Monday, January 14, 2008

The Sun People and Arielismo

A professor in the Black Studies department at New York’s City College, Leonard Jeffries achieved national prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s for his harshly negative views concerning Jews and white people in general.

He provoked particular controversy with his analysis of whites as "ice people" who are violent and cruel, while blacks are "sun people" who are compassionate and peaceful. He further claims that blacks are superior to whites because of their higher melanin levels. In an interview in Rutherford Magazine (May 1995) Jeffries expanded on his racial views: when asked what kind of world he world want to leave to his children, he answered: "A world in which there aren’t any white people.”

Such opinions would appear to be the exclusive property of some far-out black activists. Not so, however, for the contrast between Ice People and Sun People goes back to a 1978 book (The Iceman Inheritance) by a Canadian white author, Michael Bradley. Bradley proposed that the experiences of northern Europeans in the harsh conditions of the Ice Age had promoted traits of aggression and racism. These traits are less common in people with more malanin.

The migration of the ice-people idea is an interesting instance of the cross-over effect, an effect predicted by meme theory. Memes are ideas that have the power to spread like viruses, taking root among very different human hosts.

At all events, in the age of Barack Obama the Bradley theory as amended by Jeffries has lost much of its appeal. American society is less polarized than formerly so that the need to account for the phenomenon has faded. Moreover, African Americans are in many ways typical Americans employing our traditions and institutions to make their case. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s depended upon American traditions of fairness and equality, as enshrined in the key documents of the American republic. With all its flaws the system works.

To be sure, the Bradley-Jeffries theory taps into some common stereotypes, viz. that Caucasians are coldly rational, while people of color are endowed with a wonderful emotional expressivity--they have a natural sense of rhythm in short. They are more likely to operate in terms of cooperation instead of competition. It is the latter that leads, in the view of these theorists, to the evils of cut-throat capitalism.

And of course some guilt-ridden whites fell for the ploy, witness Susan Sontag who once opined that “White people are the cancer of the human race.” Later she retracted, but she had already exhibited the mindset.

For those less afflicted with racial guilt, the theory elicits some immediate difficulties. Most of us are not impressed by the warmth and emotional exuberance on display these days in the Congo (where four million people have died), Kenya, and Zimbabwe. Conversely, aggression does not seem very common among the Ice People of Scandinavia and the Netherlands, but it is rife in sub-Saharan Africa.

Still, the underlying tendency survives in that some intellectuals hold that the dominant position of northern European culture needs to be balanced by another population stream. This demographic infusion stems generically from the Third World, but most especially from Latin America. Those who adopt this view believe that the more immigration we have from this source, the better. It is needed to curb Anglo-Saxon individualism and overreliance on competition.

At all events, if one shares Jeffries’ view that we need more Sun People and fewer Ice People, one will welcome demographic changes that are taking place in the US. While the natural increase of African Americans is tapering off, we are seeing a huge influx in brown people from south of the border. These major demographic changes are due to the combined effect of a high birth rate and immigration, legal and illegal.

There is thus a Latino/Hispanic triumphalist argument, the cousin of the Bradley-Jeffries thesis. Ultimately, this theme stems from a book published a little over 100 years ago by José Enrique Rodó (1872-1917), a Uruguayan essayist and intellectual. He summoned the youth of Latin America to reject materialism, returning to Greco-Roman ideals.

Rodó is best known for his essay Ariel (1900). The eponymous figure is drawn from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Ariel represents Latin America, and Caliban represents North America. They debate the future course of history, in what Rodó intended to be a secular sermon to Latin American youth, championing the cause of the classical western tradition. Ariel is structurally based on binary opposition, in which the figures of Ariel and Caliban are diametrically opposed.

Rodó's Ariel appeared in a tense cultural and historical context. Throughout the preceding century, the Spanish empire had gradually lost its dominant status with the wars for independence across its colonies. Spain’s decline was compounded by its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which it lost Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. This war signaled the ascendance of the United States as a world power. It was in this changing global context that Rodó commended Latin America’s finding its own identity, instead of simply gravitating to the new overarching power in order to fill in the vacuum left by Spain’s departure.

