The Folly of Courting the Black Vote

The Folly of Courting the Black Vote December 6, 2012

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.

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  • Yep. I agree- and I’m black. I’ve also been saying the same thing for years. Blacks have done everything in their power to be identified collectively as a group based solely on the tribalistic notion of race- everything that the civil rights movement sought to overcome and what many of their progenitors literally died for. Everything the author said is correct. And until Republicans and conservatives possess the fortitude to ignore the racial demonization that comes with telling blacks the truth about liberal policies and the pathological behaviors they encourage they won’t make any headway. And until blacks realize that supporting Democrats and embracing race as the end-all be-all of their identity which both are literally against their best interests nothing will change. Unfortunately, it is indeed folly to court the black vote.

    And as I said in a commentary I wrote regarding this very topic, blacks will have no one to blame but themselves for continuing to support a party that ignores their concerns, whose policies have been detrimental to their communities, all while taking their loyalty for granted.

    • Joshua

      I am black and I vehemently disagree with you, for multiple reasons. In the spirit of brevity, I’ll say these two things: Blacks didn’t come to America to collectively separate themselves from society. They were forcibly enslaved, disenfranchised, and thus made self-aware of their disenfranchisement due to their blackness for centuries in America. Years of slavery, Jim Crow, broken promises, and poverty will do that. And secondly, as much as Democrats may take blacks for granted, why on Earth would blacks comfortably choose the Republican party, which has explicitly ignored, marginalized, insulted, and dismissed them on multiple occasions?

  • I recently was quoted in a story on a nationally-known baseball platform with a stance against the baseball players’ unions, and unions in general. The people who replied to me kept reminding me of the great history of labor unions. My answer: yes, unions provided an invaluable benefit at one time, but that time is long gone.
    Like wise, the author here is correct when he points out that blacks in America are not victims, as they were 50 years ago, and it does them a disservice to keep treating them as if they are where they were a half-century ago. People need to look at how things are, not how they were, if our nation is going to move forward.

  • Ben

    Right up front, I’m a white guy.

    No disrespect to Mr. Goldblatt or to Mr. Green, but it seems to me that the argument that african-americans vote en masse for Democrats because they’ve adopted an irrational level of racial solidarity/sensitivity is really not that different from the argument that poorer social conservatives vote for Republicans ‘against their own interests’ because they want to cling to their guns and religion or what have you. In both cases, the argument basically assumes that members of the demographic in question are morons who can’t be trusted to recognize their own interests or to respond to reasoned argument, which leads directly to Mr. Goldblatt’s conclusion: we can’t talk to them, so we may as well not try, or if we do try the only option is to lob ‘hard truths’ at them until the veil is pierced and they come to see the light. Personally, I think that we as Americans owe all of our fellow citizens at least enough respect to assume that while they may be hopelessly, disastrously wrong, they can at least think for themselves. If that’s not true, then what’s the point in having a democracy in the first place?

    • John I.

      Irrationality and being a moron are not equivalent. Moreover, if one reads the article carefully, then one realizes that Goldblatt is calling for exactly that: treating blacks as intellectual equals and self thinkers. That is, the presentation of policies for rationally valid reasons without worrying whether they will be pooh-poohed as “racist” assumes that one’s listeners will evaluate the policy for rational rather than irrational reasons. Such a presentation will separate the wheat from the chaff in that it will separate those who evaluate policy rationally from those who evaluate it in a knee-jerk fashion.

      Goldblatt is rejecting the racial and racist ideas of the Democrats and their sympathizers, and advocating that in the face of their fear-mongering one should engage in action rather than inaction. He is not advocating that one write off “blacks”, but rather that one ignore the liberal groupthink concerning “black” and that one ignore the pursuit of policy and votes on the basis of the racial and racist category of “black”.

  • I wish I had more time to respond, but job applications and a dissertation are beckoning. So, I’ll just link to my pre-response to this post and add an addendum:

    We need to acknowledge (which I failed to do in my feature) that there’s unjustified dismissal going on on both sides. Some use charges of racism to dismiss real issues. Others, as in this case, use examples of false charges of racism to dismiss real examples. Everyone could use a little nuance, myself included.

  • Derrick

    I think this is an interesting and compelling argument, but I’m not sure if I agree with it. I think I’ll have to think about it for a bit. But I do like the point made near the beginning about the nature of the conversation. That conversations about racism are incredibly hampered and that the term is thrown at republicans willy-nilly by pundits from the left.

    That idea is reinforced by my response as I read it. I kept thinking how many people would respond to this with outrage, and I’m sure there will be some. And that is a perfect example of the problem. Outrage is not a legitimate intellectual, logical response, but it will almost certainly be the response from the left. Heck, I can practically write it for them in my head.

