The Klonaris thesis is a dangerous diversion

First Published: 2006-03-03

In a February 20th column Andrew Allen discussed "Racism, The Nassau Institute and Helen Klonaris." It was his appraisal of a February 4th Letter to the Editor on "racism and whiteness" by Helen Klonaris and a subsequent critique by the Nassau Institute. The latter was characterized as being "long winded" and failing to recognize "the psychological effects of a colonially imposed value system."

The thesis

For those who have not read these articles, Helen Klonaris stated that there is a "well defined system of relationships including educational curricula, the legal system, Judeo Christian church hierarchies and the English language itself whose effect is to suppress, condemn and ghettoize other cultures." Furthermore, she accused white Bahamians in general, and Brent Symonette in particular, of an indifference to African culture in this "age of racism."

Mr. Allen hailed Ms. Klonaris for her honest, intelligent and well thought-out contribution. Yet he disagreed with it in an important way; in a brief parenthetical comment he discounted the "racism in the Bahamas is based on the perpetuation of white economic power" argument.

Instead he focused on the psychological problems of blacks dealing with a Christian culture. He contended that Blacks lost contact with their historical origins when confronted by Western European culture whereas countries like Japan and India did not.

What Mr. Allen did not clearly say is that the cultures of India, China and Japan were "much further" developed at the time of that confrontation with the West than the cultures of sub-Sahara Africa at the time of their confrontation.

The critique

Furthermore, the Institute provided a framework for thinking about "race and whiteness."

* It quoted Thomas Sowell's history of slavery (Conquests and Cultures: An International History) and the critical role that Great Britain played in the elimination of large scale slave trade both west and east from Africa.

* It went beyond this to discuss the reasons for the unequal development of the world. This included a long reference to the significant work of Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies).

Mr. Allen never addressed these points; instead he treated the reader to a "long winded" anti-Christian view of historical events.

Non-European cultures

All non-Western European societies inevitably must face the reality that Western Europe and its British off-shoots dominated economic and social development of the world from the 15th to the 21st century.

One can grasp this fact by looking at the incidence of outstanding human accomplishments in the arts and sciences. This task is addressed by Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

This is a massive study of 4,002 individuals essential to the story of literature, music, art, philosophy, science and technology that "ranked them according to their eminence." The author went to great lengths to eliminate a Eurocentric bias by including inventories and appraisals of individuals and events drawn from Arabic, Chinese, Indian and Japanese sources.

The bottom line of this work is that the world's really intense levels of accomplishment did not begin until a few centuries ago and then "almost everything came from Europe." That reality is a major problem for the collective esteem of non-Europeans even though there is clear evidence that the past imbalance is changing rapidly.

The problem

Not only this but the big political and economic obstacles to racial equality…the institutional obstacles…are a thing of the past especially in the Bahamas. Despite the evidence, Helen Klonaris wants all to know that white racism is not dead even though black Bahamians can now "overcome."

In looking at comparable developments in the U.S. John McWhorter (Losing the Race) concludes that the U. S. Civil Rights movement now defines "blackness as that which resists whiteness" and this creates an "ideological sea of troubles."

* It encourages "the black American from birth to fixate upon the remnants of racism and resolutely downplay all signs of its demise" and "to conceive of black people as an unofficial sovereign entity, within which the rules of others are expected to follow."

* It encourages anti-intellectualism that is rooted "in the culture of poverty and disenfranchisement and now becomes a culture-internal infection nurtured by a distrust of the former oppressor."

Much of John McWhorter's observations are directly applicable to the Bahamas.

And…if one thinks about it…one can rightly conclude that the Klonaris thesis should not be hailed as an honest, intelligent and well thought-out contribution to a dialogue on culture. It is, in fact, a dangerous diversion from dealing with today's problems in a rational way for the benefit of all.

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