Of the many things in life that, at least on the surface, seem to define ‘cognitive dissonance’, few things stand out like the Left’s fascination with race. While the combination of self-important elitist twits and concepts as compelling as race-relations are, at best, a reason to argue against tenure in the universities across this country, it is also, at its worst, damaging to the country. The most current fashion of calling any criticism of the Left “RAAAACCCISSSTTT!!!”, along with any longstanding institution or idea that has not been cowed into accepting the “compelling interest in diversity” extortion and emotional blackmail so prevalent today was utterly predictable. When Candidate Obama in 2008 decided to play the race-card (“You may have noticed…I’m black.”), it became clear to anyone paying attention that the impact of the race card was going to have a little extra somethin-somethin with a black candidate for President in the race. And predictably, the left is eager to play that card not only to stifle debate, but to impugn the character of those they do not like. SALON.com is not afraid to help keep this juggernaut rolling, and in fact, helped Candidate Obama with his ‘dark implications’ during the campaign. And now that the average citizen is starting to view those who will throw the race card with the same skepticism they reserve for members of Congress and used car salesmen, Richard Thompson Ford of SALON rides to the rescue with a primer on racism so the great unwashed can classify all the racism that surrounds them as they denounce, denounce, denounce. How fortunate we are to have the Left’s intelligentsia to help fan the flames of discontent, envy, and divisiveness, so we can have a “post-racial society’. These knuckleheads also think that the job of the suicide help desk is to assist callers in being more successful in their endeavors.
More than a few naive souls hoped that the election of Barack Obama signaled a new era of racial harmony. Instead, alas, American race relations have entered a bizarre new phase in which tension is ubiquitous and almost anyone can claim to be the victim of racism. Former President Jimmy Carter lamented that “there is an inherent feeling among many in the country that an African-American should not be president,” in reaction to Rep. Joe Wilson’s now-infamous outburst during President Obama’s congressional address. Also of late, the Rev. Al Sharpton and many others cried racism over a tasteless New York Post cartoon, Cambridge police were accused of “racial profiling” after arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home, and Newsweek asked “Is Your Baby Racist?” And although conservatives have long complained of unwarranted accusations of racism, two of their henchmen, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, have been shamelessly playing the race card.
I can’t help but notice that he left the President off this storied list. Surely with his “Typical white person” remark, and the whole “I don’t have all the facts, but the police acted stupidly” remark, I think that we can safely count him in, too. As for Rush and Glenn, wow, it sure gets under your skin to have the charge leveled in your direction, doesn’t it?
Politicians and pundits on both the left and right abuse the term racism to tar their political enemies. But decent people with good intentions also overuse the term as they struggle to draw attention to racial injustices that do not involve overt bigotry. With the R-word used to describe so many different things, it no longer has a clear and agreed-upon meaning. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged Americans to talk bravely and openly about race, but how can we when we aren’t speaking the same language? In the interest of democratic dialogue, I offer this rough-and-ready primer on racism for the not-so-post-racist era. Below, I’ll define several of the more commonly cited types of racism and offer my humble opinion as to whether they deserve the label.
No, politicians and pundits on the left wield the charge like a cudgel, hoping to either cow critics in to silence with an allegation meant to end all debate, or an attempt to forever stain the reputations of those who have the temerity to speak against them and their ideas. Politicians and pundits on the right use the term to point to instances that actually can be objectively quantified, or to demonstrate the shameful double standards employed by the Left when it comes to actually using the word. Eric Holder is the last person I’d look to regarding an ‘honest’ conversation on race, first for his implication that Americans are afraid of an honest conversation about race, and then for his puzzling behavior at Justice. Americans aren’t afraid of an honest conversation about race; we simply know that the very phrase has irreconcilably different connotations to different people, being that while non-black citizens might otherwise believe that an invitation to an honest conversation actually invites that, while experience teaches that it is about non-black citizens listening quietly to black citizens berating them on the subject and blaming them for the dependency to the government and its intrinsic limitations on their potential, as if we caused it, and want to see it perpetuated. I’d love to have an honest conversation about race with the attorney general, starting with an honest discussion of his decision not to pursue the case against the Black Panthers who were outside the polling place in Philly, intimidating voters. Yet, my phone isn’t ringing, and I don’t have an email from him. Hmmm.
