they cannot be themselves.
What is that reality? It is our mysterium tremendum. It is infinitessimal, it is multidimensional and above all non-linear. It ranges from the crumpled dream to the unknown nature of our being here. But there is one thing that must be absolutely clear. No one owes anybody else a living. We are alone in this world and completely independent. At the same time we are part of something larger. Independence is your greatest gift for being part of the world. Sell it at your own peril. Ultimately dependency is a problem for the dependent. The meek were never meant to be seen as fortunate for their inheritance. I don’t think it is an inheritance to look forward to.
The West has to face up to the holocaust that was our particular variety of slavery. It contains shame. But it must lead to a healthy levelling not a guilt. The West has brought forth people, no more no less and there is no point in wallowing in the past. We have to be completely intolerant towards the excuse of history. Instead we have to write histories that make us wake up to the reality of the earth. If there is one thing more destructive than slavery it is inherited guilt. An inherited guilt is a guilt, which tries to compensate, without understanding properly what is wrong. An inherited guilt cannot be understood by the heir, the framework is not there. It is a guilt about a series of actions which cannot be reconstructed by the heir. So that any compensation, any wiedergutmachung begins to serve other ends. This is the tragedy of development help.
There is a moral high ground from which this panoramic survey departs and it is this. It is that multiculturalism could be a good thing, not a negative thing. It is not something, which fosters tolerance and forbearance all of them words which lift heavy loads from the ground with patience, like atlas lifts his globe and looks resentfully at Hercules’ freedom. It does not need such an approach. Multiculturalism is a light thing. The colision of cultures is fun. Nothing more nothing less, it is a wealth. For this a few moral assumptions needs to be put in place. And that is that difference is a question of scale and that segregation is fundamentally destructive at the urban scale. It is better to struggle with otherness than it is to hide from it. For in hiding from it difference achieves mythological proportions.
One question has to be addressed, how is it possible that a white minority was able to dominate a black majority for so long? The answer is complex, compounded by many mutually supportive machinations. But even for a look at the country’s architecture such questions have to be asked. There was the argument of racial superiority. That is a powerful argument aimed to increase the confidence of one group while conversely shattering that of the other. The violence of intellectual elitism is one of the most powerful psychological instruments, which in the case of the West was manifestly backed by the ideology of technology which, after all was a strong argument to believe in such culltural paradigms as “relative progress”. It made it possible to compare cultures and races according to the standards of a racing track. Attached to that was the technology itself, ever more efficient guns etc. Such machinery works as a powerful emblem because of its occasional proof of ability. Related to that is the systematisation of exploitation. System, order and standardisation, all of them heirlooms from our appropriation of the Greek inheritance are immensely powerful weapons, as shown by the way that Germany was able to take on the world for so long, virtually all by itself and exterminating a population in the process of conducting a war. Technology is a frighteningly efficient weapon. The aesthetics of system, order, standardisation and the strict geometry which service that technology as well as the ethics of empiricism have now brought the world to where it is.
In a country where the majority have been kept down for as long as they could be kept down, is it surprising that there is a consequent reluctance towards any sense of urgency to accomodate the very values which were responsible for their misery, even when, by many, those instruments of misery have, paradoxically, been offerd to them as means of escaping their misery? In a country where the relationships between served and serving were so clearly distinguished by such a mundane but immediately perceptible differences as skin colour, is it any wonder that there is mistrust? In a country where those of colour who have leant towards the west in their effort to improve their own lives, have used their new status to embrace a system of power accumulation where the methods are less than discreet, is it any wonder there is lethargy, politcal lethargy, social lethargy and cynicism. Remember Hananh Ahrendt’s pronunciation about the banality of violence. That same banality is to be seen within the laxity of public office, charming people, conducting sinister games, often with the best intentions.