White Extinction: Who Gives a Damn? The Case for a Common-Sense Rainbow

In late March of last year, the national television network in my country, the CBC, aired its annual talk program, Canada Reads. Billed as ‘a battle of the books,’ it collects a small group of celebrities who debate their reading choices until one final book is selected as the winner. Full disclosure: as a writer, this is the kind of pseudo-intellectual show I despise. It’s book chat for people who want to be told what to read and who like to congratulate themselves on their good taste. Nevertheless, we had a viral moment from the show in its finale: one of our top R & B singers, Jully Black, championed a young adult novel called The Marrow Thieves that has an irresistible hook: After the devastation of global warming, Aboriginal peoples—what Americans stubbornly continue to call ‘Indians’—are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which supposedly holds the key to the power to dream.

For context, you need to know that Canada—currently enjoying a PR love affair with the world over Justin Trudeau, our LGBT tolerance, our welcoming of refugees, our legalizing marijuana—has an appalling record in terms of how it has treated Native peoples. Most of them live in terrible poverty, many in remote areas with lack of access to potable water and other resources, and many suffer from alcohol and substance abuse. Authorities in the past ripped families apart, condemning children to what are called ‘residential’ schools where they experienced horrific abuse. Scores of Aboriginal women have been murdered while our police have often been slow to investigate.

Black’s fellow panellist, Jeanne Beker, is a TV personality who made her name reporting on fashion, and she apparently commented in a previous episode that the book was ‘too dark.’ Black wrote later that she considers this was ‘the first hint of colonial privilege’ that she would bring up later in the debate. To cut to the chase, when Beker had the chance on live TV to talk about Marrow, she discussed the theme of healing. Black seemed to lose patience with this and commented, ‘There’s healing, and then there’s action with the healing… And yes, we celebrate, and we heal, and we kumbaya, and—’

And there was a tense exchange, voices riding over each other. Black argued at one point, ‘There’s a lot of people who sit in their cottages and their homes and don’t have an experience like others, and think, ‘Well, let me swipe my Visa card and make a donation, but I don’t live this experience.’ What are we doing to change the current circumstances?’ She brought up the Pope refusing to apologize for the abuse of Aboriginal children by the Catholic church, adding, ‘Yes, we forgive. I believe in Jesus—’

And it was at that point that Beker exclaimed, ‘Why are you attacking me, Jully?’

Black, with justifiable surprise, pointed out that she hadn’t personalized the argument. And the Internet predictably exploded. In one of our popular local weekly rags, a writer outright crowned Black the winner, venting over Beker’s ‘privilege’ and suggesting, ‘This kind of conversation is all too familiar for women of colour, and this is how it usually unfolds: 1. White person says something racist or ignorant. 2. Smart, confident, assertive woman of colour expresses an opinion that should result in the white person pausing, reflecting and maybe stop talking.’

Except this is not exactly what happened, nor is it a very constructive way of viewing dialogue. To be clear: What Beker said at first was neither racist nor ignorant, but you could make a case it was irrelevant, the kind of empty noble sentiment that did nothing to illuminate the conversation. Black’s point, Let’s do something constructive, seemed to suggest we can start with good books. She wrote a blog within a few days to justify her stance, mentioning how she truly believes Marrow ‘should be incorporated into every high school English curriculum across the nation.’

As an aside, I admire her good intentions, but I hope she fails in her crusade, because I believe high school English classes are where good books go to die. Far better for kids to discover Marrow by themselves than to have a teacher-sanctioned autopsy that dissects its symbolism, if any, and second-guesses the author’s intent, themes, characters, bleeding all joy out of the reading experience.

In any case, all Beker had to do was hear her out. Why she took Black’s comments so personally only she can know, and instead of us attributing motivations and ‘privilege’ to her or psychoanalyzing her with the new sociological logic of White Fragility, we can simply call her reaction dumb. It is as dumb as Ben Affleck infamously trying to cover up the slaveholding past of his ancestors discovered by the American PBS show, Finding Your Roots. It is as dumb as liberals going online to suggest there was ‘good’ colonialism.

