Should Minorities Care About Societies That Despise Them?
By umair haque
Feb 1 2017
I find myself wrestling with an uncomfortable question these days. Should minorities care about societies that despise them?
(Yes, the standard disclaimer applies: maybe you do not despise minorities. But a plurality of your fellow citizens certainly do, hence “societies that despise minorities”.)
I will use a little parable to answer that question in this essay. I want to warn you: you will not like my answer. In fact, many of you will hate it. But then, to begin again at the beginning, we are now ruled by hate. What is a little more hate but another drop in the poisoned ocean? Your hate doesn’t matter at all. It is the most plentiful thing all the world today.
Imagine a tribe of apes. There are always some jockeying for leadership. One day, an especially nasty ape says (yes, these apes can talk. Use your imagination.) “those apes! the minority that look different! If we can just eliminate them, we will be richer!”. Many of the other apes in the majority, in vanity, greed, pride, arrogance, nod their heads. Some of the apes in the majority frown, shake their heads, and say: “No. That is wrong”, but they cannot quite say why.
Now here is the thing. The minority, let us say they are apes with red hair or some other distinguishing characteristic — it doesn’t really matter — have been at the bottom of the social pecking order regardless. It doesn’t matter how much food they have found, or how kindly they have lived, or how much they have contributed to this tribe of apes. Whatever they have done, added, given, shared, they have been at the bottom. Not in material terms — but in moral ones. They have never really been seen as “real” members of the tribe. Never really belonged, been respected, loved, admired, wanted. Only, sometimes, needed. For their utility.
Which side should those apes take? The answer seems obvious, no? They should object to the majority that wants them gone. They must stand up for themselves! But there’s another choice, too, isn’t there? Not to take a side at all.
It seems paradoxical. Why shouldn’t the apes at the bottom of the pecking order take the “no” side? For a very simple reason: they are just legitimizing a social order in which they are unjustly treated to begin with. And any being that does that loses something truer than money, power, or success: they lose their self-worth, their self-regard, their freedom. What little they are allowed to have.
The price of their safety is their dignity.
That is more or less the position American minorities are in today. Some minorities, like “Asians” (did you know all people from Asia are the same? We’re all mystical, ethereal beings.), it’s true, are “successful”. But what is truer to say is that all they are is successful. Materially successful. What they are not is genuinely treated with respect, appreciation, or regard. They are not wanted. They are just needed. For their utility. But these are not the same, are they?
Do I overstate my case? Let’s think about it. When was the last time you saw an Asian Hollywood star? An Asian-American public intellectual that’s not Frank Fukuyama…or more to the point, one that was born in Asia? An Asian author famous for not writing about “Asian issues”? Sure, there are a handful. But they are the expection that prove the rule. Asians aren’t freely included in civil society by the majority, except through compulsion or tedious obligation.
I have used the example of Asians — the “successful minority”. If even they cannot belong, how much worse is the cost of not really belonging for less successful minorities? As basic evidence of health and wealth shows, it is very much worse. The simple conclusion is this.
You can be a third rate member of the majority in America, the textbook mediocre white man, and receive unending adulation, upward motion, belonging, respect. Think Seth Rogen, maybe. But there is no way for minorities to achieve that kind respect. It happens by a fluke, in those rare instance it happens at all. No way means: no path, ladder, road. No set of achievements that guarantees respect or appreciation or love or belonging. That is distinctly not true for the majority, is it?