What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n_ _ _ _ r in the first place, because I’m not a n_ _ _ _ r, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a n_ _ _ _ r, it means you need it.
James Baldwin, quote from an interview with Dr.
Kenneth Clark September 1963
James Baldwin, African American author/essayist/playwright, was a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. In this quote, I believe that Baldwin hit upon a human trait that, in disagreement with Baldwin’s applying it solely to white people, I think is universal throughout humanity…to our discredit. I choose to call this ‘betterism.’ No doubt we are more accustomed to using words like ‘prejudice’ or ‘elitism,’ and a thesaurus would certainly give many comparable words.
A definition of ‘betterism’ is simply the human need to find someone over whom we can feel superior. The practitioner of betterism is merely saying “I may not be much, but at least I’m not a _________”. This allows the betterist to both feel superior and to justify any unequal treatment of the individual who he has diminished by this label.
Both history and current geopolitics demonstrate the nearly universal practice of this trait. In the Bible, the Israelites were the ‘chosen people’ (which, by natural extension, meant all others were unchosen). Conversely, from the Philistines to the Romans, along with every non-Hebrew kingdom in between, returned the favor and looked down on the Israelites.
It was a sense of ethnic/racial superiority embraced by Japan to justify the invasion of China and the slaughter of its citizens in World War II; the same with Nazi policy toward the Jews. More modern persistence of betterism exists in Iranians who insist on separating themselves from other Muslim groups by calling themselves ‘Persians’, instead of Arabs. Arabs look down on Palestinians. Indeed, the current Palestinian settlements were established, not by Jews, but by the other Arab nations who didn’t want to assimilate Palestinians into their respective cultures. Yasser Arafat, found of the PLO, conducted his first terrorist acts against the government of Jordan, Not the nation of Israel.
Black groups are not immune from this indictment. On the island of Hispaniola, the people of the Dominican Republic look down upon Haitians. The horror of the Rwandan massacres between Hutus and Tutsis was an example of betterism that defies understanding- both groups were black, spoke and worshipped the same, were nearly indistinguishable genetically, and both were migratory to that country from elsewhere in Africa. No doubt there are some who would say it was fomented by white settlers, but my research failed to disclose any reliable link. Simply put, betterism is a thoroughly universal, and universally tragic, human trait.
Which brings me to modern America. Racism in America is little more than betterism with color coding. Betterism also includes so-called sexism and so-called homophobia. Political correctness has, under a camouflage of advancing personal freedom, actually breathed life into these dying practices by the misapplication of these as labels: if you expressed criticism of our first African American President, you were labelled a racist; criticism of Hillary Clinton, you were a sexist; criticizing a policy that forced our daughters and granddaughters to suffer grown men in their public bathrooms, you instantly became a homophobe.
In its own unique way, political correctness has become betterism on steroids: by falsely labeling a person as a racist-betterist or a sexist-betterist or a homophobe-betterist, the accuser categorizes those who would disagree with him and dismisses their opinions and the legitimacy of their argument. What is even more interesting is that all these labels have no definition. As I observed in a previous commentary, this country only allows Caucasians to be labeled as racists and heterosexual males to be labeled as sexist. One thing is clear: political correctness and its resultant betterism has restricted, not liberated, public discourse. The current climate of public debate in American is a weird historical echo from nearly three centuries ago:
…there is not a private Man among us who dare open his Lips, unless it be to flatter. As for Freedom of Speech, it is utterly suppress’d among us, and I suppose quickly we shall be hang’d for our Thoughts…
Courant newspaper, Boston, Colony of Massachusetts, December 1721. Publisher James Franklin (brother of Benjamin Franklin)
Sadly, two of the institutions most frequently labeled as racist/sexist/homophobic are built upon an ethos that denies any ‘betterism’: the USA and Christianity. Taken in the progressive historical context of our nation’s self-construction, from the Declaration of Independence (‘all men are created equal’) to the Bill of Rights and Amendments 13-15 (abolished slavery, gave citizenship to Blacks, gave the voting franchise to Blacks), Amendment 19 (extended the voting franchise to women) and Amendment 26 (extended the voting franchise to citizens age 18 or above); all point to our national wish to defy betterism.
Christianity, frequently and enthusiastically attacked for political incorrectness, is built on a foundation of equality:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (1Corinthians 10:32)
Do these entities make mistakes? Yes. Are they misapplied or abused to result in prejudice? Yes. To condemn them for these errors, however, makes as much sense as abandoning internal combustion engines when your car breaks down or someone commits vehicular homicide.
It is no coincidence that the rise of political correctness and its narrow, malignant betterism parallels the subtraction of Christianity from government influence. It also parallels the virtual loss of the ‘will of the majority’ in lawmaking: everything from abortion to stem cell research to sexually unassigned public bathrooms to acceptance of Syrian ‘refugees’ has been in opposition to the will of the majority and in perfect alignment with governance by special interests and vocal minorities. Betterism and political correctness will soon result in a simplified prejudice: you will be a member/supporter of the ruling elite or you will merely be a silent taxpayer.