On Saturday, The New York Times ran yet another execrable op-ed, this time from Professor Ekow Yankah of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. This op-ed argued that black children should not be friends with white children, and that their parents ought to warn them off of such relationships. This assuredly makes things awkward at Yeshiva University, a Jewish school.
The piece begins with Yankah’s oldest son, who is 4, talking about his friends:
My oldest son, wrestling with a 4-year-old’s happy struggles, is trying to clarify how many people can be his best friend. “My best friends are you and Mama and my brother and …” But even a child’s joy is not immune to this ominous political period. This summer’s images of violence in Charlottesville, Va., prompted an array of questions. “Some people hate others because they are different,” I offer, lamely. A childish but distinct panic enters his voice. “But I’m not different.” It is impossible to convey the mixture of heartbreak and fear I feel for him. Donald Trump’s election has made it clear that I will teach my boys the lesson generations old, one that I for the most part nearly escaped. I will teach them to be cautious, I will teach them suspicion, and I will teach them distrust. Much sooner than I thought I would, I will have to discuss with my boys whether they can truly be friends with white people.
This is insanity. Because Donald Trump was elected, all white people are suspect? Because there were 1,000 evil people marching for an evil cause in Charlottesville, some 200 million white people across America are suspect? This is racism of the highest order. And teaching your children not to be friends with people based on their race is the essence of racism.
Meaningful friendship is not just a feeling. It is not simply being able to share a beer. Real friendship is impossible without the ability to trust others, without knowing that your well-being is important to them. The desire to create, maintain or wield power over others destroys the possibility of friendship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream of black and white children holding hands was a dream precisely because he realized that in Alabama, conditions of dominance made real friendship between white and black people impossible.
Well, no. MLK’s dream was a dream because he wanted to see it fulfilled and believed that it could be. If he didn’t, he would have gone home and joined Malcolm X. But he should have, says Yankah, since “History has provided little reason for people of color to trust white people in this way, and these recent months have put in the starkest relief the contempt with which the country measures the value of racial minorities.”
The piece continues in this vein, citing differential treatment of the opioid epidemic (largely white) vs. the crack cocaine epidemic (largely black), and ignoring the income levels of those affected by the epidemics, which is a serious confound; black underemployment, which Yankah attributes to “robust evidence of continuing racism,” without showing any evidence; policing, which has not been shown to be systemically racist by statistics. Yankah’s conclusion:
As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.
So we are not all the same on the inside. Which is an idea that John C. Calhoun or Richard Spencer might be comfortable with. But Yankah couches his vitriol in the guise of safety preparations for his children:
Of course, the rise of this president has broken bonds on all sides. But for people of color the stakes are different. Imagining we can now be friends across this political line is asking us to ignore our safety and that of our children, to abandon personal regard and self-worth. Only white people can cordon off Mr. Trump’s political meaning, ignore the “unpleasantness” from a position of safety. His election and the year that has followed have fixed the awful thought in my mind too familiar to black Americans: “You can’t trust these people.”…I do not write this with liberal condescension or glee. My heart is unbearably heavy when I assure you we cannot be friends.
The condescension is real, and the glee is palpable. To teach your children not to hope for a day when black and white can be friends – in fact, to teach your children now that such a day isn’t here – is asinine. And to pretend that every Trump voter is replete with hatred is just as asinine. But racism and bigotry are fine so long as they come from the Left, apparently.