The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
In this new century, identity is at the heart of the most pressing and often violent issues of the day. In the U. S. and abroad, people often retreat into the refuges of religion, nationality, class, and race. It can be seen in the wave of social unrest that spread across England. Or in Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s description of undocumented workers as an “army of evil.” And seventy percent of Oklahomans voted to ban the introduction of Sharia law, though only a small portion of residents are Muslim. One journalist urges us to search for common, higher ground. He warns that if we fail, our society may become more divided than ever before. Diane and her guest talk about why identity matters.
- Gary Younge columnist for the "Guardian" and "The Nation, and author of "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "No Place Like Home."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Journalist, Gary Younge, compares identity to fire, saying it can create warmth or burn badly and destroy. In a new book, he argues that identity shapes our personal and political worlds for whom we vote, what frightens us and when we go to war. His book is title "Who We (sic) Are - And Should It Matter in the Twenty-First Century?" Gary Younge joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMHe is a columnist for the Guardian and the Nation. His books include "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "No Place Like Home." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Gary.
MR. GARY YOUNGEGood morning, Diane.
REHMThanks for being here.
YOUNGEThanks for having me.
REHMTell me whether you believe that 9/11 was a crucial turning point in the sense of our thinking about identity.
YOUNGEI certainly think it was in the West. In the West, it became this sense of Us and arrest. And, of course, those are neutral definitions, who are we, you know, in that ask? Does that include Muslim's, does that include immigrants, does that -- and who are they? You know, who are the enemy? So there was this very sharpened sense and terrorism will do this because when there's a terrorist attack, any other is a potential soldier.
YOUNGEAnybody who you define as the Other can then become a potential warrior. You don't know who the enemy is. So there was this sharp cleavage around the sense of the West versus the rest that I think became very, very dangerous.
REHMSo what you feel, as though somehow we've gotten locked into this place of East, West and the rest?
YOUNGEWell, there was the class of civilizations, rhetoric, that notion of Muslim somehow coming from some other psychic space that we, you know, that we couldn't really relate to. And, of course, that pressure has eased somewhat as time has passed. But a very good example, I think, of the moral panic would be Oklahoma passing a referendum against Sharia law.
YOUNGEWhen less than one percent of Oklahoma are Muslim, there is no prospect of Sharia law becoming law in Oklahoma. And yet there was a sufficient amount of fear within Oklahoma that a referendum would be passed, outlawing Sharia law which is a little bit like me and, you know, outlawing the Chinese taking over, you know, London, I mean, it's not going to happen anytime soon.
REHMSo would you argue, then, that perhaps it is fear, as you put it in regard to Oklahoma, that somehow shapes this new sense of We and Them?
YOUNGEFear is a big part of it. And for that we can look at terrorism and then we can look at work as being very sharply defining things, there's no conversation you can have with terrorism or missiles. There's no way of, kind of, the conversing with and finding the common ground. And there is this about identity, that on the one hand, we're all actually more alike than we are unalike. We're all human beings.
YOUNGEAnd that can often be forgotten in these conversations but that the way that we are unalike matters and at different moments it can matter in different ways. You just have to imagine that on September the 10th, you are a, somewhat, sexually promiscuous beer drinking person whose name is Muhammad and whose parents happen to be Muslim. On September the 12th, you no longer happen to be Muslim, it becomes your defining characteristic whether you want it to be or not because other people have chosen that for you.
REHMYou know, you've talked about September 11th but it also seems, to me, that the Other has become exactly who we are in terms of political thinking in this country.
YOUNGEHow do you mean?
REHMWhether you are, perhaps, a member of the tea party, whether you're a conservative, republican, whether you're a liberal, democrat, it's really the Other now.
YOUNGERight, oh, yes. The -- kind of, there are -- identity works on so many levels and so you find these moments where -- and I've been in American since 2003 and quite often I've seen these moments, particularly during elections where I thought -- but actually if we take you two people who are arguing right now, a liberal and a conservative, and we take you to France or Britain, actually you're going to win -- everybody is going to see you as American. And you'll end up realizing you agree on actually many more things then you don't.