Those who lit up the YouTube comment boards and Twitter after the programme smelled blood in the water and seized on Beker’s silly defensiveness. But I’ve yet to find anyone who challenged Black’s argument—and to be clear, not to skewer it; but simply to take the conversation in a new useful direction. Go back to what Black said: ‘There’s a lot of people who sit in their cottages and their homes…’

My questions would be: Well, is the book enough to change their minds? What are you asking for exactly? How are those you declare ‘privileged’ supposed to ‘live’ the experience of others and improve? What tangible form would this take? And wouldn’t it amount to a kind of racial-class tourism, in the same grotesque way well-off tourists take a trip and peer into favela homes in Brazil? It would have been interesting to see that discussion.

At the heart of Black’s point, I think, is that we desperately need more empathy—and we do. But we also need to recognize the potential for empathy across the races. It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that there are a good number of white people who sit in their cottages in my country and who will write a cheque as an expression of their conscience. But how can Jully Black be sure? Her statement implies that this is all these white people are prepared to do. It doesn’t entertain the possibility that they don’t know what other options are available (I certainly don’t know them, but then I also don’t have a cottage) or that they feel powerless within their own lives to help affect change.

Impatience with empty gesture liberalism is entirely understandable. It should come as no surprise after only incremental progress in human rights for millions of black and mixed-race people everywhere. So, for some people of colour, if whiteness has any ‘meaning’ at all, it means babbling ignorance, shouts of hate, mumbled platitudes and whispered betrayal. In the past, the liberal conceit has been to suggest ‘Well, let’s forget about colour’ when only one colour ever could, and while there’s merit in the new arguments of White Fragility, in the end their essential usefulness come down to only teaching good manners and how to listen.

But we can go further. To get there, let me speak to my own white experience. Far too often, because of the sheer bulk of mass media, being white has been defined as what it is to be ‘White in America’ or ‘White in Britain.’ Neither of these is true for me any more than being black in, say, Los Angeles is equivalent to being African in Dakar or Massawa. Remember when Samuel L. Jackson got into trouble a couple of years ago for thinking a black British actor couldn’t play the lead in Get Out? A regular distraction to our making any progress at all on these issues is the debate thread that seeks to invalidate experience.

We are living in an age when debate is so toxic that even to attempt to find common ground between races and cultures can spark histrionic blowback. But we still need to find that precious patch of space. The goal is not to equate suffering or experience, certainly not to rank them, but to see if we can recognize each other’s humanity.

Consider the following two observations by famous African-American writers. In the 1950s, Richard Wright wrote a thin volume called Black Power that has this interesting insight about a visit to Ghana: ‘I’m of African descent and I’m in the midst of Africans, yet I cannot tell what they are thinking and feeling.’ He felt an outsider in what he felt was his ancestral home, considered the other by those with whom he expected to feel an emotional connection.

Go on YouTube, and you can find the video in which James Baldwin made this bitter recollection, offered during his debate at Cambridge with the odious William F. Buckley: ‘When I was growing up, I was taught by American history books that Africa had no history, and neither did I; that I was a savage about whom the less said the better, who had been saved by Europe and brought to America. And of course, I believed it. I didn’t have much choice. Those were the only books there were.’

It may come as a surprise to some readers here that I—a middle-aged white man—can relate to both these statements. This is because I am also a Canadian. But, let me be clear: I certainly don’t equate my lot with either Baldwin or Wright. My ancestors were not taken across the Atlantic in chains—in fact, my grandparents only got off a boat from England in the early twentieth century and by choice. That means there are generations of black families in Nova Scotia who have a firmer claim to my home being ‘their nation’ than I do (which strikes me as perfectly just, since their black ancestors fought for the Loyalists in the American War of Independence, were promised land and then were cruelly lied to and betrayed). I was neither subjected to racial epithets growing up, nor was I ever denied service at a lunch counter or the use of a toilet.

But that’s not what this is about. It’s about the existential limbo of feeling you have no history and no connection with your ancestral people. I’ve been called a ‘colonial’ more than once to my face, with the speaker thinking this rude insult was cute, funny or innocuous, and my nationality and my culture were dismissed with a sneer. A London newspaper, with the arrogance that is sure the UK is still vitally relevant around the world, once referred to my homeland as ‘The Great White Waste of Time.’ [White, in this case, referring to our famous snow.] And more often than I’d like, I’ve heard or read claims that my country has no history of its own, that everything good and, sometimes, bad was borrowed from either the British or French or Americans.

