Recent stories out of both Philadelphia and San Francisco tell of black students’ beating up Asian-American students. This is especially painful for those who expected that the election of Barack Obama would mark the beginning of a post-racial America.Rene Girard has shown us how mimetic desire produces such envy and resentment, but politicians (sadly) have shown us how easily it can be exploited in ways that seem to be sympathetic to the less fortunate, but which ultimately condemn them to permanent disadvantage.
While Obama’s winning majorities in overwhelmingly white states suggests that many Americans are ready to move beyond race, it is painfully clear that others are not.
Those who explain racial antagonisms on rational bases will have a hard time demonstrating how Asian Americans have made blacks worse off. Certainly none of the historic wrongs done to blacks was done by the small Asian-American population; for most of their history in this country, they have not had enough clout to prevent themselves from being discriminated against.
While ugly racial or ethnic conflicts can seldom be explained by rational economic or other self-interest, they have been too common to be just inexplicable oddities — whether in America or in other countries around the world, and whether today or in centuries past.
Resentments and hostility toward people with higher achievements are one of the most widespread of human failings. Resentments of achievements are more deadly than envy of wealth.
The hatred of people who started at the bottom and worked their way up has far exceeded hostility toward those who were simply born into wealth. None of the sultans who inherited extraordinary fortunes in Malaysia has been hated like the Chinese, who arrived there destitute and rose by their own efforts.
Inheritors of the Rockefeller fortune have been elected as popular governors in three states, attracting nothing like the hostility toward the Jewish immigrants who rose from poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to prosperity in a variety of fields.
Others who started at the bottom and rose to prosperity — the Lebanese in West Africa, the Indians in Fiji, and the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, for example — have likewise been hated for their achievements. Being born a sultan or a Rockefeller is not an achievement.
Achievements are a reflection on others who may have had similar, and sometimes better, chances but who did not make the most of their chances. Achievements are like a slap across the face to those who are not achieving, and many people react with the same kind of anger that such an insult would provoke.
Sowell's whole piece is here.
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