YOUNGEAnd the distinctions are sometimes drawn scarily sharply, I think, that -- and the way it comes out is in terms of whether you are worthy of being an American, whether something is American or not. That peace is patriotic or that war is patriotic or that -- and it finds its crescendo in a bomber who, they say, well, he can't be American. He couldn't possibly be, there's no way within the, kind of, that psychic realm that he can be American. So we're going to have to make up a story where this is not possible.
REHMNot possible? So we ascribe to him that sense his father was a Muslim, he, Obama, must be a...
YOUNGEMust be a Muslim.
YOUNGESince his father was Kenyan, he therefore somehow must have been born in Kenya. That in order to accept that he is an American, for some, would be to force them to really have to grapple with what it means to be an American in the 21st century when in 2042 white people will be in the minority, when large numbers of people don't actually fit into the boxes that are available to them in the census.
YOUNGEWhen race is understood as something, really very, fluid as opposed to fixed. And for some people, the absence of the certainty of those old categories become very worrying.
REHMAs a black man, yourself, do you believe you have a clearer understanding of why people have taken that view of Obama?
YOUNGEI don't know if I have a clearer understanding because I don't know that, you know, melanin content confers that kind of intelligence. But I think I have a particular understanding which is partly from being black and partly from being from a broadened thinking. With some of the things -- I've always thought with Obama, that race wasn't the half of it, when people talk about people, you know, being racially concerned.
YOUNGEThat it literally wasn't the half of it, that some of the things they say about him, they would never say about Jesse Jackson because no one would ever question that Jesse Jackson was American. However, whatever else you think of what he says and does, no one would question the notion that he came from America. He actually couldn't be from anywhere else.
YOUNGEBut if you think of Obama, I'd say there are, kind of, two other things before you get to race. One is, the suggestion that he is Muslim, even through birth which, of course, is a nonsense, plays into the anxieties about terror and war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then if you think of his father being Kenyan, then you have the sense of foreignness of immigration, of otherness. And, interestingly, what Obama then does is almost like using the way of his opponents to throw against him, is he then jumbles it up even further.
YOUNGESo he then talks about his father coming to America in 1959 and says, in the 2004 keynote, it's a magical place. Very few African-Americans, I think, in 1959 thought of America as a magical place, but if you came from Kenya, I'm sure it was. And so what you have in Obama is an interruption of the established categories, the way that America thinks about race and nationality. And for some people, it's almost like a synaptic shock they can't get...
REHMA permanent change?
YOUNGEI think so. I think so. If we look at the demographics, if we look at the increasing number of people who are marrying and having children across racial lines, if we think of the growing number of Latinos and African-Americans as a proportion of the country, that I think among the under four's, which is interesting to me because I have a four year old, white children number four are already a minority in this country.
YOUNGEThat the future of this country is much more of a patchwork then it has been. Then Obama's very varied and very complicated life story becomes, actually, the complicated story of the country.
REHMDo you think that what's happening will be good for the country in terms of softening that whole approach toward identity?
YOUNGEI hope so. I mean, America has, in the past, proved itself capable of meeting those challenges, even when it doesn't fully solve the problem. So there's always hope.
REHMGary Younge, he's a columnist for the Guardian. His new book is titled "Who We (sic) Are - And Should It Matter in the Twenty-First Century?"
REHMWelcome back. Gary Younge is a columnist for the Guardian and The Nation. His new book is titled "Who We Are (sic) - and Should it Matter in the Twenty-First Century?" Here's an e-mail from Earl in Newfane, Vt. He says, "How does the Us versus Them idea stand up with respect to the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in U.S. history? I do not recall a backlash against rightist fringe groups to speak of."
YOUNGEWell, I mean, there was a comedown, I'm pretty sure, after that bombing. There was a comedown and that partly it wouldn't have been as visible. But I think in general the point Earl makes is a good one, which is that there are some groups for whom one talks in a collective sense and others who one talks -- about who one talks as an individual. So Timothy McVeigh is understood as an individual. We don't then, as a society, go after young white men with short hair.