The Uruguayan author warned against "nordomanía," excessive attachment to North America. His thought reflected on history, when US power was growing in the Western Hemisphere, especially in Latin America, where Rodó stressed the importance of regional identity and how it should be deeply rooted every country. However, to create and maintain regional identity proves difficult at times due to outside cultural and economic influence.

Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, Rodó’s ideas have appealed to Latino and Hispanic intellectuals in the United States. The culture of their countries of origin, instead of being inferior, is actually superior to that of Caliban-land. Needless to say, the Uruguayan author’s call for an elitist return to Greco-Roman civilization and for the cultivation of spiritual values gets downplayed in this context.

Be this as it may, there does not seem to be much evidence that Hispanic and Latino youth are rallying to the cause of Arielismo. Instead, they seem intrigued by American popular culture and a desire to prosper in their new country.

What is interesting, though, is the affinity of the two contrasts: Sun People vs. Ice People and Ariel vs. Caliban. Both assume that there is something undesirable that needs to be curbed in our Anglo-American culture. These theorists seem oblivious to the North American values of freedom of speech and due process, values that allow them to flourish as for the most part they would not in Africa and Latin America.

At all events it seems unlikely that the United States will soon be “solarized” or “Arielized.” Still, these trends are worrisome, as they enter as a subtext into our debates about immigration. There must be no automatic assumption that American culture needs mitigating--certainly not in the direction of the dubious ideals represented by Jeffries and Rodó.

3 Comments:

Blogger The Gay Species said...

Stereotypes exist because they are partially true of some segment of the sub-population. Our individual experiences suggest certain characteristics go hand-in-hand with certain cultures, which then discover may be generally true, but not universally true.

As a Fries homophile I've found Latin homophiles the most romantically inclined, the African homophile the most well-endowed and sensitive, the Anglo tribes a bit cold as their climes, and middle eastern homophiles pretty over-bearing as hot.

But these generalizations are simply that: generalizations from my own personal experience. And for most generalizations, I've at least one, if not more, exceptions. For example, my beloved and I are both of colder clime extraction, but are as passionate as the tropics allow.

These experiences, and others like them, suggest immense diversity even within classic classes of stereotypical assumptions. But, as your essay illustrates, this diversity calls for pluralism, not multiculturalism. Aboriginal peoples are a pleasure to be around, but I don't want their social norms replacing those of a liberal pluralistic democracy.

It's oddly discordant that illegals enter another country and assume the "rights" established in the entered country belong to them by squatting. It's also odd that defenders of illegals, which, by definition have broken law in a nation of laws, appeal for amnesty to then enforce those laws on others.

The immigration debate has not been a debate, it has been a polemic of political and economic interests putting their special interests above the common law and interests. Then, to redefine the "debate" they substitute "undocumented" for "illegal," and insist the issue is xenophobia, rather than lawlessness. But that ploy fools only 20% of the population, and the deliberate polemic of an otherwise straight-forward matter is perhaps what has most aroused public ire.

It's not that Americans are anti-immigrant, it's that they are anti-lawlessness. If the laws can be broken with impunity or amnesty, then "law" is not the governing mechanism, but brute force. Generally, laws broken without adverse effect (such as cannabis use) are reduced to caricature of "law," while laws broken with adverse effect by non-natives riles a law-abiding people, assuming the compact or social contract is that this nation is a nation of laws not force. The amnesty for lawlessness breaches the "nation of laws" and arouse "nation of force." Hardly without parallel, as Iraq testifies.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed at the poverty of discourse we often entertain. Ice people? Sun people? Aren't we all people?
Ideas of racial, or for that matter gender, superiority or inferiority are based on the most primitive aspects of our brains and our selves. They are based on fear. They are infantile and primitive in the right sense of the word.

As far as the critique of the "brown" people who come here and "forget" that they have free speech or whatever. Let's not forget that we all came here from somewhere except perhaps the Native Americans and that we didn't extend the LAW or the FREE SPEECH to them!!!!!!!!!!!!

9:16 AM  
Anonymous generic viagra said...

New York’s City College is one of the best high school in the world, I was in this one and I am an excellent friend of Leonard Jeffries, so I think that It is so cool.

6:43 AM  

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