April 21, 2015

The Weal of the Convert

You know what they say: Ain't no zealot like a newly-found zealot, cos a newly-found zealot don't stop.Someone raised in a non-Christian household may become born again and dazzle congregations of lifelong Christians. Someone raised in a fundamentalist Christian household may become a hardcore occultist and shock everyone into mistaking him for a Satanist.

The zeal of the convert is not a phenomenon exclusive to religion, but can occur when someone chooses any new group identity for themselves. One argument for why converts practise so strongly is that they want to prove themselves to others in the group.

This argument was advanced in the landmark court case, N.W.A v. The Police Department (1988). In testimony to the presiding Judge Dre, Ice Cube exhorted everyone to disrespect law enforcement officers, particularly if pulled over for a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, but made one exception –
... don't let it be a black and a white one
'Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showing out for the white cop
The 'convert' in this case is a black man in a historically white police force. Mr Cube suggested that because the officer is himself a targeted racial minority, he will use excessive force to demonstrate he's of one mind with the majority of police, and "police think they have the authority to kill a minority". No police officers testified before Judge Dre, so we can only speculate about a black officer's defense for assaulting a black "teenager with a bit of gold and a pager". But I reckon the black cop acts to prove his loyalty not only to white cops but to himself.

I think this because of the way Scots reacted to American independence in 1776. "Many influential Scots" showed out for the white cop – i.e. the English – and "seized on the American war as a means to underline their political reliability to London, deliberately contrasting their own ostentatious loyalty with American disobedience..." (Colley, pp. 138–9).

The Scottish were new to Parliament because the British parliament was new. It was only 70 years prior that Scotland united with England2 to form Great Britain, and Scotland waged armed rebellion against Great Britain only 40 years before the Americans did. Many English3 sympathised with the American cause, but the Scots who felt themselves a suspicious minority expressed "ostentatious loyalty" to demonstrate they were of one mind with the greater nation.

Scots weren't just showing out, though. They were working out their new citizenship4 with the English in different ways:
[1] Some returned home as soon as they could, deeply alienated and disillusioned. [2] Others stayed on as foreign mercenaries, taking what advantage they could from their new surroundings while remaining fundamentally aloof. [3] Still others ... were turned into perpetual exiles by the experience, feeling themselves too Scottish to settle comfortably in England, yet becoming too English ever to return to their native land. [4] But some, particularly the most successful, were able to reconcile their Scottish past with their English present by the expedient of regarding themselves as British (Colley, p. 125).
I'm an American. I haven't returned home from Britain as soon as I could have [1], and I don't want turn into a perpetual exile [3]. It's fun for me to pretend I'm a scab [2]:

"Those fellows peculated our erstwhile positions of employment!"

But that's only a way to hide my anxiety. I don't regard myself as British and don't plan to [4], but I do want to reconcile my American past to my British present.5 I feel fundamentally unsettled and will remain a little aloof until I figure out how to reconcile my nationality with my residency.6

Being black and a police officer or being Scottish and British are not mutually exclusive identities, and it's not necessary for a black Scotsman to resort to violence to prove himself:

Our social practices elaborate, for us and others, who we are in the world. We exercise ourselves to know who we are where we are, but belief itself can power our practice – because, thank God, our selves precede police and passports:
For essential beauty is infinite, and, as the soul of Nature needs an endless succession of varied forms to embody her loveliness, countless faces of beauty springing forth, not any two the same, at every one of her heart-throbs; so the individual form needs an infinite change of its environments, to enable it to uncover all the phases of its loveliness.
George MacDonald, Phantastes

1. I've never heard anybody say this.
2. & Wales
3. & Welsh
4. subjecthood
5. Sometimes, I do this by professing my London present. It's easier to claim belonging in a world-class city than a new country. In fairness to my cop-out, I don't want to live anywhere else in England and would, in fact, rather live in Scotland than not-London England.
6. Employer sponsorship of a Tier 2 general visa would help.

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