I am reading more and more pieces by whites trying to understand their own racism more deeply in light of George Floyd’s horrible murder. As Lincoln said, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” But in a larger sense—where Lincoln also knew we had to look—it is not enough. I don’t believe our racial problems will go away with only increased self-understanding and empathy, or better training. Our racial problems will ultimately be solved only by the kind of love and integration that comes from living together in the same family, under the same roof. This is something that most of us have not yet done (although a few, notably, have.)
Nothing forges a real bond like being part of the family. To know this, we need only to listen to white parents who have black kids, either by marriage or adoption, and hear their attitudes. Ask Madonna. Ask Angelina. Ask Katherine Hegel. Ask Mayor DeBlasio. What they all feel is not empathy—it is love. For kids in mixed with different skin-color, it is typically deep love they feel for their siblings. We can talk about “loving our neighbor” all we want, but family love is different. Without that kind of love—i.e. with everyone leaving their day jobs and going home to separate families and cultures—I doubt if any amount of empathy will be enough to overcome the problems we now face. Those who have had the good fortune to live, at some point in their lives, with people from a very different culture—and be welcomed into their families—will have a different attitude toward those groups. Some send their kids abroad to get this. We need ways to make more of it happen in our own country.
In a forum discussion on race, one person commented that “The problem is education—80% of black kids in California can’t read.” My response was this:
“California has 1,147,000 households with a net worth of over $1 million. There are 334,000 Black K-12 students and 3,375,000 Latino K-12 students in California. So if each million-dollar-net-worth household “adopted” three or four kids (or even fewer, because many of the kids are doing fine and don’t need this help), every minority kid would “belong” to a high-net-worth household. That household would then “guarantee the kids get an education” just as they do for their own kids—we all know that kids from wealthier households tend to do better. This sort of “adoption” or “belonging” could take many forms, from bringing the kids fully into your home, to teaching them yourself, to paying a tutor to do it individually.
Instead of waiting for someone else, or some other group, or public education to do it—although their work should certainly continue—what if we—and particularly the well-off—actually did something about it ourselves? We clearly have the financial means. Do we have the will to actually help in person? It is only by taking steps that gradually bring us all into one society—rather than a set of “trying-to-be-empathetic-but-still-wary” cultural tribes—that we will solve our long-term racism problems. I’m not suggesting that this would work as government policy, but rather that our financial resources are not lacking—what we lack is the desire to integrate and help at this level.
In a sense, this is a just a wide-scale, mixed-race version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” That was fiction, but we could make it more of a reality for most kids. Not that every million-dollar-net-worth household is like the Banks, or all the “belonging to our family” needs to be live-in. But so many of us could afford to bring in a kid or two in the sense of taking some family-depth responsibility for that kid’s growing up and education. Has anyone tried to do this systematically? Or does everyone just want our families to stay culturally siloed? Love your comments.“
I got this response from Brazil:
“Dear Marc, your proposal, for someone like me seeing from outside, looks like the best the American’s behavior can offer. Living in a quite mix race country as Brazil, our problem is not the color of skin, but the more spread level of poverty and the low level of knowledge …. Problems and solutions are different for each country, but your proposal looks like an intelligent solution for this shaming racism in the US. Stay safe.”
Feedback that I have gotten from the US suggests that those who fall by happenstance into a mixed family often find it life-changing and are glad they did, that no one wants to be forced, and that many of the wealthy would choose not to participate. Clearly, such family-level integration won’t happen widely immediately—or maybe ever. But the idea of each group keeping its own unadulterated culture, not admitting others into its families, and passing their individual culture onto their kids (with all its bad as well as all its good) may be coming to an end with this first, globally-connected generation. According to anthropologist Genevieve Bell we are already seeing the emergence of big changes in worldwide generational attitudes regarding privacy, property, personal relationships, security, sexuality, power, kids, violence, god, justice, money, love, government, technology and even time and space. Attitudes toward “family” may also change as well in our kids’ time—although The World’s last Pre-Internet Generation will likely have trouble accepting this. But to solve our deepest racial problems, I believe we are all going to have to become not just more empathetic and tolerant, but more deeply inter-mixed at a family level. A French friend used to say “Our problems with racism will not end until everyone’s skin is café-au-lait.”
Or, if not that, at least until we’ve all experienced some kind of living in mixed families, under the same roofs.