Skin color is not a value

Yesterday, I blogged about a bill in the California Legislature aimed, essentially, at creating a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender History month, akin to Black History Month and Women's day, and whatever other day or month identity politics has co-opted. I've been thinking a lot about that since yesterday, and wondering why it bothers me so much. As I said, I don't have a problem with acknowledging that someone who has distinguished accomplishments did so because of (or despite) pressures against him because of his race, color, creed or sexual orientation. To dig into my discontent, I really had to break down things down into what I think ought to be taught, versus what I think this bill is trying to accomplish.

Like it or not, our public schools are going to teach values. You can't teach any subject but math and chemistry without wrapping it up in subjective content. For example, we're all alive to the battles over history: Was the development of America a Democratic light in the world or was America a genocidal experiment that killed Native Americans and trashed their culture? Is socialism an inherently good thing that was misused by the Nazis, Soviets and Chinese, or is it a doctrine that is inherently evil? And don't even get me started on the battles over Judeo/Christianity and dead white men.

The same, of course, goes for English. We don't quarrel about the need to teach our children to read, but once you get past "the cat sat on the mat," what do you have them read? Shakespeare? Mein Kampf? Dead, white males? Living, oppressed [fill in the blank]?

My point is that, everything our children read teaches them something. Only the sciences have a purity that raises them above values (although, as we know from the Nazis, science in the presence of the wrong values, or in the absence of any values, is the most deadly thing of all).

For all these difficulties, though, there are a few core values that, I think, most people want to see their children learn: loyalty, honesty, respect, bravery, faith, etc. These are abstract values that exist in almost all societies, regardless of specific societal dogmas or practices. (Although some societies place these labels on practices that are antithetical to the same values as practiced in other cultures. For example, in the late 1970s, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about Palestinian soldiers. As part of the training to demonstrate their bravery, they'd use their bare hands to rip the heads off of chickens. I call that sadism, not bravery.)

William Bennett tuned into this idea of overarching abstract values when he wrote his hugely popular virtue series. In his books, he identified a virtue, and then illustrated it with stories drawn from different countries, cultures, religions, etc. "Bravery" might be illustrated by stories about Chinese warriors, black athletes overcoming racism, or Valley Forge. He started with a color-blind, race-blind, sex-blind abstract virtue, and went from there to specifics that demonstrated that the abstract virtue applies equally to all races, colors and creeds.

In other words, Bennett makes it clear that honesty wasn't confined to dead white males who owned slaves. (I'm thinking George Washington and the cherry tree here.) Bennett's approach, instead, is that any given value is universal, and that one can readily find examples of that universal value amongst the various groupings, tribes, self-identifications, etc., that make up citizens of the world.

Identity politics has this bass-ackwards. It essentially says that the "value" is being Black, or being gay, or being Hispanic, or being female. It then goes on to say, almost coincidentally, that if you go digging around amongst those people who inherently possess these "values," you can find some abstract, overarching virtues as well. "He's gay and — wow! — he's brave, too." "She's black and — this is so cool — she's compassionate."

Well, I'm sorry, but being Black is not a value. Being Hispanic is not a virtue. Being gay is not a ethic. Each of these is simply a label to help classify a person, because classification seems to be an innate human need. None of these labels are about conduct (although one could argue that a bit regarding gays, because homosexuality manifests itself through sexual conduct, whereas being black is tied to appearance, not actions).

I want to hear about heroic, brilliant, compassionate, important blacks, gays, women, Hispanics, etc., and I want my children to hear about them too. The focus, though, should be on the "heroic, brilliant, compassionate" parts, which are universal values we want to see all children learn. Only then would we go to the subset idea, which is that, no matter the label you give yourself (or that is given to you), you can aspire to these over-arching values, virtues and ethics.

So, let's do away with Black History Month and the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Month I now see lurking around the corner. Let's have Honesty month, and Compassion month, and Bravery month, and Patriotism month. Then, during those months, let's illustrate that virtue with examples drawn from the myriad cultures, ethnicities, religions, sexes, and sexualities that go towards the melting pot — yes, I used that old fashioned idea — that is America.

UPDATE: If you've read my post this far, you now have to go to Cheat Seeking Missiles and read Laer's post about the Ninth Circuit's latest lunacy: holding that free speech protests gay right's activists promoting themselves in public schools, but that it does not protect a student who responded directly to that protest by objecting to gay conduct. Last I heard, the American concept of free speech was supposed to cover all speech, unless it was an immediate incitement to violence or danger. But you see, because being gay is a virtue, I guess it has to be given special protection. The fact is, folks, speech is often ugly, and we may disagree with opinions. However, the nature of free speech is to allow opinions, especially those with which we disagree, to be challenged, rather than to fester underground.

