Friday, August 10, 2012

Coates on Culture

Ta-Nehisi Coates uses Romney's nonsense about culture being the determining factor between Israeli and Palestinian economic success as a backdrop to lay some profound wisdom out there.
When people invoke culture in the Romney manner, what they are really invoking is a scale by which humanity may be ranked from totally dysfunctional to totally awesome. The idea is that culture is a set of irrefutable best practices, when in fact it is more like a toolbox whose efficacy depends upon the job.
In previous posts Coates has talked about the culture he grew up in on the streets of Baltimore where survival often meant being quick to pull the trigger on a fight. He learned (sometimes the hard way) that wasn't a culture that led to success beyond those streets - as functional as it was at the time.

He returns to those lessons in this discussion of culture.
The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel. The way to guide him through this transition is not to insult his native language. It is to teach him a new one.
This resonates so deeply with me because it is something we talk about almost every day in my work environment where we deal with mostly African American boys and girls who have learned these street lessons well. We regularly use the metaphor of teaching them a new language in order to help them succeed beyond the streets. Their survival can depend on being bi-lingual.

The attempt to demonize and criminalize (in the case of the Palestinians - wall in and occupy) people for the very skills that are required to survive is practically the definition of racism.

Coates - in his own tongue-in-cheek manner - is a bit more gracious than I would be.
But here we should be understanding. Romney hails from the party of birthers and creationists...Ignorance is no stranger there. It is part of the culture.

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