Recently I’ve enjoyed getting to know Mark Goldblatt, who teaches religious history in New York and writes for places like The New York Post and The National Review. He’s also author of Bumper Sticker Liberalism. He’s a fearless and electric writer, and the guest post that follows is…well, potentially offensive. Which is not to say it should be offensive. We should be able to have a frank and honest conversation about race, politics, and the disparate circumstances of “African Americans” from the criminal underclass to flourishing black professionals — and yet all too often we’re not able to do so because the accusations of racism fly fast and furious. Indeed, the “racist” accusation has become one of the most stultifying forces in contemporary political debate, and the inability to discuss these matters clearly and thoroughly may serve the interests of the Democratic Party but it does not serve the interests of most African Americans.
Read this and let me know what you think.
The Folly of Courting the Black Vote
By Mark Goldblatt
Here, in no special order, is a list of liberal commentators who claimed that Republicans were driven by racial animus in the last election cycle: Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, Jon Stewart, Joan Walsh, Bill Moyers, Mika Brzezinski, Andrew Sullivan (yes, he is), Rachel Maddow, Frank Rich, Martin Bashir, Richard Wolffe, Michael Eric Dyson, Garry Wills, Ed Schultz, Maureen Dowd, Chris Hayes, Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, Matthew Yglesias, Jonathan Chait, Lawrence O’Donnell and Bill Maher.
That’s a partial list, by the way, because a full list would run for pages. Until I’m informed otherwise, as a matter of fact, I’m going to assume that every liberal commentator, every single one without exception, at one point or another during the last campaign insisted that racism was rife among Republicans and the overriding reason for their opposition to President Obama.
So let’s talk about racism. No really, let’s. There’s no reason to be scared. Al Sharpton isn’t going to picket your house. Your Facebook friends aren’t going to de-friend you. They won’t even know. Let’s talk about race calmly, critically, honestly. The first thing to note in a calm, critical, honest discussion of racism is that the content of the word has been severely drained by the law of connotation and denotation — that is, the more things to which a term is applied, the less it means.
According to one of the foundational myths of the modern political left, if you oppose a program intended to help racial minorities, you’re a racist. Why you oppose the program — whether you think it unaffordable, or unworkable, or even detrimental to the people it’s intended to help — doesn’t matter. The mere fact of your opposition convicts you. But this leads to absurdities. If, for example, I think that affirmative action pushes promising black students into learning environments for which they’re underprepared and thereby causes higher dropout rates — and there’s substantial evidence it does exactly that — I’m a de facto racist not only for wanting color-blind admissions but for wanting African Americans to succeed.
Such rhetoric, and let’s admit this, has been very effective. It has cowed generations of Republican politicians. It has forced them away from their principled opposition to big government interventions and made them sound like weasels as they promise greater sensitivity to African American issues. (Think of Trent Lott’s 2002 stop, drop and grovel tour.) But the very notion of “greater sensitivity to African American issues” carries two hidden premises, both of which are inimical to Republican ideals: first, that the interests of individuals are determined by their communal identity rather than by their personal circumstances; and second, that the government should play a leading role in fulfilling the interests of individuals rather than merely ensuring the conditions that allow individuals to fulfill them on their own.
Because the overwhelming majority of African Americans are hard-working, law-abiding citizens, their interests are logically defined the same way as those of other hard-working, law-abiding citizens — that is, according to their personal circumstances. There is no logical unity of African American interests because there is no unity of African American circumstances. What is beneficial to some will be detrimental to others. But many and perhaps most African Americans have been culturally brow-beaten into associating their interests with a ragtag minority of sociopaths who superficially resemble them. The great exemplar of this association remains the Giuliani Phenomenon.
Recall that during Rudy Giuliani’s two terms as New York City mayor, from 1994-2001, homicides in the city dropped from roughly 2000 per year to roughly 600-700. This was accompanied, astonishingly, by an actual reduction in police violence. Recall, too, that over half the homicide victims every year were black. Yet Giuliani’s job approval rating among black New Yorkers as his mayoralty drew to a close hovered around nine percent. In other words, 91 percent of black New Yorkers disapproved of the job Giuliani was doing despite the fact that thousands of them were still alive because of the job he was doing. How could that be? As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert (who is black) memorably explained, blacks felt Giuliani’s policies were “disproportionately disrespectful to their interests.” The Giuliani Phenomenon underscores the futility of Republican efforts to court the black vote. They cannot begin the courtship without buying into the false cultural association of African American interests with sociopathology — since a majority of blacks themselves seem to have bought into it.
Republicans, hence, should write off the black vote. They should forget it exists because, insofar as they adhere to their own ideals, it doesn’t exist. Writing off the black vote will, of course, trigger more charges of racism from liberals and their fellow travelers in the media. Republicans of good faith must learn, individually and collectively, to roll their eyes at the charge. The charge of racism, I reiterate, is virtually devoid of content. You either believe that dark-skinned people have the same intellectual and moral capacities as light-skinned people, or you don’t believe it. If you do, it follows that dark-skinned people should be held to the same intellectual and moral standards as light-skinned people…and criticized (vigorously, regardless of the skin color of the critic) whenever they fail to meet those standards.
For example, it isn’t racist to point out that there is no deliberate or accidental conspiracy to deprive African Americans of their natural and civil rights. The fact that many African Americans think voter ID laws are meant to disenfranchise black voters shouldn’t dissuade Republicans from pushing for such laws; that’s just another thing many African Americans are wrong about. Nor is it racist to point out that the main cause of black underachievement in the United States is that a grotesquely high percentage of young African Americans make calamitous intellectual and moral errors — dropping out of school, abusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in irresponsible sex — and end up weighed down by the consequences the rest of their lives. Nor is it racist to point out that young African Americans are marinating in a degenerate urban culture — even when they’re raised in mansions — that normalizes calamitous intellectual and moral errors, indeed celebrates such errors as signs of racial authenticity. (Witness, for instance, the widespread adoption of the term “baby daddy” as a substitute for “husband” despite the fact that every pathology known to man is exaggerated among children born out of wedlock.) None of the above is racist because (1) there is no such thing as a racist truth and (2) the underlying premise is that African Americans are fully-endowed intellectual and moral agents and thus fully responsible for their individual actions.
In reality, the only trace of meaning the word “racism” retains is an irrational sense that people who look outwardly different from you are inwardly different as well. That is the mindset of the contemporary Democratic party — which habitually makes excuses for, and pursues legislation intended to counteract, the intellectual and moral failures of African Americans. But in the long run such excuses and such legislation serve no purpose except to engender complacency and dependency among individual black people. If we’re going to be brutally honest about the thing, and speak without regard to political correctness of any sort, the relationship of African Americans to the Democratic party eerily resembles the relationship of Rihanna to Chris Brown. No matter how insulting and injurious it gets, they keep coming back for more.
To accept such excuses and sign onto such legislation is patronizing and dishonorable. It’s not a path Republicans should follow, even if it might win them a few more votes.