Cam Newton, SB50 postgame interviews and White Privilege

Cam Newton could have handled himself better in the postgame interview after losing in Superbowl 50. But, listening to all the comments from fans and commentators the morning after, it strikes me that we have a LONG ways to go in understanding the ways race plays in our perceptions of how a public figure handles themselves.cam-newton

White privilege and its role in institutional racism is a concept hotly debated, because it can be masked through any manner of other more societally acceptable lenses (manners, sportsmanship, etc.). I think how Cam Newton is being treated for his conduct after the Superbowl is a perfect “teaching moment” for this societal dynamic. Here’s what I mean…

Cam’s behavior is being interpreted as exemplary of a group rather than being viewed as an individual’s reaction to a stressful situation. He wears his hoodie with the hood up? Oh, clearly he is referencing Trayvon Martin. A white sports commentator calls his black commentator friend to ask if Cam Newton missed an opportunity to be an example for “black culture.” (1) Cam is compared to a petulant child, with undercurrents of white culture’s tendency to view a black man who doesn’t behave according to expectations as a “boy” as a way of diminishing their position and dignity.

A white athlete in the same position doesn’t have to answer as if he was an example for his entire race, while Cam Newton is expected to. And that, I believe, is a perfect example of white privilege. I have the advantage of simply answering for my own behavior without being stereotyped and prejudged.

It would be nice if Cam Newton could be given the freedom to simply be himself, for better or worse. I am afraid, though, that as a prominent black man in the public eye, he simply doesn’t have that luxury.

 

(1) Mike Salk asking “G Scott” on the “Brock and Salk Show, ESPN710 Seattle, hour 2, 2/8/2016. Listen especially to the 8 minute mark and following.

Should ethics be “Biologicized”?

Dr. Paul Metzger, in a recent post, brings up an interesting idea that some like Harvard University’s Edward O. Wilson have suggested–that ethics be framed in biological terms as to what is best for the species. Paul reflects,

One of my fears in this democratic country is that we champion a form of utilitarianism, which entails the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people. The majority opinion wins out, and one often as the result of pleasure, whether it be refined or crass. What if the majority of people determine to engage in eugenic policies for the sake of our greater pleasure as a society bound up with the GNP? Perhaps the majority of elderly people, no longer able to produce in the marketplace or reproduce, cost too much to maintain?

The ethical starting point for what ends in the evil of eugenics seems simple and innocuous. Who would not prefer to be healthier rather than sicker? Faster than slower? Stronger than weaker? Smarter than dumber? If we could guarantee that those in future generations did not need to suffer through the travails

Edward O Wilson is a pretty smart guy

 Edward O Wilson is a pretty smart guy

of weakness and frailty inherited through their genetic code, why wouldn’t we do ever thing that we could?

I am certainly no scientist, but I can grasp the difference between germline gene therapy (affecting the genetic code for ensuing generations) and somatic gene therapy, where genes are introduced to a patient’s tissue, affecting the patient, but not resulting in an inheritable genetic change. Gene therapies are being explored for curing cancer, but are all at the experimental level. However, once this line of reasoning and experimentation is explored, it opens the door for considering options we had not entertained previously.

My concern, like Dr. Paul Metzger’s, is that the structures of power, even in a democracy, cannot be trusted to be truly altruistic. New treatments cost money, and as an investment, those making the investment expect a return on the time, energy, and treasure expended. Andrea Smith, in her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, shows how our American democracy has repeatedly shown a willingness to make ethnic minorities our “guinea pigs” for new pharmaceutical advances. I have ever confidence in history repeating itself, especially when it comes to medical treatments and procedures meant to help society at large… the playbook is worn from how often it has been employed: experiment on those with colored pigmentation in order to benefit those with lighter skin.

One doesn’t have to envision a future world like that portrayed in Gattica, or other sci-fi dystopian adventures, to assume that the future is grim for those without wealth, power, and privilege in a system where ethics are biologicized.

Ethics that begin and end within a framework of human logic are subject to the fallacies of human behavior. And, behaviorism is a social science that only measures the results of processes it can only begin to provide insight into. Biology may wish to distill every thought and emotion to electrical impulses within the brain, but those who believe in God know that there is something more… something we refer to as the soul… the spark of the divine. To ignore this deeper reality and steep our ethics in materialism and behaviorism will lead us to a eugenics that is anything but “good.”

