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Peer Pressure: Just Say No

By Chris Pelicano (bio - articles - email) | Apr 17, 2012

C.S. Lewis once commented that it is impossible to say the right thing about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whatever is said is either insultingly too little or insultingly too much (depending on the audience). In today's culture the same could be true when addressing the subject of race. Nevertheless, here goes.

The other day, while listening to a local radio talk show, I heard something interesting. A caller, who identified himself as a conservative black man, told the radio host that he had repeatedly been vilified, by members of the black community, for his conservative views. Although he objected to being called an "Uncle Tom" he seemed more disappointed than upset.  He calmly concluded that his detractors had abandoned their moral principles in favor of a collective loyalty—in this instance, of "being black." He was not denying that he was black, he was rejecting the narrow confines of what "being black" was supposed to mean ideologically, ethically, politically, and morally. He was asserting that he had the right to choose what "being black" meant to him and how much importance to place upon race relative to other values—particularly moral values.

As insensitive as it may seem to some, the racial component of this situation is NOT really what interested me—not because it is unimportant, but because it is NOT all-important. Racial identity is an attribute, not a moral absolute. The collective interests of a race are not necessarily good (viz., Nazi Germany) any more than the collective interests of a family are necessarily good (viz., the Mafia). In other words, racial identity (of any kind) can be used to manipulate people (inside and outside the collective group) as a coercive form of peer pressure, or worse. When this happens, it is nothing more than a very old and divisive human failing.

What did interest me about the radio show caller was how succinctly he refused to be manipulated by a false "moral" absolute—even one as enticing and timely as racial loyalty. I agreed with the radio host and applauded the man's humanity. Later that day, I was reminded of my teenage years and the constant struggle to assert my true self against the superficiality of the herd in its various forms. Perhaps it is time to revive an old slogan ... Just say no to peer pressure.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 17, 2012 1:28 PM ET USA

    I have been teaching at a government-labeled "Historically Black University" for nearly 14 years. Early on I learned where the corners of racial bigotry flourish and conversely where race is not a social factor. Some of my students bring racial baggage from across the country. However, usually by the end of the semester I change in their eyes from just another white guy to who I really am. Other students bring innocence and purity, but become stained by the culture in which they find themselves.

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