Many businesses, schools, clubs, and other organizations are racially homogenous or segregated, even though no one deliberately excludes racial minorities or tries to prevent them from succeeding. For instance, although roughly half of all college football players are black, only about 5 percent of head coaches are. Retired NBA star Charles Barkley made headlines when he claimed that his alma mater, Auburn University, was racist after it hired a white candidate—Gene Chizik—over a black candidate—Turner Gill—who had a better coaching record. But the larger problem is probably the college booster networks that help raise money for college sports. If a white coach can more easily establish a rapport with alumni than a black coach—whether the underlying reason is cultural similarities, long-standing social networks, prejudice, or some combination of the three—the college might prefer him for a reason that has nothing to do with race. Namely, money. On the other hand, if alumni prefer white coaches because of their race, then racism is still the root cause. And even if no one involved is a bigot, many scholars and activists would insist that this is a form of institutional racism. The term institutional racism suggests moral fault and culpability when often the racial inequity is unintentional. But, intended or not, practices that create “built-in headwinds” for minority groups are a serious injustice.
Where the enlightened grievance hustlers on the Left who see an organization that is racially homogenous as somehow racist, I typically see an effect without the designated cause. Unfortunately, as long as we persist in seeing such ills in society, and insisting that Government be part of the solution, even without any objective link between the symptoms and the diagnosis, we can only expect more of the “compelling interest in diversity” to infect the thought process of the observer and the observed. And why wouldn’t the Left love this idea? As they continue to use the thought to shakedown corporations by alleging racism not on the objective evidence or manifestation of racism, but on the absence of any policy geared toward increasing diversity, they get the twin benefits of big dollar settlements and set asides in employment for their constituencies. What many average Americans, and principled conservatives fail to realize is that the concept in action is little more than yet another special interest, albeit one that shamelessly preys on the sense of shame and inherent belief in fairness held by the rest of us. Until we stand our ground and insist that we have a right to hire employees and select members on the basis of merit and excellence, we should only expect more of the same.
Studies have shown that employers prefer résumés with conventional names to otherwise identical résumés with stereotypically black names like DeShawn or Shaniqua. Some employers may be weeding out blacks, but others may dislike not individual black people but what might be called “black culture.” Employers who would be happy to hire a preppy Cosby kid might worry that people with “black names” are more likely to use ghetto slang, dress in gangster fashion styles, or cop a tough or sassy attitude on the job. Is this racism? Maybe not. In a notorius speech, Bill Cosby lambasted poor blacks for contributing to their own misfortunes by using slang, dressing badly, and giving their children “names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, and Mohammed and all that crap.” Cultural misunderstanding and hostility is a serious problem in today’s increasingly cosmopolitan society. But when Cliff Huxtable can be called a racist, it’s probably time to rethink our terms.
I give the author credit for considering the idea that maybeblacks might have a role to play in the outcomes that they experience. While in earlier decades Luigi Antonoli and Paddy O’Flannagan might have also experienced trouble getting employment when considered against Bill Smith, or Thomas Jones, Louis and Patrick had an easier time of it, and they still found a way to be themselves. As for his concern over calling Cosby a racist, perhaps he should consider that he is in good company with other black Americans who are similarly lambasted, whether its Justice Thomas, or Secretary Rice.
Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji has developed a test designed to smoke out unconscious racial bias. The test requires the subject, under intensive time pressure, to match black and white faces with value-laden terms such as good, smart, and diligent or bad, stupid, and lazy. If you find it easier to match white faces with good terms and black faces with bad terms, you have exhibited what Banaji calls an implicit association between race and merit or virtue. Although she scrupulously avoids using the term herself, almost everyone else has predictably described the results of her research in terms of unconscious racism. And the results are disquieting: Almost 90 percent of whites exhibit some unconscious racism against blacks, while around half of all blacksexhibit anti-black bias. Banaji’s research suggests we have a way to go before we get to a post-racist utopia. But she warns against using the test to try to prove individual bias; in fact, she has pledged to testify againstanyone who tries to use her work to prove discriminatory intent in court. Other psychologists have questioned the whole approach. For instance, U.C.-Berkeley psychologist Phillip Tetlock thinks that Banaji’s test doesn’t prove anything about discrimination in real-life situations: “We’ve come a long way from Selma, Alabama, if we have to calibrate prejudice in milliseconds,” he argues.
Of course, like any intellectual analysis of racism, I fully expect to see it used by the Left, especially since by its very lack of any objective link between result and analysis, it is simply perfect for furthering the ends they hold dear.