    • Pam

      Is your pre-emptive dismissal of ‘outrage’ (who defines what is outrage, versus what is critique?) not another big part of the problem? You haven’t heard the responses that you expect, but you’ve already written them off. Isn’t that rather disingenuous?

  • Rick

    The author negatively misrepresents liberalism, and mischaracterizes the relationship of African-Americans to liberals. Also, isn’t it incredibly condescending to suggest American blacks vote in ways that do them no good (chuckle chuckle, boy aren’t they dumb to vote for Obama)? So, the article begins with nasty premises and goes off the rails from there.

    The implicit suggestion of conservatives is that voting for Republicans would be a great thing for black America. Can someone explain how, or why? The Bush years were not awesome for blacks, the poor, middle class or many other people who don’t belong to a country club. The GOP can’t repeat the same bullet points for 30 straight years and expect people to get excited.

    • John I.

      On the other hand, media interviews with blacks voting for Obama did find blacks who were voting for him simply because he was black, even though they were economically less well off than 4 years ago. Such voters argued that Obama should get a second chance.

      I do not see an implicit suggesting that voting for Republicans would be a great thing for so-called black America (as if there were such a monolith). What Golblatt is arguing for is that on a go forward basis Republicans should develop rational policies without worrying about how those policies will play out or be depicted by those who believe in a monolithic black culture of weakness and kneejerk voting. Goldblatt argues that developing policies in this way will lead to policies that empirically can be shown to be more advantageous for many segments of the black populace.

  • You’re right. Timothy Dalrymple. It was offensive. White people also glorify the gangster culture, among many of their young, and more of them are on welfare, also having illegitimate children, than Black people, in actual numbers. I’m sorry, but trying to stop people from voting on Sundays, traditionally done predominantly and regularly by African Americans – under the guise of preventing voter fraud – is targeted at disenfranchising African Americans, as is purging voter rolls of predominantly African American an latino names, or discarding their voter registrations. Seeing most or all underachievement in public schools that are without equal distribution of resources across the districts – conveniently allocated, ironically, according to demographic make-up – as totally the sum of poor moral choices and intellectual inferiority by those Black students – is short-sighted, at best, racist, at worst. Believing that there are no attempts to hold Black down or back – any Blacks, by anyone, now, at any time – no profiling or discrimination at all in the criminal/justice system, is naive, at best. Concluding that it is therefore, in your best interest, as a political party, to cease trying to make your case to an interest group, and thereby (in the case of latinos), possibly forego many future elections, is politically disastrous (suicidal). Good job affirming the well-earned notions about the modern GOP.

  • eadavis

    To paraphrase a comment I made on another Patheos article regarding the politics and media of “race” relations, I was raised to believe that we are all part of the HUMAN race, and until such time as the body public starts all discussions from this basis and requires both the politicans and media to stop sensationalizing the prejudiced minority extremists on BOTH sides of the political/media divide, a frank and honest discussion of the issues in the public square may well be an impossibility. I am not at all dismissive of the real ETHNIC differences and prejudices among peoples (such as: all Italians and Russians are part of the Mafia; Irishmen are drunken policemen; poor white hillbillies have terminally closed ill-educated minds; just to name a few); nor does it mean that we will necessarily ever overcome them. Simple recognition of our common humanity is all that is needed. I realize in reading these articles that I was blessed to grow up in a very ethnically-diverse suburban neighborhood (which I assumed was the norm); blessed to have African-American godparents who loved their little Irish-American goddaughter. I hope to live to see this become the norm in the public square again.

    • Kasey Henton

      ” I hope to live to see this become the norm in the public square again.”

      This was never the norm in the public square, not even in the most racially diverse places in the country. (I too lived in an extraordinarily racially diverse place) This country is re-segregating at a rapid clip [this, of course, assumes that one believes that it desegregated to a larger extent than the stats show], and shows no signs that even the desegregation which occurred in the late 1970s-late 1980s will happen again for quite a while.

  • Donjuvi

    Mark, before you make asinine statements like (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. ) you should do a little research yourself. Go read up on A.L.E.C.
    Go see who is pushing this agenda and see just how wrong you are.

  • Straw men massacred and scapegoats soundly beaten.

  • “Race” is a social construct, and “racism” is abusing and manipulating the social constructs around a minority “race” by a majority “race” identifying population for unearned group privilege and religious/social/economic/political hegemony. At least that’s what I learned in sociology class back in the 1970s. Still sounds good to me, and I think that is generally what those dreadful liberal pundits thought they were exposing…the abuse and manipulation of minority social constructs (and not only with the Black community, but with Hispanics, Muslim and/or Gay communities as well) by allegedly conservative candidates for power and profit. The only thing I would grant is that for some (many?), their racisms may not have been about about conscious campaign decisions…or…not.