YOUNGEI mean, this played out very clearly in Norway when -- as soon as it was believed initially to be an Islamic terrorist attack. And then a whole range of suppositions and presumptions came in about Muslims and multi-culturalism, then it turns out to be a white racist. And then, we don't have that conversation about white people because we don't really talk about white people in that way. So there was always that question with identity that the more powerful our identity is the less likely we are to even recognize it as an identity.
REHMThen what you're saying is, as you referred to earlier in 2040, when the proportions have changed and the majority has become the minority, would you see the conversations change?
YOUNGEI think the conversation will have to change. I think that the question -- and I kind of end a couple of bits of it by saying we talk about identity all the time. And what the book tries to do is say, let's just talk about it more intelligently, kind of open up the complexities. Let's open up the books and let's have an honest conversation about that. So I think it's inevitable that we will talk about it differently.
REHMHow would a different conversation begin?
YOUNGEI can imagine two ways. One is quite scary and relates to the demographics, what we're going to have and already seeing in the southwest of the country, older White communities and younger Latino communities who are looking to have the property taxes of the older White people to build the educations so that these younger people can create work and so on. And so you have both an ethnic and an age differential which could be very tense.
YOUNGEThe other conversation that we could have is one in which people actually kind of decide that this is a kind of -- this is something fantastic about America. It's something that they want to embrace and that they choose not to be anxious but to be hopeful. And there have been times when America has chosen to do that. And regardless of what one thinks of his politics I do think that there was an element of that in the election of Obama. That's not an endorsement of him but that there was some sense that maybe we could get over this. I think there is a desire among many white, black, brown and others to get over many of the boundaries that have really hamstrung the country in the past.
REHMHere's an e-mail from John who says, "I've been taking philosophy classes that discuss identity. In philosophy the debate is about what makes a person the same person over time. John Lock, for example, thinks that memories play a role in this. Recently my grandmother began losing her memory of even important things including the people in her life. How have you thought about how identity is affected by memory loss, or even significant life change?"
YOUNGEThat's a very good question.
REHMIsn't it, though?
YOUNGEIt's kind of erudite.
REHMIsn't it though.
YOUNGEI mean, I'll give an example -- it's a big question, but I'll give an example from my life. My parents came to Britain from Barbados. I was born in England. I have two brothers, one of whom lives in London now and the other one lives in Ireland. I took my two nephews to the Statue of Liberty and the Museum of Immigration and one of them said, this is a bit boring really 'cause it's got nothing to do with me. And in those two generations have been lost a sense of immigration. And I said, you know, your grandmother was an immigrant and actually I'm an immigrant here in America. I said to my Irish nephew, you know, your father is an immigrant. He came from England to Ireland.
YOUNGEAnd that what I had was a young 12-year-old Irish kid in his Irish Fribble top who's mixed race and a young British kid with his, I don't know, matched united probably Fribble top who was mixed race. And their connection, their notion of a collective memory to this place where my mother is buried, where many of much of my -- had kind of gone. And it didn't mean that they weren't -- that they were antagonistic towards immigration.
YOUNGEBut in a relatively short space of time the notion of them being immigrants of them having any connection to immigration had been lost.
REHMOr their being the Other.
YOUNGEOf them being the Other. And in many ways, of course, that's fantastic. In many ways what you are seeing is people who are incredibly comfortable in their own skin and their own surroundings. But it's through that sense that one day you might be the Other, because one day you were the Other, that you might be able to connect with others who are new, with the gypsy or the Muslim or the (word?) or, if you're in Saudi Arabia, with a Christian who is -- who happens to be the Other at that moment as you once were in your family or as you once might be.
REHMOne of the examples you use in the book is Tiger Woods.
YOUNGEWell, Tiger Woods has this -- this is before, of course, all the sexual scandal -- to define himself and he defines himself as a Cablinasian mixture, which in his family lineage of Caucasian, Black, Indian and Asian. And he has a name for it, Cablinasian. And he says, I’m not really Black. This is what I am. And then, I try and make the point in the book that it's very important that everybody has the right to call themselves whatever they want.
YOUNGEThat people -- I often have this when -- as a Black Britain even in England where people come up to me and say, Mr. Younge, where are you from? I'm from Stevenage which is my hometown. Well, where were you born? Well, Hitchin, the town next door. Well, before then? Well, you know, there was no before then. Well, where are your parents from? Barbados. Oh, so you're from Barbados in an attempt to try and not just to tease out my story but to say, well, you're not from here. So where are you from? So everybody must have the right to say who they are.
