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 Diversity — The Real Thing 

September 16, 2004 
I recently got an e-mail message that really shocked and sickened me. It was so ugly that I won’t even quote it.Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.

It was about race. Evidently the writer assumed that because I write critically about certain sacred cows of “diversity,” I must share his rabid hatred for other groups.

I do take racial, ethnic, and cultural differences seriously. I believe all men are created in God’s image, but there is much more to be said about them when they form groups. It’s fine to celebrate “diversity,” but group differences also lead to hatred and war. No point in evading that fact with sentimental slogans.

At the same time, most of us sympathize with the wistful cry, “Can’t we all just get along?” There is a sense in which it’s true, as the cliché has it, that “the things that unite us are more important than the things that divide us.” But the things that divide us, if ultimately less important, are often more urgent, and it’s best to face them frankly.

Indiscriminate hatred is often called bigotry, but that’s only one kind of bigotry. I know people who are bigoted about Shakespeare, in the sense that they refuse to listen to evidence against their views. A closed mind knows no bounds. It can apply itself to any subject under the sun.

Racial bigotry is now the most disreputable kind, and usually we are warned about its potential danger to its targets. But there is a sense in which the racial bigot is his own victim. I felt like replying to my correspondent, “Have you stopped to think what you’re doing to your own mind and heart? What kind of man have you turned yourself into? Is that what you really want to be?”

[Breaker quote: The penalty of bigotry]I’m proud to be a white man, a son of Christian Europe, to which I owe so much. I hate the fashionable derogation of white people. At the same time, that’s no reason to react by derogating everyone else, any more than loving and defending your family is a reason for disparaging other families.

Europe has produced a very great civilization, of which America is a part. But there are other civilizations that should command our respect too, and even uncivilized people — we’re no longer supposed to call them savages — have their dignity. And of course our own civilization often fails to live up to its own standards, sometimes outdoing savages in savagery.

All that aside, the racial bigot denies himself the possibility of friendship, enjoyment, appreciation, and countless other pleasures in the people he hates. If he takes his hostility far enough, he becomes willfully blind to their virtues and ungrateful for what they may have to offer him; he crabbily focuses on their faults and shortcomings, as if these were the only things worth noticing about them. And of course he’ll be tempted to violate their most basic rights.

This may sound like sentimental twaddle, but I don’t think so. I think it’s simple realism. I owe too much to too many people to write off any group as a whole. I understand that racial stereotypes usually have a good measure of truth, but the variations within every group are so great that whenever possible we should — to use another cliché — treat individuals as they come.

Tragically, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes a generalization is all we have to go on. And we often encounter the type who, as we used to say, “gives the whole group a bad name.” I could tell you some stories. At times I’ve been embittered by those walking stereotypes. But I’ve also been confounded and even ashamed when people I was biased against behaved with a grace I hadn’t expected, acting in response to the better angels of our nature.

Angels. Yes, cynicism can be as naive as optimism, so I’ve learned from experience to, as I like to put it, “look for the angels” — the people who, given a chance, will react to a kind gesture with their own kindness. The more you try to act like an angel, the more of these angels you’ll meet. The bigot is always looking for devils. And, with a sour pleasure, he’ll find them.

Joseph Sobran

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