Talking to Technorati: , ,

12 Responses

  1. You ever read Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle? I do believe he was the one who came up with the Philosophy of Virtues.

  2. I’ve always felt that the person who works the hardest should get the rewards, not because of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else other than the work the person did!

  3. Anna is at least partly correct, but there is always a tension between rewarding people based on how hard they work and rewarding them based on how much they actually accomplish. Both work and accomplishment should be encouraged and, therefore, both should be rewarded. The current systems penalize both and reward laziness and lack of accomplishment. Identity politics is neutral in this regard, but Bookworm is right that it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It makes much more sense to celebrate diversity by teaching children the great diversity of people who have achieved the virtues in difficult circumstances.

    However, one of the great problems of America today is that we do not have broad agreement as to what traits are virtues. For example, patriotism is frowned on as nationalism or jingoism by a large portion of the American population today. Manners used to be a shared value. Today, however, politeness to those with whom one disagrees is viewed as acceptance or at least inadequate advocacy. Political correctness has replaced honesty. Etc. Perhaps we focus on identity instead of virtue because we no longer can agree on what is virtuous.

  4. I prefer justice. People should get what they deserve, no more and no less.

  5. Well, I support “Irony” history month. Or perhaps “Losers who changed the world” month. How about “Cultural Contraditions and mutual incohierence” month.
    Or since you claim the melting pot bias, “Albian Seed” month!
    Really, the reason for teaching gay history: It is amazing that people who didn’t keep their sexuality a secret were publicly ripped apart or burned at the stake (and in some places still are). Kids need to know this.
    Since it was very common for teen-aged boys to share beds 200 years ago, it is likely that most practiced what we would today call gay behavior. (By the way, ask your male friends if they have ever had a hand job from another man or beat-off in the company of another man. Surveys put the number around %60)

  6. Bookworm,

    The decision was probably the right one. The method of the protests were different and subject to different scrutiny under Tinker, Fraser, and Cohen. The argument might have merit but the method supercedes the argument.

  7. Thanks to Michael Yon always, but from others, too, I feel that I can learn from today’s Iraq. I’m open to their story. So look at this quote (courtesy Dr. Sanity), and ask WHEN you last saw a California educator, or any Left leader, advocate such sentiments.

    This is the new Iraq. The new Iraq is an Iraq for all,” Talabani told the parliament in a brief acceptance speech.

    “Iraqi unity is sacred for all, so we should all work to reinforce this national unity.”


    ALL work together. A country for all. Unity is sacred to all. In public education, in California, in America. Americans have fallen for the Leftist ploy of ethnic, racial, gender, age, sectional, sexual categorizing, and warfare.

    Being Iraqi is all that matters!.. so says their new President. It’s what we Americans have always believed. It is our story– until now. Is it not true that we are Americans first, too?

  8. Scott, sharing a bed doesn’t mean engaging in sexual conduct. Considering that people believed that homoosexual activity was the highway to Hell, it’s just as likely that people of the same sex were able to restrain themselves when sharing a bed. This is especially true given that much of the bed sharing took place in filthy inns, where people slept fully clothed with absolute strangers.

  9. I would argue only with the concept of “science” being free of bias or “values” – it most certainly is not, since it is practiced by human beings. The researchers who “imported” lynx hair to advance their conservation goals is one example, the textbooks’ refusal to mention ANY significant shortcomings of the Darwinian explanation of origins another. Every human endeavor is going to be influenced by the values (the “world view” is another way of putting it) of the practitioner.

  10. Most young Americans are like Ace. If someone asked them on the phone, if they beat off in the presence of other men or if they had hand jobs by other men, they’d probably say “Why, yes”.

  11. I agree that whether young men engage in homoerotic practices may be interesting but I feel it’s wandering rather far afield of my original post, and getting into territory where I no longer feel comfortable hosting it on my blog. So, enough of that talk, you guys.

  12. […] And if they can’t get into your public schools with creationism . . . if they can’t get into your pharmacy to deny patients and their doctors the right to make medical decisions . . . if they can’t use the power of their pulpits to choose your political representatives . . .  [If they can't do all that, then they'll leave more room for the Leftists to get into your public schools with endless scare tactics and indoctrination regarding anthropogenic climate change, pro-illegal alien propaganda, pornographic sex education, and identity politics and anti-marriage activism.] […]

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