 

What do Dawkins and social Darwinism have to do with ACEs?

In a twitter exchange last year, Richard Dawkins suggested that it would be immoral to NOT abort a baby that was known to have Down’s Syndrome and “try again” for a healthy baby. Of course, his callous remarks resulted in what he deemed a “twitterwar,” to which he took to his own website to defend himself from critics’ “wanton eagerness to misunderstand.”

Dr. Paul Metzger, on his own blog, garnered a fair amount of attention with his apparent defense of Richard Dawkins’ position. While I would argue that Metzger’s point was simply that the critiques coming from the religious and political right were ineloquent, it does leave one to wonder what to make of Dawkins and others that believe that the potential for suffering is a significant enough consideration to terminate a potential life. Metzger starts to answer this dilemma by asking:

I believe Dawkins himself seeks to move beyond sole consideration of natural selection in addressing the situation of what to do with a fetus with Down syndrome. But just as the Social Darwinian appeal to “nature” is dangerous, Dawkins’ utilitarian appeal to the increase of “happiness” and the reduction of “suffering” as ultimate ideals is also problematic, even if most parents who abort such fetuses make the same or similar kinds of calculations. Broad based support for a position does not make it inherently right and impacts the rights of others—namely those whom we feel do not or will not register enough pleasure in life to meet the pleasure calculus. Besides, what constitutes happiness and suffering? They are very subjective terms, which in this instance under consideration (abortion) have life-changing bearing on the subjects in question—those carrying Down syndrome. What makes it such that anyone can determine for others what constitutes their happiness and their suffering?

I have had a fair number of life experiences that cause me to shudder should the pragmatism of those like Richard Dawkins win out in the consideration of which lives are worthy of being lived, and those that are not. I do not have enough space in this format to discuss them all, so I will address a few of my scattered thoughts in bulleted form:

  • By a genetic flip of the coin, my brother and I bore out the chances of contracting Muscular Dystrophy statistically… he got it. I did not. He died at age 20 from complications related to deterioration of this musculature, I have had some physical complications resulting from the same genome sequence, but am alive at 42 and glad for it. According to Richard Dawkins, it could be considered immoral to have allowed either my brother, whose suffering was much more obvious and acute, and myself to have been born. I am unable to address the cold-heartedness that makes that statement plausible in Dawkins mind without getting overly emotional, so I will let you draw your own conclusions as to the merits of his logic being applied to my family.
  • More on the immediate subject at hand, in my ministry I have specifically prayed for two couples who have been told by doctors that their child was likely to have Down’s Syndrome due to tests that they had run showing elevated protein levels. Neither of the couples I have prayed with specifically for this issue had Down’s Syndrome babies. A “high level of risk” means that there is somewhere between a 50% chance and a 0.7% (1 in 150) chance of the child having Down’s Syndrome. So, it may be that God answered our prayers and miraculously healed the baby from Down’s Syndrome… but, I doubt it. More than likely, the child was one of the 149 other perfectly healthy babies who had mothers that were advised to consider abortion due to the miniscule 0.7% chance their child might have Downs. While Dawkins suggests that it is immoral to risk having a baby with Downs Syndrome, I wonder what he thinks of those children that would be aborted given his logic that would not have had Downs Syndrome?
  • Lastly… this is where I get to my link to ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). I work in a setting where children regularly express suicidal ideations, question their reason for existence, and sometimes ask to be killed by those that are restraining them from doing harm to themselves and others. This is where their suffering has taken them. They echo the words of Job:

“Let the day perish on which I was to be born, And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’ …Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:3,11)

Life is hard. It is harder when you have something to overcome, like a chromosomal abnormality or early childhood trauma. But, life is also good… even for those we think have it harder than us… especially for those who specifically tell us of their suffering. Consider the monsters we would be if we did not treat the suffering of mental illness as well as physical conditions. Should present or potential suffering really be the barometer by which we decide who lives and who dies?

Richard Dawkins may have thought he defended the reasonableness of his position and pointed out the foolishness of those criticizing his pro-choice view, but in my mind he only further revealed his way of thinking as contemptible. I hope that his “logic” is never applied to social ills that his critics, like me, are actually trying to do something about.