    For instance, that “Birther” thing, of which many candidates gave barely tacit approval by appearing uncritically appearing with infamous birthers. That doesn’t just challenge the legitimacy of the Presidents election results, like criticism of the the last Pres. Bush’s legitimacy because of what happened in his first election, but which didn’t challenge his legitimacy TO BE A president. Birtherism challenges the legitimacy of Obama to be A president regardless of what happens in an election…as well as those of all American children who have minority parentage by conservative verbal assaults on the 14th Amendment to justify their argument.

    Then there was the McCain campaign, which compared the apparently happily married with children husband and accomplished graduate student/professor/author/District 13 Illinois senator/U.S. Senator…with get this: Exotic, unmarried female celebrities with reputations for being among the dimmer lights in the intellectual heavens, and for promiscuity, drug use and runs in with the law…attributes which by the sheer wildest coincidence, they just happened to share with the usual racist stereotypes of all black men back when I and other older “white” men like Senator McCain were young. Nope…no racism in that campaign, none at all.

    As for some minority and other men today and their “calamitous intellectual and moral errors:” I kind of doubt that you can ameliorate the effects of a sordid history of oppression, racism and scapegoating and minority stress by heaping more minority stress and scapegoating upon them. If you want others to make fewer “calamitous intellectual and moral errors,” Mr. Goldblatt could start with thinking about the ones he just made himself.

  • Ooh Ooh..National Review…. Just to be vicious, cruel and snarlingly snarky: Channeling back to Mr. Buckley’s “The advanced race must prevail” National Review era, Mr. Goldblatt? (He did come to regret his sordid, polysyllabically racist past, I’m told, though I can’t think of any public attempt at remediation in his repentance process off hand, like maybe donating to the NAACP…but I’m sure that he tried, right? We won’t talk about his adventures with stock fraud, something to do with National Review stocks and drive in theaters built on flood plains which…flooded, if ancient memory serves. It’s amusing to think of the Federal government seizing NR, isn’t it?)

  • Joshua

    OH DEAR.

    I had an open mind while reading the beginning of the article, but it quickly descended into a mental buzzkill, as I was inundated with red flag after red flag. I want to get specific points across as clearly as possible:
    (1) There’s a huge difference between being against affirmative action because you don’t believe in preferences and refusing to identify, understand, or *even talk about* why many blacks don’t have the same educational or employment opportunities that their white counterparts do (bad/underfunded schools, conditions of poverty, etc.) and making attempts to fix the disparity.
    (2) Do republicans support voter ID laws for noble or political reasons? There’s nothing noble about trying to pass laws mere months before a major election to fix a problem which *barely* exists, and to do so while admitting that the issue is purely political.
    (3) The treatment of blacks as a communal entity rather than as a mass of individually-responsible agents is based on history. Blacks didn’t wake up and decide to sit at a different table in the lunchroom. Slavery, Jim Crow, and general discrimination separated us and forced us to be self-aware agents of a marginalized group. Implying that the “black vote” is something to be written off is an lazy attempt to *not* talk about that history and *not* get your hands dirty in understanding it.
    (4) So … “there is no deliberate or accidental conspiracy to deprive African Americans of their natural and civil rights”? Look at the antics of the Tea Party and the plethora of racist and ignorant outbursts that have spilled forth during the Obama administration. Is the author actually saying this is all in our heads, or that the racist attitudes *surely* won’t lead to explicit deprivation of blacks’ natural & civil rights? Because I don’t know.
    (5) I don’t live in New York, but … I remember reports surfacing that the police purposely manipulate criminal reports to show less crimes, and justify routinely hassling ethnic minorities for similar reasons. If those are true, that would explain why blacks don’t have a high esteem for the police and the government that supports this behavior.
    (6) This entire, partisan article: Really? So the author thinks Republicans should write off the black vote, huh? My response: As if they haven’t ALREADY?

    The author attempts to act as a fearless agent of discussion in regards to racial politics, but in effect, he has both betrayed his extremely partisan and shortsighted belief system as well as advocated a false solution (write them off) which neither dives into the contentious, racially-based problems that he has insisted on discussing nor advanced any sort of re-conciliatory efforts. In effect, he invites us to talk about race only to simply tell us all what he thinks what’s wrong with us.

    • Joshua

      This site should really have an edit button, it’s disheartening to find grammatical errors only after you’ve posted.

  • Marcion

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

    -RNC Chairman and strategist Lee Atwater

    • Marcion

      Audio here, in case you don’t think this quote is real

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        It’s a real quotation. But how do you interpret it? I want to test whether you’re really getting what he’s saying here.