YOUNGEBut that what they say must make sense also because these aren't just personal identities. They're also social identities. You're actually telling somebody your story and so they have to be able to understand it. And the problem with Tiger Woods is Cablinasian is that it's a nation of one, it's an identity of one. It's another word for Tiger Woods. And that doesn't mean that there aren't other people who may share that heritage but Cablinasian as a group doesn't exist.
REHMDoes who or how Tiger Woods identifies himself, how does that change as a result of all of the sexual issues?
YOUNGEWell, interestingly when the Guardian went to serialize my book they said, you know, we need something in here about, you know, what's happened since, you know, this chapter was written. And I said, you know, I honestly think that that was understood that was his masculine identity coming through. I was intrigued in the commentary at the -- how little the fact of his racial identity really mattered. It was intriguing to many, although not rare, that pretty much all of the women that he had affairs with all looked like the same person. But that's, I think, quite common.
YOUNGEBut unlike O.J., unlike, you know, Jack Johnson back in the day or other moments of which there have been black white affairs, this wasn't actually understood primarily through a racial lens. I think it was understood primarily through a kind of celebrity lens. And that he did what a certain kind of man does at a certain point in his life. And it was interesting actually I think for the absence of racial conversation.
REHMDo you think that your own background as people have tried to pin you down over the years has that identification that you make for yourself, how has that affected your outlook on identity?
YOUNGEWell, it's forced me at different moments to reckon with some kind of lazy thinking. That when I was young I grew up thinking I wasn’t British because most British people would tell you you weren't from there. You know, they would say, well, go back to where you came from or whatever. There was that notion of national identity not being kind of also a racial identity. And then I went to Sudan to work in a refugee school and people would say, where are you from? And I would say Barbados, which I'd been to for kind of six weeks as a four-year-old and it really didn't make any sense. And so I had to deal with...
YOUNGEYes. I had to kind of deal with my Englishness. And then, at different moments actually realizing, you know, actually there are lots of things I like about England, you know. I like the sense of humor and I -- you know, I like a good cup of tea. I like a range of things that in the same way that one would say about Jessie Jackson, well, he couldn't be from anywhere else. That I think after about 50 minutes of meeting me people think, well, obviously you're an English guy, you know, or a British guy. And that that is who I am and I have the choice of either fighting it or learning to love it.
REHMGary Younge. His new book is titled "Who We Are (sic) - and Should it Matter in the Twenty-First Century?" You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Should it matter? Will it matter? Does it matter?
YOUNGEGoing backwards first, it does matter. People die for their country. People are prepared to die for their tribe, for their group, for their religion. So -- and they're also prepared to live for it. So I think it does matter. I think the question is how it matters. And when I talked about identity being like a fire and, you know, it can warm or it can burn, there are all sorts of ways in which people may identify that are actually very -- which extend the notion of our humanity that don't restrict it. They say, well, you know, if I'm in a -- if I see a four-year-old child in Somalia and I have a four-year-old child, my connection as a father, my connection as a human being...
YOUNGE...is in-house and there's a means of identifying. You know, the Irish when they were protesting against the Brits who were saying, we shall overcome and took their cues from the civil rights movement. Regardless what we think of them the people in Wisconsin who carried -- the protestors who carried placards saying walk like an Egyptian. There are all of these ways in which we identify, connect with others, or can. And that's the great thing about identity.
YOUNGEThe terrible thing is when we retreat into our identities as though they are (word?) . Identity, I think, and this is the argument in the book, is your ticket to ride but it can be your destination.
REHMWhat do you think is happening in England right now, in London, in other areas?
YOUNGEWell, that was a very interesting moment a couple of weeks ago with the riots, which on the one hand seemed to come out of nowhere and on the other hand have been kind of predicted over the last few years with the economic crisis. There were -- the main thing that was interesting about these riots is that they were very mixed, they were very multiracial. These weren't ethnic riots like in the '80s. They weren't race riots, although the single thing that sparked them was the shooting of a Black man in North London. But what continued after that wasn't.
