I grew up in a home where racism was not a thing. We acknowledged that racism existed but it was only ever discussed fleetingly and in vague terms. I spent my early years in Catholic Schools where racism was essentially non-existent. My brother and I had groups of friends that looked like rainbow parties. I was completely ignorant of the language, behavior, and thought processes that were more prevalent in the wider world outside of mine. My rude introduction to that world came when our Catholic School closed down, and I began seventh grade in the wonderful world of public schooling.
Acclimating to this new world meant making friends. I was moderately successful at that. I had decent social skills and could size up candidates in short order. One of the guys I kept running into I will call Ronnie. Ronnie was a tall, lanky Black kid who seemed good-natured. We didn’t have very many Blacks in that rural school district and though they mostly kept to themselves, there wasn’t any noticeable tension between the Blacks and Whites. Ronnie and I had a few friendly conversations and interactions in passing, and it seemed like our friendship was off to a good start.
One morning while changing classes, Ronnie and I passed each other in the hall. He blindsided me with a punch to my shoulder (something that was commonly meant as a gesture of friendship). My arm cramped up and I dropped my armload of books. I laughed because I hadn’t seen it coming, he had ‘gotten me’. Just as he was laughing and turning away I caught him on the shoulder with a quick jab. He laughed. I scrambled to pick up my books and head to my classroom, pointed my finger at him and jokingly said, “Watch out boy!”
Ronnie hit me hard in the face and I was on my ass. That was not a friendly punch and he was pissed. I was confused. I asked him why he had done that. His face was twisted and angry when he said, “You called me ‘boy’”.
What? What the hell was he talking about? ‘Boy’ was a common term built into the language of the 13-year-old ‘boys’ in my circles back then. It was just a word and an accurate one. It was inconceivable to me that such a harmless word would bring about a schizophrenic change in the guy I thought I knew.
Ronnie and I never spoke again despite finishing out our schooling and graduating in the same class. I felt bad for unwittingly insulting him, and he felt bad for reacting the way he had when no slight was intended. We found ourselves at odds in a world neither of us created because of a complex stew of economic and social reasons we did not understand. We were too young and naïve to know how to bridge that gap. The divide between us was not racial, it was cultural.
A simplistic misconception in the minds of most people is that the differences they see in people of different ethnicities is due to innate differences in those ethnicities, instead of the cultural influences one is subject to during their formative years. That those innate differences do not exist is painfully obvious for anyone who cares to look. Yet solving problems related to race remains difficult primarily because that conflation is actively perpetuated by those who gain from poisoning society with identity politics.
The first place I look is a small High School in Washington D.C. that was founded in 1870 named Dunbar High School. It was the first public High School in the country devoted exclusively to educating Blacks. Its founders operated on the premise they developed after noticing the stark differences in IQ scores between northern and southern Whites. In descending order, the regional IQs in the country were northern Whites, northern Blacks, southern Whites, and lastly southern Blacks. They sought to displace the culture that southern Blacks had absorbed from their White contemporaries with that of the north.
By holding the southern Black students to the same standards, or higher, as those of northern Whites, their students achieved a remarkable result. When IQ tests were given again in 1899, the students at Dunbar, the only black school in the city, scored second highest in the city. While the average IQ for Blacks nationwide was merely 85, the average for Dunbar students was over 100 every year until 1955. The majority of Dunbar High graduates were accepted into college, making Dunbar unique in all the country. Nearly 30% of numerous Dunbar grads who attended Harvard, Amherst, Yale, Williams, Cornell, and Dartmouth graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Dunbar grads became the first Blacks to: rise from enlisted man to commissioned officer in the Army, the first Black graduate from Annapolis, the first female Black to earn a Ph.D., the first Black federal judge, the first Black general, the first black cabinet member, Dr. Charles Drew who pioneered blood plasma. During WWII, large numbers of officers from captain to general were Dunbar graduates.
It is glaringly obvious that the success Dunbar graduates achieved was due to the cultural influences they received at their school and this was met with no small amount of criticism from both the Black and White communities as identity politics sought to poison it.
Dr. Thomas Sowell on Dunbar:
“What is relevant to the issue of culture was that this was a school which, from its beginning, had a wholly different cultural orientation from that of the ghetto culture. Seven of its first ten principals were educated in a New England environment. Four had degrees from colleges located in New England and three had degrees from Oberlin, which was established by New Englanders in Ohio as a deliberate project to plant New England Culture in the Midwest. Dunbar High School issued a handbook on behavior to its students that spelled out how one should act, not only in the school but in the world at large. The values and deportment these students were taught would today be called by critics “acting white.”
Nor did the difference in Dunbar students behavior go unnoticed by the local black community. Dunbar High School became so controversial among blacks in Washington that the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist William Raspberry said that you could turn any social gathering of the city’s middle-aged blacks into warring factions by simply saying the one word “Dunbar”.
In the end, identity politics and ghetto culture won out. Dunbar was demolished and the program dismantled by the cause to banish Black elitism.
While racism in the United States is mild by comparison to other countries, it still plays a very prominent role in our politics and public discourse, kept alive by those who benefit from a divided citizenry. Conflating race and culture is a strategy used by self-appointed elites to set people with common interests against one another, dividing them along the wildly ridiculous line of race. Vast oceans of human potential have been squandered before and after Dunbar’s existence by the absurd fallacy that a person’s potential is determined by the skin color of one’s parents, and we are all poorer for it. We are all human. Potential is individual, not racial. As my Grandfather was fond of reminding me “It don’t make a shit who your Daddy is. The only thing that counts is what YOU do.”
We should be looking to build a culture that maximizes everyone’s ability to achieve their potential regardless of race. We can rebuild Dunbar. It needn’t be for Blacks. It should be for Americans.