After the levees broke in New Orleans, it was hard to miss the overwhelming number of black victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some suggested that blacks suffered after the storm because of racially biased disaster-relief efforts. But the real problem was neighborhood segregation. Most blacks lived in the less-desirable low-lying areas of the city, which suffered the worst damage from the flooding. Almost every metropolitan area in the United States is home to such segregated minority neighborhoods, many of which are located next to environmental hazards such as garbage dumps, heavy industry, oil refineries, sewage-treatment facilities, and areas abandoned due to toxic contamination. Community and environmental activists have found common ground in condemning this pattern as environmental racism. The term environmental racism refers to a serious problem, but like institutional racism, it muddies the issue by implying that bad people acting with racial animus are behind it, when poverty, bad urban design, and segregated residential patterns put in place many years ago are really to blame.
The problem is that “bad urban design” and “segregated residential patterns put in place many years ago” are not the only factors in place. Put another way, why do these non-residential uses find themselves placed next to these neighborhoods? It isn’t because the zoners and planners just decide to put those uses there. It is because the crime in those neighborhoods doesn’t make them attractive to new residents, and if the areas are not growing in residential uses, then non-residential uses become an attractive alternative, especially when these uses have to exist for society to function properly. Everything has to go somewhere.
Glenn Beck took the fear of anti-white racism to new extremes when he accused President Obama of being a racist, but political hacks have for decades used accusations of reverse racism as part of a well-documented, cynical political strategy. For instance, in 1990 North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms turned the polls around in his race against challenger Harvey Gantt* by playing the reverse race card. In Helms’ advertisement, a pair of white hands crumples a rejection letter while ominous music plays and a voice-over intones, “You needed that job … but they had to give it to a minority.”There are real instances of anti-white racism, such as Louis Farrakhan’s crude diatribes against “white devils.” But they are relatively few and rarely amount to more than impotent blustering. Affirmative action—often tarred as reverse racism by its opponents—doesn’t qualify. Affirmative action is an imperfect but pragmatic effort to promote integration in the face of the effects of past and ongoing discrimination. There’s plenty of room for legitimate criticism, but suggesting that affirmative action is a form of racism is disingenuous and turns what should be a level-headed debate into a shouting match. Racism is still a force to be reckoned with in American society. But we should think twice before jumping to the convenient conclusion that people who don’t agree with us must be bigots. And we should call the bluff of people who play the race card for rhetorical advantage or political gain, whether they’re leftist agitators or right-wing blowhards. There may never be consensus on what counts as racism and when it’s in play. But this lexicon should give you a place to start for deciphering the many conversations about race that will no doubt continue.
Affirmative action is more than “an imperfect effort to promote integration in the face of the effects of the past and ongoing discrimination”, and the problem with this argument is that more people are starting to see through it. While originally instituted as a remedial measure to address the effects of racism on the workforce, it has started to morph in to the larger notion of diversity. It wasn’t enough to have positions set aside with the primary qualification being the color of someone’s skin, and frequently with lower objective standards than other candidates, we now are facing the institutionalization of the belief in entitlement to a workplace populated by a group of employee that should “look like the society it serves”. Who needs to sweat merit when you can insist that the employer hire you because they need to have you in order to be “diverse”. Make no mistake, this is the result of moral and cultural relativism and a desire to transmute a remedial measure into an ongoing entitlement. The belief system helps to justify the practice.
The larger point that is not addressed in this article is that the more we break down this concept, and sub classify it with examples from daily life, the more it will continue to be a big deal. Those who stand to benefit from continuing the process have a vested interest in continuing their emphasis on what makes them different. It justifies their ‘specialness’, and entitlement to what they might not otherwise be able to achieve. But even better, it continues to provide a truly sympathetic excuse for failure. “A black man can’t get ahead.” “The test was biased.” “You didn’t hire me because I’m black.” “The corporation is racist because there are no black directors, officers, or upper management. You should write us a big check, or we will bring a class action lawsuit against you.” Americans, by and large, have no problem helping each other out. Affirmative action, though not popular, was at least accepted for a time, based on the idea that, like most truly remedial measures, it would be temporary. However, nearly 50 years later, this policy remains with us, the only difference being is that the United States Supreme Court has admitted that it is no longer remedial, advocating instead for a compelling state interest in diversity in all levels of society, thus making a remedial measure into an entitlement, based on skin color, gender, and ethnicity. The real fix to racism is out there. And a black man espouses it. Noted racist Morgan Freeman has the answer:
Tell you what. Break the cycle of dependency on the government and the race pimps, and the artificial hold they keep on you by telling you that you can’t…you can’t succeed without their help, that you can’t do for yourself, that you can’t overcome, because others have made you their victim, and you just might find that you can accomplish far more by not being a victim.