YOUNGESo there was that that was interesting. And if one is looking for an identity in those it was mostly about youth. It was mostly young people who -- many of whom have actually only known recession in crisis and for whom the prospects are not that great. And that's true for them regardless of their race or more so depending on whether you're Black or not.
YOUNGEThe other thing was just though how completely depoliticized they were. There were no demands. There were no...
YOUNGE...there were no slogans chanted. And in the absence of that political framework it became about sneakers and high resolution televisions and fighting the police.
REHMCourse, England has had a great many refugees, people from other countries coming in to its cities, to its country. Do you believe that England is even farther along in breaking down racial barriers and ethnic barriers and social barriers than we hear in this country?
YOUNGEIt's a mixed bag. I mean, in some ways it is. The levels of mixed marriages, for example, are much, much higher in Britain than they are here. I think one in two Caribbean men, one in three Caribbean women is in a mixed race relationship. And Britain is peculiar in so far as we had our civil rights movement, but it was abroad. It was in India and Ghana and Jamaica. So we never really had codified segregation on British soil. And on the one hand, that means that we don't have the geographical baggage. On the other hand, people think, where are all these people coming from? And we're coming from their past.
REHMGary Younge and the book is "Who We Are (sic) - and Should It Matter in the Twenty-First Century?"
REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Gary Younge is a guest here in the studio this morning. He's a columnist for The Guardian, as well as, for The Nation. His new book is titled, "Who We Are (sic) - and Should It Matter in the Twenty-First Century?" I'm going to open the phones now. First to Nelson in Silver Spring, Md., good morning to you.
NELSONGood morning. I just had a quick comment. I'm an African-American. I was raised in Harlem and the dominant politician at the time when I was a kid was, of course, Adam Clayton Powell. And the point I'd like to make is that underscoring what the author has said is that Adam Clayton Powell could be seen as a politician who -- and many people could see -- who is purely egocentric.
NELSONEverything emanated from Adam. Jessie Jackson, on the other hand, came to be seen, unfortunately, as ethnocentric, although, he wanted to cross over so he could get white votes if he ran for public office. Well, what's unique about Obama and what he signals connected to globalization is that he's a world centric African American politician. And, I think, it's a big change that I've seen in the African -- in America and the African American community.
NELSONAnd I think it underscores, as I said, what you said. The other quick I'd like to make is that I'm also West Indian, at least in terms of my family, and within the black community we've had the same sense of identity as it relates to two different groups or different islands, in fact, where people have come from. That's simply it. Thank you.
YOUNGEI mean, it's a very good point about Obama being world centric and, actually, I think that's what scares some people, actually, that he -- somehow they can't pin him down in a way that they would like. And that these forces of globalization and the movement, both of -- of jobs overseas, of people into the country and so on make some people scared.
YOUNGEAnd, I think, for some people he doesn't personify a -- you know, a beautiful new future, as some people see it, of kind of mixed race culture and politinism, but a present of frightening global forces that are coming and taking our jobs and, you know, populating various areas of our cities; that, for some people, he signifies that rather than something really great.
YOUNGEI'm not making a judgment on that right now, but I'm just describing the way that he might be understood or misunderstood by some people.
REHMWhat about religion? What about Ireland and how it has dealt with or not dealt with religious differences?
YOUNGEWell, Ireland is a very good example, actually. Ireland is a good example of a number of things and the primary, I would say, is just change. How the one thing that we can be certain about, with any identity, is that it will change. And that's what makes people anxious quite often. And what it means to be Irish, both north and south, has changed hugely in the past 20 or 30 years and, particularly, the case I make in the book is about a competition that's actually only just finished called the Roads of Tralee, which is a beauty competition to find the perfect Irish rose.
YOUNGEAnd this year, actually, just last week, for the second time running it was a mixed-race woman. This time it was a Filipino and Irish. The last one was an Indian and Irish woman, which very much speaks to Ireland's present. It used to be the place that people left to go around the world and to find jobs. Now, or over the last -- I mean, with the crisis things have changed, but for the last 20 years, for the most part, it's been a place that people have come to from the rest of the world, from Poland, from Ghana, from Nigeria and so on.
