I was just reading an amazing article in the journal called Providence on integrity and moral instruction. This post is about why antiracism has the impact it has on the people who practice it. It’s about what makes us tick. And why sometimes compromise is necessary.
This Christmas I gave my garbage man $100 as he drove by. But it was an odd moment when it came to pass. First of all, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so it had to be socially distanced and with masks. But second of all, I knew that my garbage man was Black, and the man I ended up giving the money to was white. Why did I give it to the white man? Because he was there doing the job and not to have done so would have been problematic. He literally would have missed out on $100 just because he is a garbage man who happens to be white. It would have been discriminatory.
Do I regret this decision? Hardly. I think it showed integrity, which is having character to demonstrate consistency, in that I only had one one hundred dollar bill and my intention would have been to give the 100 dollars to the garbage man, and if I didn’t do so just because he was white, that would have been unjust.
The author of the article, Marc LiVecche, talks about the need for self-integration in order to avoid cognitive dissonance that, in its more extreme forms leads to a “crisis of self-understanding and integrity” until it is alleviated. He continues:
“We can take a moment and recalibrate, reshaping our behaviors to better correspond to what we believe to be right. Or we can reshape what we believe to be right so as to better match our behavior. In most circumstances, it would seem that the better way forward is the former. The latter is to depart from the moral life.”Marc LiVecche, “On Integrity”
I think a lot of antiracism work gets framed as moral, and racism is immoral and dehumanizing, and that woke culture is actually the result of people wanting to avoid cognitive dissonance that is brought about by the ambiguity of living in a racist society and yet at times forgetting about it, and so they make a commitment, much like one makes a religious commitment, to being an antiracist. The commitment itself is what allows for people to not suffer moral injury and dissonance by living in a society where Black men are killed when unarmed and these deaths go unpunished. The alternative, which is evidenced, for example, with the meaning systems found in the Wall Street Journal, are another way to explain the problem: the problem, there becomes Blackness. Black people are blamed for their suffering and the history of the United States and the fact that there have been state supported systems of oppression seems to dissolve now that they don’t exist anymore, at least not on the books.
People who learn about critical race theory and other social justice frameworks, encounter a very comprehensive system that functions as a moral narrative that, to borrow from LiVecche’s analysis, we use to cultivate right behavior in our selves and in our children. LiVecche writes that “integrity […] ought not simply to mean firm adherence to a code. It ought to be firm adherence to the right code, to one that is morally coherent. To insist otherwise, to suggest that integrity is subjective, merely the perfect integration of a self that is free to choose what is good, is to allow the Nazis hellbent on the annihilation of the innocent to be a person of integrity. This won’t do.”
I think where the issue comes up today, is that there is not coherent education, and the conservative people in the WSJ want education to be objective, without realizing that this prioritizes white subjectivity, and the liberals want education to be moral, without prioritizing facts and data (there was even a law passed in California saying that math instruction was oppressive; – rather than say it’s ridiculous that they are saying that, let’s enter into that moral world, which, admittedly will cause dissonance, but that’s not all bad). As a woman, people ask me questions about my choices more than they would question men, and I do think this is a means of control. Does it mean that it’s intentional? No. But the impact is still devastating. It has put my life on hold for years as I have wanted to get a PhD and people have asked why I would want to do such a thing. Well it’s my calling! And your questions are discursively functioning to hold me back! Maybe it is actually traumatic for some people to have math instruction. I don’t know. But we shouldn’t just assume that just because it sounds ridiculous there is no truth to it.
I think that denying the integrity of subjectivity, when it takes place racially – and that is by no means what LiVecche is doing, his article is my favorite article this year and he doesn’t say anything racist at all – puts the onus on people of color who don’t experience white subjectivity and yet who interact with whites who aren’t even trained to see some of their learning and meaning making systems are subjective. There’s one example from famed race and education scholar Lisa Delpit’s work where she talks about how in white families, questions are meant as a directive. A parent will ask a child, “Don’t you think it’s time to take a bath?” And by this statement, the child knows that they are being essentially told to take a bath. Delpit, who is Black, says that in Black families, parents will be much more direct and say, “Get your butt in the tub!” Now put the white teacher’s question, “Should you be sharpening your pencil right now?” to the Black student’s response, “Yes, I’m sharpening my pencil.” And you see how this can lead to problems and conflict. The teacher thinks they’re being directive, while the Black student is just answering the question. There is not a shared pool of meaning. And this is because people are not taught to value the subjectivity of others culturally as a default. Unless we are trained, white teachers cause a lot of trouble and needlessly punish students of color merely because they have different interpretative frameworks in their cultural experiences.
I looked up LiVecche’s forthcoming book, The Good Kill: Just War and Moral Injury. It looks fabulous and I think it will help a lot of veterans who are returning from the realities of combat – thank you for your service, BTW! – and encountering the moral therapeutic deism that says that their service was sinful. This consciousness leads to moral injury that contributes a great deal to PTSD symptoms. I can see how this would happen, myself having suffered from PTSD in my twenties through my early thirties until I found a moral framework that helped me.
My hope is that people who are more “objectively minded” and who have strong negative opinions on woke culture would see it as morally necessary to have a sense of curiosity and not just judgment when hurting people talk about their lived experience. And my other hope is that woke culture would thank our military for the sacrifices that they make to ensure that their wokeness culture can thrive in spite of the harm it causes conservatives who just don’t seem to understand.