Yes, on Thanksgiving we talked about Syrian refugees. One of my relatives expressed a pro-refugee position. Being somewhat provocative, I mentioned that I did know several people who are strongly opposed to Syrian refugees coming to America. Of course I was asked who they were. My answer created consternation because I referred to a biracial friend of mine who reacted on economic lines: “there aren’t enough jobs, they will be on welfare, and we can’t afford them.” In short, he reacted in fear.
My friend had fallen smack into what Deepa Iyer calls the “racial bribe” in her challenging new book, We Too Sing America (New York: The New Press, 2015). Iyer refers to the concept of the “racial bribe” (introduced in Guinier and Torres’ book The Miner’s Canary) which means that some communities of color are invited to “become White” on the racial ladder in our country. But this means, as Iyer writes, accepting racist stereotypes and assumptions particularly about Black communities – which is why Iyer strongly urges all of us to not accept the racial bribe in any form.
On p. 102 Deepa writes,
Our positions on the racial ladder in America dictate the opportunities, privileges and entitlements available to us. Blacks are at the bottom, while Whites maintain the top position. Latinos, Arabs and Asians fall in middle positions.
The bribe is used to convey the impression that Whiteness can include racial diversity. The concept of possibly becoming White defuses and discourages other minorities from association with black people.
Deepa illustrates this use of the myth of “cultural exceptionalism” and how at the end of the day, racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that anyone who is non White and from a non-European heritage that is not Judeo-Christian is going to be branded a permanent foreigner.
• • •
I promised Deepa that I would blog about her book. I’m honored to do that. I’m glad to recognize that I have five Muslim friends who live here in Louisville. Two are doctors from Pakistan. One is an attorney, also from Pakistan. The fourth is a college student from Bosnia. The last was a dentist in Jordan who now works in a grocery store. I’m glad to know all five of these men and I honored that I can show them some measure of friendship and welcome. I respect them and their faith. I hope that everyone who reads this will envision a multiracial America where everyone has an equitable space.
Deepa’s book could be a vital component as our parish continues to discuss our role in the bridging the divide between the east and west ends of Louisville.
Let’s not just talk, let’s transform our community. As-salaam alaykum.
A copy of “We Too Sing America” will be in the church library soon.