YOUNGEAnd so what it means to be Irish has been transformed. And that has carried on to the north, where they no longer look at themselves as being this kind of, you know, this puppy in the basement, this kind of, you know, orphaned part of Britain and Ireland, but, increasingly, if you go to the north of Ireland, you see cranes everywhere, which is about building, which is about some sense that, kind of, there is a future. And if you look at the two people running Northern Ireland, at the moment, it's Sinn Fein, which is the ex-political -- the political wing of the former IRA and the Democratic Unionist Party, which was their deadliest foes.
YOUNGEI mean, almost literally deadliest foes. And it shows the degree to which people can, if they -- if the right climate's connected, move on. What they're -- what they're doing in Ireland is moving on from Catholic and Protestant to being primarily -- to being Irish. Long Island was the one place that's -- one of a few places -- Palestine being another one or Israel/Palestine, that Sesame Street decided that they couldn't transfer their model to because it was just too riven. I don't think that's going to be true in about two or three year's time.
YOUNGENo, I don't.
REHMSo in other words, you're fairly optimistic.
YOUNGEI feel like I have to be optimistic. Sometimes despite, you know, despite all evidence, you know, there wouldn't -- there's the thing about identity and this is how I finish the book. It's saying it's like the boy who cried wolf. The thing about the boy who cried wolf, the people forgave so there's always -- there was a wolf at the end of the day. With identity, there is always a wolf.
YOUNGEThere is always someone trying to divide us on the basis of things that make us different. But I'm a black British guy living in America, who's lived in Russia, who's lived in France, who's lived in Sudan and wherever I've been I found people that I can converse with and who I can talk to and who I can love and enjoy. And that suggests to me that however great those differences are, they're not greater than being a human being.
REHMThe economics do play a role and economics somehow create even greater divides than, perhaps, might otherwise exist. The forecast for this country, at least, is that economics are not going to be so great for a while so that I would assume that these feelings of difference of the other are going to continue.
REHMIt used to be said that whenever the economy went down racism began to play a larger role or even prior to that that Jewish people were blamed for everything. So I wonder if thinking about the economy how you think it will play a role.
YOUNGEThat has been certainly true in Europe, for example, where the far right, the hard right, has increased almost everywhere in the face of the economic crisis. And that is a big worry, but there's always the potential -- I don't want to say I'm too Pollyanna-ish here, but there's the potential that these crises actually throw different people into the same situation. That they understand that however different we may be in ways that one might describe as superficial, we can make those differences superficial, but neither of us have enough to eat and both of us need to get our kids educated.
YOUNGEThere is a good line from Jesse Jackson. I can't remember which campaign it was in where he said when the lights go out in the factory we're all the same color in the dark. And there is that possibility, also, which at different moments has -- those possibilities have come through.
REHMBut, unfortunately, the anger against illegal immigrants in this country, who many people believe are taking jobs, that anger is rather prominent.
YOUNGEYes, and that's -- I mean, it's a very good example of that, of the globalization -- the issues of globalization I was talking about before where people live in fear of their jobs of being transported to Mexico or being outsourced to China, of their local store being replaced by a bigger, you know, chain store that -- and so people feel that their losing control.
YOUNGEAnd you can't get hold of the person who's moving your job to China. You can't get hold of the person who's transforming your neighborhood in ways that make it uncharacteristic to you, but just down the road here are some people standing at a corner who look different and who, in some ways, personify this world that you're anxious about.
YOUNGESo these small minorities become emblematic of a broader fear that people can't quite deal with.
REHMLet's go to Detroit, Mich., good morning, D.J.
D.J.Good morning, Diane. I just wanted to ask your caller a question real quick. I wanted to ask you have you experienced any of the hard core conditions for minorities in America? Like, have you been to Detroit? Have you been to Compton, California? Like, what is some of the worst experiences that you've seen for us in this country?
YOUNGEI have. My first book, "No Place Like Home," I followed the route of the freedom riders through the deep south and I spent a lot of time talking to people about their experiences then and their experiences now. And I have, actually, spent a fair amount of time in Detroit, which from the first time I went there -- to me, and this is not a slight on Detroit, but there was a sense of almost the post apocalyptic.
