The War on Universality

by Jay Nordlinger

In today’s Impromptus, I touch on a touchy subject, race, in several different ways. I mention a man at the University of York who confronted Michael Gove, the British education secretary (and as sterling a person as there is in politics). The man said that “dead white guys” may be interesting to “white guys”; but they were boring to everyone else. Think how sad that is, indeed how demented: the idea that Shakespeare, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and others cannot be enjoyed by people of every era, every race, and each sex. (I guess we have more than two of those now.)

After I wrote my column, I began to think about the “flip side”: Can black authors, musicians, and so on be enjoyed only by blacks? What an obnoxious idea. Let me get ridiculous — but no less ridiculous than many moderns are: To appreciate Pushkin, do you have to be one-eighth black? That much and no more? Not a quarter or a sixteenth? Who has the measuring cup out?

When I was a kid, I often heard that black kids needed black role models. I can buy that, to a degree. But I always thought, “Why can’t admirable white people serve as role models to all? And are you saying that black people can’t serve as role models to white kids? Do we respond only to people of our own race?”

You get something similar in the classical-music world: Some ding-a-lings think that young people, for example, want to hear young people — as though kids haven’t sat spellbound at the feet of senior musicians for generations. Think of how they flocked around Artur Rubinstein and Andrés Segovia, to name two.

Oh, is our civilization screwed up. We have severe financial problems, yes, but they are still not the gravest of our problems.

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