Like many of my generation, I grew up knowing I was white and that our people were the majority, but I felt I was a ‘tabula rasa’ in terms of culture. Sometimes there were scraps or bits of watered-down British-roots identity. For several years, for instance, my mother served afternoon tea in our tiny, lower-middle class house in Winnipeg. We began our elementary school days singing, ‘God Save the Queen.’ But like Richard Wright walking around Ghana, one trip to London is enough to convince anyone from the Commonwealth you are not British. You are not of these people and usually have little in common with them. Worse, because you’re in the Commonwealth, some will often treat you with a derision borne of wilful ignorance.

Few outsiders, European or African, know that we briefly had the equivalent of martial law in Canada in 1970, with armoured cars and troops on the streets of our major cities, all because of attacks by a terrorist group and the legacy of our treatment of the French Quebecois. Today’s English Canadians who thinks they’re tolerant and enlightened will express surprise and defensiveness when you remind them how the province of Quebec was kept in backward poverty, its schools tightly run by the Catholic Church, its business sector in the pocket of rich English businessmen, and its children thrown out of the Eaton’s department store in Montreal if they asked for help in French. Two radicals wrote a polemic about the exploitation in 1968 with the inflammatory title, White Niggers of America.

So being of a certain age, economic class and white in Canada is no more straightforward or ‘privileged’ than being a white Irish person who grew up in Belfast during the Troubles. The point is not a hierarchy of who had it worse, it’s that even the supposed blankness of white experience has its own shades and nuances. But let’s go back to the limbo of no history. Where does that leave you? Being forced out of a cultural myth prompts you to either invent your own or confront the hard truths behind the ones imported.

Canadians only now are beginning to appreciate just how badly we treated black people. Like Jim Crow in the U.S., black people in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1940s and later had to sit in the balcony at the movie theatre, and residents of ‘Africville’ just outside the city lived in a slum bordered by railway tracks, an abattoir and a dump, where for decades they were denied basic trash pickup, water and electricity—yet were still charged taxes for services.

The multiculturalism we celebrate today began as a political expedient. Right up to the 1970s, Canada’s immigration policy was undeniably racist, favouring white people and often outright preventing Africans and Asians from settling here. But as French separatism increasingly became a national threat, the government of Pierre Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father) initiated a new policy that undermined it, and we got what we used to call back then Canada’s ‘cultural mosaic.’ Canada had two official languages, but all its cultures were equal (Trudeau père grumbled when the idea floated of Quebec having a ‘distinct culture,’ famously asking back, ‘Distinct from what?’) Our multiculturalism evolved from being a policy to a core value, so successful in its execution—at least on the surface—that we often forget the political aims behind it.

Older Canadians cling to the belief that we had, at best, two founding cultures, British and French. It’s my contention—and I put it into print in a book a decade ago—that we had four founding cultures: British, French, the Aboriginal peoples and the Black Loyalists. And as the example of the residential school horror alone easily testifies, we still have much work to do on the restitution front.

By now, you may ask, what does any of this have to do with race? Everything. Because even in a country as young as mine, the reality has been, with a few exceptions, that the cold wars between our different peoples have never really been about race, but about culture.

If white people become a North American or even a global minority, I will personally not give a damn. In 2019, only an idiot can think a common-as-dirt physical characteristic that he was given by accident requires urgent preservation. You can choose your values, but none of us chooses our colour nor, for that matter, the land of our birth.

A meme going around the Internet has the great saying, ‘Fascism is cured by reading, and racism is cured by travelling.’ Once you as a white person step off a plane away from the comforting, insular bubble of North America or Europe, you should—you must—accept the reality that you never were, nor will or should be, more important than the other pigments that far outnumber you.

But this is where we run into an obstacle. First, let’s review the farcical argument that ‘Western values’ are in peril, which is popular with far-right conservatives in the US. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow has quite rightly outed this as code for White Extinction Anxiety. Blow didn’t have to read between the lines of conservative value-talk, as right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan made it patently obvious in June when he claimed a major question was ‘whether Europe [and America] has the will and the capacity… to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character—political, social, racial, ethnic—character of the country entirely.’ He also said of his fellow white citizens, ‘You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own, and they want their borders protected.’ Ugly, and sadly predictable.

