Race and Social Change: A Quest, A Study, A Call to Action by Max Klau is a multi-layered examination of racism from a thousand-foot societal viewpoint, the middle stage of ‘group think’, and lastly a raw, visceral display at the level of self. Klau doesn’t come at this topic from the angle of proving racism exists, but rather illustrating why it still exists and how we can better approach it with more understanding and empathy even when it can seem impossible to do so. If we can manage that lofty task it gives this generation and the next the best chance of making real progress. I’ll let Klau explain it in his moving and eloquent prose:
[Readers of this book] feel called to engage with this topic out of a deep sense of pain at the discord, coarseness, violence, and suffering so prevalent in our civic life today, mixed with a deep pride in this country and an unshakeable idealism regarding the values and ideals it stands for. They dream of creating something better for themselves and for their children, despite the sense that the path out of all this darkness, strife, and confusion is not at all clear.
While you may not know the name George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher who died in Italy in 1952, you undoubtedly know his most famous and ominous quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It’s a historical lesson proven out from time immemorial and yet somehow we still find examples even today of people trying to bend the arc of history their own way. I was halfway through writing this incredibly overdue review when the events at Charlottesville, VA happened. The images and videos of a torch lit uber-posse cobbled together from members of the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists, all claiming to be defending a Confederate statue while advertising to their ranks with flyers filled with Nazi imagery and racist dog whistles.
Their intention and intimidation was hard to hide. It should be something we see in history books and shake our heads at, not witnessing live on today’s cable news. The riots and resulting murder set flame to a debate that is a long time overdue, while concurrently being something we shouldn’t have to debate at all.
Few topics can shorten the fuse of this nation like racism and whether it exists. Those who deny its presence point to Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves, to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, and even to President Obama as proof that we are a post-racial society. Yet those are all strawmen arguments and deep down those folks know it. But they do have one major point of contention, which is the freedom of speech and the right to believe whatever you want, no matter how abhorrent. There’s the perilous balancing act our nation and all other free societies find themselves, especially those dedicated to fighting against their hateful ideologies. Where does the line get crossed or is there a line at all?
Race and Social Change vividly details various experiments throughout history that proved how little needed to be changed in a morally upright person’s personal reality in order for them to become the very thing they despise. One experiment told one person they were a prison guard and another person they were the prisoner. A number of times the pretend prison guard became violent, power-hungry, abusive, and overall ignorant to the pretend prisoner’s humanity. The repetition of it is shocking. Sociologists and psychologists for decades created new and even more specific tests, each one continually proving the same thing.
Again, looking back at the recent events in Charlottesville and the repeated rise of White Supremacy and Neo-Nazism, Klau once more unpacks this unconscionable reality:
The story of the Nazis is not only the story of one madman’s unquenchable thirst for power, control, and dominance; it is simultaneously the story of vast numbers of ordinary citizens so unable to tolerate the uncertainty, doubt, and fear of their own existence that they gladly granted all power over their lives to a monster who asked of them only that they live in the simplicity of perfect obedience and conformity.
Our social dynamic surrounding race is not a reaction to a solitary event or in direct relation to a single person or group, but instead, Klau illustrates it stems from an ongoing mixture of fears, misinformation, and political chaos that has only increased in scope and intensity in our generation. The pendulum historically swings back and forth between social extremes and there are high hopes for this generation, especially after seeing the overwhelming condemnation of the actions in Charlottesville and President Trump’s half-hearted reproach of it. Klau concludes that in order to shift the conversation around racism into something productive instead of reductive, it will take great wells of understanding and effort. It’s time to pack up for the long haul because this won’t be done in a weekend or fixed by a tweet.
Race and Social Change is something undeniably important to society today and likely for many days to come. Max Klau untangles the complex system behind racism and optimistically lays out steps we can all take to bridge the gap. While there are pages of intense mathematics and statistics, I encourage you to read on because it will enlighten even the most educated among us.