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Friday, November 19, 2021
ANBOUND's Observation: American Jewish Scholar on Racial Discourse in the U.S. and Biden’s Failure
Chan Kung

In an article written by American scholar Connor Grubaugh for the Jewish culture magazine Tablet, published on November 18, it is mentioned that after the Biden administration came to power, changes have taken place, and he fails to complete the task of racial reconciliation.

In the words of Grubaugh, “when it entered office, the Biden-Harris administration promised to ‘lower the temperature’ of America’s divisive conflicts over race, identity, and recognition. While Biden’s campaign appealed to moderates, however, his policies and appointments so far show him embracing a progressive ‘anti-racist’ agenda fundamentally at odds with his image as a liberal centrist: Equality is dead, long live ‘equity’”.

Grubaugh noted that there is another round of clashes between the radicals and reformists, the race-conscious and colorblind, and this has become a common feature of American racial discourse at least since the 1960s. To avoid replaying this predictable and irresoluble conflict, Grubaugh pointed towards Hannah Arendt, a philosopher who has deep insight into its root causes.

Six decades ago, the émigré political theorist Hannah Arendt argued that American anti-racism is essentially influenced by a kind of totalitarian temptation. In 1959, she wrote in the well-known essay “Reflections on Little Rock” which defends a tragic outlook on America’s racial issue, and on the movement against Jim Crow, now faded from public memory as the ’60s spirit has been sacralized. She certainly understood that slavery had left a stain on the American tradition, and she loathed racial prejudice. That said, she insisted that American civil rights talk was dangerously incoherent, and warned that if this is thoughtlessly enshrined in law and liberal opinion, this could only be resolved on the corpse of the American republic, and this is perilous for American Jews.

It was daunting for Arendt to publish this essay that time, and indeed it was full of controversies. The editors of Dissent had printed a disclaimer above the essay explaining that the publication is solely on the ground of free-speech and not on the merits of Arendt’s views, which they considered to be “entirely mistaken”. One of two respondents whose critical replies on the essay asked whether it was all “a horrible joke”. The socialist philosopher Sidney Hook considered Arendt’s views so “extreme” as to “seem incredible to those who have a sincere desire to win the struggle against segregation”.

However, today Grubaugh thought that Arendt’s response was to call on Americans to return to the ideal of republicanism, in which the equality of all people is not through the lowest common denominator in society, but “being elevated—along with their differences—to the noblest and the best politically”. This requires restoring public institutions to public institutions and insisting on a political life. This, according to Grubaugh, is “the renewal of the res publica as a genuinely common possession worthy of our unanimous esteem”.

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