The Western values argument is disingenuous because the so-called great heritage of democracy, jurisprudence, etc. of North America and Europe is supposed to be shared and accessible to all, but Buchanan and others imply that only white people can fully understand and appreciate it. Then you have your work cut out for you in trying to educate them that absolutely none of these values was exclusively a Western product, and that other societies, including early ones in Africa, also created their own versions.

The more liberal reader will nod their head over this last paragraph. But the flip side of coded ‘values’ is the current vogue over ‘privilege,’ which has a long history as an intellectual concept in discrimination studies, but which really gained popularity after the work of American professor Peggy McIntosh in the late 1980s. Today, it’s used by pundits and on social media in such a casual and loose way that it’s almost analogous to how people loosely (and often wrongly) use the term ‘scientific theory’ when trying to reject the facts of Evolution. The term, ‘privilege,’ has become so elastic that it’s almost lost its value. ABC News in the US ran a story of how a Texas mother criticized popular organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s closet tidying tips as ‘privileged.’ A standard catch-phrase insult online now is ‘Check your privilege!’

Under the privilege rubric, a person’s arguments are no longer valid on their face—if it’s decided the person has privilege, they no longer have credibility. Instead of listening to what’s being said, the debate shifts to the perception of motives and background. Privilege, therefore, makes for a versatile ad hominem attack. It unfairly categorizes all white people as the same, presuming that a lower-class or downright poor white person is just as estranged from the harsh living experience of minorities as the upwardly mobile or rich.

When I ran my arguments past a female writer of colour whose opinions I respect, she countered that ‘A White poor person can certainly experience discrimination due to their class, but not having the additional burden of being discriminated against as a racial minority is a privilege. While that is not reason to presume you can’t be sympathetic/empathetic to the experience of people of colour, it also means you can’t truly know how it feels to live with those twin pressures.’

But I am not making the case that white people and black people have equal access to jobs, housing, health care, etc or that white people can intimately know the pressures of people of colour—that would be wrong and foolish. What defenders of the privilege argument fail to grasp is that they are making a false equivalency of all white experiences being the same. The catch-all label of privilege can ignore the complexities and multiple contexts I outlined above, e.g. the white Quebecois who for generations was treated like a second-class citizen, or the Bosnian Muslim refugee in the 1990s, who yes, is white but faced discrimination because of her faith, her culture or for knowing less English as her second language.

Matt Taibbi’s The Divide has become a classic for its reportage on how American society, particularly the justice system, targets and disenfranchises the poor. It should go without saying that people of colour face yet another whole layer of systemic discrimination on top of class. But if we are going to work to remove barriers, we need to find what victims of discrimination, whether on economic, social or racial grounds, have in common so that reforms are democratic across the board.

Interestingly, my writer friend included another point in defence of privilege: ‘It’s like a black man saying he’s not privileged when compared to a black woman, which is patently untrue. It’s not ranking oppressions, it’s acknowledging different impacts—which is important for any good faith effort to address all oppression.’

But this is another reason why I reject the privilege model: it creates a social hierarchy of victims. And I was to quick to remind her that in other contexts, the black man may well find himself at the bottom of the rung. I saw this for myself in the 1990s, when a civil service colleague and I ripped the lid off a hypocrisy of employment equity polices by the NDP Government in the province of Ontario (and we leaked our research to a Toronto newspaper). Those in power equated white women with all their categories of people of colour, and voila, the bureaucrats could reach their quotas by hiring more of those who looked like themselves. The numbers proved the new pecking order: white women were hired most, then Asian women, followed by black women, with black men always hired dead last. In our conversation, I believe my friend may not intentionally do it, but her rationale invariably falls back on ranking victims.

Where she and I seem to agree is that context makes all the difference. For me, however, this is also where the privilege model reveals its intellectual bankruptcy. What is the point of assigning—frankly, the better way of putting it is: making an accusation of—privilege, if we agree that an individual can have it in some circumstances and not have it in many others? No, of course, this doesn’t mean we forget about a person’s advantages in a context specific to a discussion, but then we must always remember to define those advantages. Case in point: my editor here claims, ‘I think most people know that privilege is contextual.’ Do they? How can they? The term gets tossed out so frequently and so imprecisely in debates online and on TV for the very reason that people are thinking only in the context of the moment.

