We have not had a "real talk" moment in quite some time. James Wagner, the President of Emory University's suggestion that the 3/5th's compromise was noble, necessary, and an example of good governance to be admired, is an appropriate moment to share some uncomfortable truths.
Wagner's comments have attracted a good amount of attention. For many, it is shocking that an accomplished man of letters would so unapologetically "white wash" the history of slavery in the United States.
Yes, those of us who are are students of American history should be offended by a flattening of the historical record, and a very sympathetic view of the nobility of white elites in counting black slaves as less than a full person in the service of maintaining an ignoble institution.
I understand all of those sentiments.
Here is the painful reality that many of those in the out-group, the less than privileged, the Other, the marginalized, and the like have not yet figured out: James Wagner does not care about you. His comments on slavery were not a personal dig, stab, or barb. Black folks, our legacy, personhood, and the like are quite simply not choices on the cognitive decision tree of men like him.
You/we/us are footnotes and outliers.
People of color--and likely women, gays and lesbians, the "disabled", and other folks who are not "normal" by the narrow definitions of hetero-normative, able-bodied, Whiteness--are also non-factors in the worlds of the truly race and class privileged in American society.
You/we/us spend much energy on these matters; They spend little to none at all.
I know that hurts. Privilege has, well for lack of a better turn of phrase, its own privileges.
It is best to accept such facts if you are to wage battle effectively on their terrain.
I will double down. The real damage done by colorblind and institutional racism in the post civil rights era is that seemingly race neutral decisions about policy and related matters are done with a calculi which ignores how said decisions will impact the life chances of people of color.
Here, the White Supremacists, the caricatures who make convenient bogeymen and women, are easy targets.
Why? Because they actually think about black and brown people a great deal. Moreover, those who are classic bigots are oddly obsessed with non-whites. There is a certain deep intimacy that comes with racism. It is love, fascination, and hate all rolled up into one ball.
The movers and shakers, the shot callers who have the ability to impact policy in ways that hurt the Other, do not usually care one iota about the latter. The privileged are not bad people, per se. The Other is simply not on their radar. For this reason, the elite--the top tier of the in-group--are so dangerous precisely because of an ability to sleep well at night because said agents can tell themselves that they are race neutral and good people, despite how their decision-making hurts those not in their circle.
Trust me, James Wagner is legitimately surprised by the reaction to his comments. In his eyes, he made a self-evident and obvious observation about American history. The apology is necessary for reasons of realpolitik and professional peace.
If you want to start playing that 3d Star Trek chess on these matters of race, politics, and justice in the Age Obama, it is essential that you start thinking about the agents who do the work of impersonal and institutional inequality not as demons or villains, but as self-interested actors.
Again, they are not "bad people." They simply do not care about about people like you. The privileged classes are possessed of narcissism. The disadvantaged are also possessed of narcissism too, as they think that the broader world ought to take them into account. Sadly, it does not.