Some people feel a visceral reaction to finger nails down the blackboard. Some feel it when they get a piece of aluminium foil between their teeth. I get it when I hear people banging on about “minorities” – by which they invariably mean racial minorities. When I hear the word “minorities,” I always want to thrust this column* by Tibor Machan into their hands:
When, more recently, it began to be fashionable to stress one’s ethnic or cultural or racial identity, I was puzzled. To start with, what kind of identity is it that one acquires by accident? So, I was born in Budapest and heard a lot of gypsy music, ate paprika csirke and palacsinta. And, yes, I liked these things and still do. But how significant a part of me is there in that? My idea from early on was that what’s important about one’s identity is what one contributes to it oneself.
Who one is shouldn’t be a matter of happenstance but of purposive action. I liked to read and think about philosophy and religion, so if someone wanted to know who I was, I’d tell them about that. Or, in a less serious vein, about things I liked to do such as traveling and playing tennis.Some collage of these aspects of my life, of the things over which I have had some say, some choice, seems to me to make me who I am— not so much how tall I am or where I was born.
As I got to hear more and more about ethnic and racial pride, I was even more puzzled. How can someone be proud of being, say, Caucasian or black or gay or Asian? What had
one to do with such things? Perhaps one might be glad of being tall or of having lived among other members of one’s ethnic group if, indeed, this had amounted to a good experience.
And one could certainly refuse to be ashamed of being black or white or whatever one could not help being.
Even more, one might feel some affinity with others who were being picked on for attributes one shared with them and be willing, even, to unite with them to resist such treatment.
But proud? Doesn’t pride require some worthy achievement from oneself?
In my neighborhood newspaper, there is someone who writes mainly about Hispanics, and in nearly every column Hispanics are urged to feel special for being Hispanic. Why so? What is special about that? Doesn’t feeling special for being Hispanic or Hungarian American or black or tall suggest that others aren’t as special and worthy of feeling similarly about themselves? I have never liked the idea of a chosen people because it suggests that the universe or God picks some to be inherently, undeservedly superior to others.
When I am told, “Hey there are some other people from Hungary you must meet,” I respond, “Why exactly? Do they play tennis, love philosophy, or like the blues?” The idea of ethnic or cultural pride, it seems to me, suggests something close to an insidious form of prejudice.
Without having done anything worthwhile whatsoever one gets to be satisfied for belonging to a group. Just whom is one kidding anyway?
For my part ,I’ve always been in a minority in the place where I live – at least in the civilised way that Tibor explains the concept.
In sport, I like AFL.
In food, I like vegetarianism.
In beer, I like real beer.
In philosophy, I like Objectivism.
In politics, I like libertarianism.
In music, I like Wagner.
In architecture, I like Organic Architecture.
In painting and sculpture, I like Romantic Realism.
So that’s just some of what puts me in the minority around here. But I don’t expect special favours for that. I don’t want to force people to like what I like, but I certainly will keep right on trying to persuade them. :-)
But spare a thought for a friend, who’s still struggling to find a young woman who embraces vegetarianism, Objectivism, libertarianism and is a champion (or at least competent) salsa dancer to boot. If you know of such a star, then please do drop us a line.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
* You can read the whole column in PDF form at the link below, where it appears as part of an online copy of Tibor's recent book of his columns, Neither Left nor Right. The column from which I’ve quoted above, 'Never Mind One's Cultural "Identity",' appears on page 23 of the section 'Sex and Politics in America.' [PDF]