For an example, let’s return to the Canada Reads debate. Let us also concede that Jeanne Beker fits one easy definition of a privileged white individual—famous, entrepreneurial, successful in her field. She is also the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors. To Canada’s eternal shame, it turned away scores of Jewish refugees during the Second World War. Jews like Beker’s parents were barred from multiple professions, refused the right to live in certain districts, were targeted by vindictive police and faced signs that read ‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’–all this in Canada right into the post-war period.

Keep in mind, I’ve already stated I think Beker’s remarks were dumb and ill-conceived. But for Jully Black to write in a blog of ‘hints of colonial privilege’ makes her equally ignorant and guilty of prejudice. Beker, while accomplished today, comes from a people who had nothing to do with Canada’s colonization or founding and who faced systemic discrimination almost on par with the levels faced by black people in Canada in the 1930s and 1940s.

Our debate opponents were two successful women, one white and Jewish, the other of West Indian descent. Suppose the discussion happened months later and strayed to the topic of the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, and his ties to one of the organizers of the recent Women’s March in Washington D.C. Here is a high-profile, highly influential African-American leader who refers to Jews as ‘vermin’ and speaks in sermons of the ‘Satantic Jew.’ Question: which of the two women has the privilege in this context? I think your answer says a lot more about your inherent biases than it does about your choice.

And by the way, who gets to decide who is privileged?

To dispose of this faulty model is not to dismiss the manifest fact that white people in many contexts enjoy advantages in society that people of colour do not. But the privilege shorthand works best—whether intentional or not—as an easy shaming device, because personal circumstances run secondary to the unanswerable charge that you’re the beneficiary of your race’s history.

Once assigned, privilege is an absolute. Under the privilege model, I must stay in my category. I am presumed ignorant, and therefore guilty when entering the discussion. How then can I be seen in any debate as an individual? Worse, I am never allowed to grow and evolve in opinions—unless deferring in the end to the views of the consensus and being ‘woke.’ I cannot escape the past that the privilege label confers on me, even if my economic status changes for the worse, which means I will never be trusted as an ally.

The tactic is not new. In cafés and on campuses decades ago, the hardcore Marxist would slander you by claiming you had ‘a bourgeoisie mindset’ or ‘reactionary thinking.’ In the end, ‘privilege’ is a rhetorical weapon to shut down further debate.

We need to do better. Rather than make the conversation on race adversarial, which is what privilege-shaming does, let us look for mutual goals and shared values. At the same time, as my writer friend argued, if white people only want to be allies at the comfort level of how much they accept the facts of history, their contributions are of little value. It is essential, downright crucial, that white people acknowledge the crimes of the past and the systemic injustices of the present.

One of the frustrating, indeed sometimes infuriating aspects of the fight to bring things back to reasonableness is that those who are self-appointed advocates of the old traditional way of viewing racism—everyone is capable, treat people as individuals, etc—too often minimize the genocides and abuses committed by colonial powers. They torpedo their own credibility with their ignorance.

So how then do we keep the dialogue civil and build that precious natural resource of empathy? To call back to Jully Black’s phrase, no, you can’t really ‘live the experience.’ In the end, there is no hostage exchange in the most volatile of cultural debates. The Clinton cliché, ‘I feel your pain’ rings hollow because we recognize both its glibness and its impossibility.

I humbly suggest, then, that we need a new way to articulate our objections. First, what white people often see as an accusation from people of colour can be more generously interpreted as a reasonable demand for their acknowledgement of past injustices and current systemic abuses. The plain facts of history cannot be denied. To admit them, to discuss them openly, doesn’t merely serve the higher goal of correcting wrongs, it’s justified by the simple purpose of seeing things as they really are—or were.

Because one of the few truths of whiteness, which does span the cultural spectrum of North American and European experience, is how little we’ve moved in a psychological sense. From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, white people sought to impose their civilization on other races. Then in the nineteenth century, particularly in Africa, they defined their efforts as making ‘a gift’ of civilization—whether other races wanted to open their gift or not. Today, many white people feel their civilization (despite all evidence to the contrary) is somehow imperilled. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson famously declared that immigration made the U.S. ‘poorer and dirtier,’ while Ann Coulter regularly warns of the doom of Western civilization because of the ‘throngs of Third World that are now being brought in to replace us.’ What has not changed, what has never changed, is the pervasive confidence in the superiority of what these white people consider culture.