YOUNGEIt felt to me like more happens when capitalism doesn't need people anymore. And so huge buildings, beautiful buildings, just left and abandoned, some with trees growing out of them. And one particular story I did that was very troubling was about a young boy, Brandon, who had been shot in the back while running away from a security guard. He hadn't really been doing anything.
YOUNGEAnd what was worrying about this was that his name never made the papers. He was a 12, 13-year-old boy and his father had since moved from Detroit and he said, you know, when I think of that this city couldn't even be bothered to say my child's name after he'd been shot, I thought I don't want to live in this city anymore. Well, I felt that was heartbreaking.
REHMDid that father leave?
YOUNGEHe left Detroit.
REHMGo ahead D.J.
D.J.I'm just kind of saying that, like, what he said is exactly right. Like, when capitalism leaves it leaves the people just to suffer. Right now, we are like -- I don't even know a scale to put it on, but I feel like -- I don't how to feel about it. I'm 24. I'm African-American. I'm trying to go to school and it's just -- I don’t know what to do anymore.
D.J.And as a writer, I hope that you take this back to your own country and let people know, especially minorities there, that, like, it's a need for the Africans Diaspora, like, around the world to unite, like, even not just minorities, but all people that's just privileged need to come together.
YOUNGEAn interesting addendum to the story about Brandon, which speaks to identity, was that the person who pursued that story vigorously -- the one person who pursued that story vigorously was an older white woman who worked for a local black newspaper who just wouldn't let it drop. And that was also a very kind of touching element because I hear what the caller's saying...
YOUNGE...and I always want to say to people this is not just an African-American problem or a Muslim problem or a white problem or a religious problem. It's a problem for all of us. I mean, so we have to share this planet and we are the -- you know, we're in this boat together and it can sink or it can sail depending on how we work together.
REHMD.J., your comments were so heartfelt. Thank you for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a caller in Dallas, Texas, good morning, Rachel, thanks for joining us.
RACHELGood morning, thank you. I just have a question. I have three children whom are multi-cultural and aging in range from 14 all the way down to three and race has never really been an issue in our home. We recently moved to Texas a few years back. And I don't know if it's just the kids getting older or it's moving to the South that's changed, but everybody wants to classify them and ask what are they.
RACHELAre they Indian, are they Spanish, are they black? And, actually, they're a mixture of all three because my husband's from the West Indies and Trinidad. And my daughter, of course, who has a different type of hair and, you know, whatnot, she's just asking a lot of questions. And I find her just desperately trying to, you know, hold onto one culture, another if there's one group of friends or whatnot.
RACHELAnd I just wanted to ask about it. My son had it all figured out, like I said, when they were little it was just you're brown or you're not brown. And I just wanted to see if you had any advice as the dynamics are changing in race, you know, throughout the United States.
YOUNGEYes, a very -- it's a very good question. And, I think, the only advice I can give is that you have to encourage them in their pursuit of working out how they fit in. How they fit in, not where they fit in, but how. And that if you -- for example, if you read "Dreams From My Father," by Obama, you see this long journey of mixed race kid in Hawaii then in Jakarta trying to work out what he, you know, what he is.
YOUNGEBut the other thing I think to emphasize to your children is, you know, in all sorts of ways, regardless of our racial heritage, we're all trying to work out who we are. So this is not a burden specific to you, but that this is a great journey that you're on to find out kind of what works for you. And pity those people who don't make that journey.
REHMI hope that helps, Rachel.
RACHELThank you. Thank you.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Last quick question from Carrie in Richardson, Texas, she says, "In Great Britain, there are legal Shriya courts. It's also suspected there are more unofficial Shriya courts there. Why is this unimaginable in the U.S.?"
YOUNGEWell, in Britain, the way that it works is that all and any religion has the right to their own civil procedures, but those never override British civil or criminal law. So we've long had religious courts for Jews and for other religions and, really, Muslims are only doing that. The question one must ask ourselves is why would we deny to Muslims what we give to others.
REHMGary Younge, his new book is titled, "Who Are We." Thank you so much...
REHM...for being with us. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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