If you want to infuriate a conservative white individual, tell them—as I have, and I stand by it—that there is really no such thing as Western Civilization. And then roll out the examples: chess is of Indo-Persian origin, concepts of American democracy were borrowed from the Native confederacies, core ideas of the Christian faith come from St. Augustine, a Numidian from North Africa. And on it goes. The white individual will sputter in denials, and this may well be the first time they have ever been forced to question the underlying premise that is a key to their identity.

To read James Baldwin, to read Richard Wright or to even go back to Edward Wilmot Blyden, is to discover men forced through their travails to go on an introspective journey, a quest for self-definition. In sharp contrast, the white individual might discover in private his ‘Englishness’ (or lack of it) or his Quebecois identity, but any comparative analysis to another race is a mere thought experiment. Baldwin wrestled with such issues for his own mental health and physical survival.

This is why in his book, Nobody Knows My Name, he quotes a passage from Jack Kerouac, ‘wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me’ Baldwin quite rightly called this ‘absolute nonsense’ and ‘offensive nonsense at that.’ It’s the same delusion a college friend of mine had, thinking that living in poverty or occasionally committing petty crimes made his existence more authentic. It’s the counterfeit posture that insults those who live the genuine article.

Ultimately, I believe we’ve been using the wrong tools over the racial and cultural divide. The solution doesn’t lie in scattershot rage at whoever sits across the partisan divide, whether liberal or conservative, or in vilifying those with privilege. As economist, George Ayittey, wrote in a different context but with lines that work here, ‘Western jurisprudence tends to stress punishing the guilty. Traditional African jurisprudence tends to emphasize reconciliation, restitution, and the restoration of social harmony.’

To arrive at solutions and reach that reconciliation, we must stop thinking of heritage and history as defences and personal possessions but as emotional and intellectual ‘communal property.’ White people in North America and Europe are taught in school to think of ‘Western Civilization’ as theirs without ever learning of the cultural syncretism that helped build their societies through the centuries. This is why when I hear the lazy premise of white people becoming extinct or a global minority, I cheerfully answer: Who gives a damn?

Race is a social construct, not a scientific one, and a curious individual can build their self-esteem and world view on the exciting, inspirational threads of multiple cultures around the globe. The idea that white people were responsible for ‘Western’ civilization is as foolish as the Western amnesia that ignores how African and Arab Muslims in Islamic Spain and the Maghreb preserved valuable classical texts during Europe’s so-called Dark Ages. At the same time, if only black Africans can teach about Benin and those from Shanghai write about Chinese emperors, culture remains a private enclave instead of a tool for education; it’s at best a cudgel.

Consider for a moment the great figures of our modern era that you admire or think of as inspiring examples: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Rachel Carson, Oprah Winfrey, insert your own choice here. Now of course, you don’t need to be from Johannesburg or Mumbai or the US to think of these individuals as heroes. What they project transcends nationality; it goes beyond race and culture. Why then don’t we take that view with the history of countries that are not our own?

We have in one way. Sites such as the magnificent church complexes at Lalibela in Ethiopia or the silent sculptures at Angkor Wat in Cambodia have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites for a reason: so that everyone can appreciate and enjoy them. The term ‘world heritage’ reflects a different, indeed a more pragmatic attitude to evaluating these places—it’s an expression of hope that visitors will look beyond their personal backgrounds. A patriot sees only their own history; for them, its purpose is to reinforce their biases. The genuinely curious look to history to explain the world. They see all it has to offer, not simply what reinforces their narrative.

Years ago, my karate sensei would sometimes teach us the steps of an antique form, an old kata, because, he would quip, ‘It’s nice to meet your grandfather.’ Here in one aphorism—by an instructor from Uruguay teaching a Japanese martial art—was distilled the essence of a generosity of spirit, of cultural appreciation. I have devoted much of my life and career to exploring different countries, different cultures, and I recognize that learning history and absorbing insights into different heritages will not be a panacea for racial tensions or injustices. But learning is a start. It can be the spark of conscience lit by our new personal investment and hopefully the adoption of a new attitude, that instead of white people thinking of black people, of Africans, as the other—or vice versa—we finally, at long last, claim our relatives