        • Marcion

          Atwater is talking about how to appeal to racist voters without appearing racist yourself. It was called the southern strategy, because it was mean to turn the south from a democratic stronghold into a republican one. It’s why Strom Thurmond became a republican. It’s why Goldwater won the south in 1964 by talking about states rights, and why Reagan began his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi, where 3 civil rights activists were murdered in 1964, by giving a speech about states rights, and why Reagan invented the myth of the welfare queen. It’s why republican rhetoric on anti-poverty programs is a find and replace away from this:

          Replace “Negro” with welfare queen and “White man” with hard working americans and see what happens. It’s why republicans today say that blacks vote democratic because they’re government dependents and want free stuff (
          And finally, it’s why republicans today wrote articles dismissing the very idea of reaching out to blacks as a distinct cultural group, while saying that blacks problems come from their moral failings (but when whites suffer, it’s because of external factors, like a bad economy). It’s all a hell of a lot more abstract than “nigger, nigger” and that is what Atwater was saying, and republicans continue to follow his strategy to this day. Republicans will be stuck with the dwindling white vote until they learn to put away their dog whistles.

          • Marcion

            Ad before you say it, yes, the racist southern establishment of the 19th and early to mid twentieth centuries were democrats. The dixiecrats were the conservative wing of the democratic party. After they were abandoned by the national party when it backed civil rights, they revolted,mand when that failed they joined up with the republicans, largely due to the kind of strategies Atwater described.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            I’m familiar with the southern strategy, but I’m not sure that’s what Atwater is really saying here. Atwater was not the architect of the southern strategy, in any case, and he was pretty famous for saying the most flagrantly offensive things to burnish his image as the most ruthless strategist in town. This interview is mediated via an interview from 1981, published much later in a book on southern politics in the 1990s, and then highlighted by liberal NYTimes columnist Bob Herbert. I don’t think Atwater’s being particularly coherent here, but one way of hearing this is that it’s easy to say that there’s racism when people are saying N—– but it’s much harder to say that there’s racism when we’re talking about welfare reform — with the conclusion NOT being “ergo we need to adopt code” but “ergo the argument that this is racist fails. At some point, the accusation grows so strained, because we’ve gotten so far abstracted from racial animosities, that we seem to be “doing away with the racial problem.” Obviously I can read it like you mentioned, too. I can read it both ways. So I’m just saying, it’s not particularly clear, and I’m not sure what it proves in any case.

            It’s well known that both sides sought the Wallace votes. But it’s not to say that it’s a dog whistle every time we talk about the problem of welfare dependency (there are more whites on welfare than blacks, and creating a dependent underclass that is capable of work but sees no benefit is a real challenge) or the mission creep of the federal government over the powers of the states. The balance of powers between the federal government and the state governments is one of the most important checks-and-balances mechanisms in the American Constitution, and just because someone refers to “state’s rights” doesn’t mean he’s out to appeal to racists.

            I find the chart in the WaPo link you included ridiculous. You have to read the fine print to notice that these are raw counts and not percentages. So out of over 1000 people surveyed, 59 of the Republicans in that group said that the primary reason African Americans vote in such overwhelming numbers for Democrats is because Democrats are the party of giving-stuff-away. Big whoop. Of those 59, some may be motivated by racism, and some may be operating on racist stereotypes. But some may have a legitimate concern that African Americans have been strongly encouraged by their “leaders” to support politicians who deliver the bacon to African Americans. Again, while there are certainly racists, I don’t see this belief necessarily as racist in itself.

  • Joel

    Tim, this is just awful. I really thought you were better than this and I’m very disappointed to see you post it. First of all, there seems to be an assumption in this article that institutional racism no longer exists, which is naive to the point of being silly.

    Things like birtherism, “Obama is a Muslim”, and “he’s not a real American” are pretty clearly racially motivated (no one would be saying he’s a Muslim if he had white skin and an Anglo name). I don’t think you can write birthers off as the lunatic fringe – polls show it’s a pretty substantial portion of the Republican party. Instead of disowning and distancing themselves from this movement, most conservative media figures and a good number of Republican politicians have tried to have it both ways. So many you’d hear someone say they believe Obama was born in America, then say “but they’re asking good questions about his certificate!” or have a birther on their show as a serious guest.

    • Joshua

      Absolutely agreed with every word you said.

  • It’s obvious to me that Republicans engaged in a certain amount of dog-whistle politics, especially in the primaries. It’s also obvious to me that they focused on issues (Obamacare, “you didn’t build that,” etc.) that many but not all Republican voters will hear in racist terms. But it’s equally obvious to me that many Democrats see racism where it doesn’t really exist, or see it as more of a contributing factor than it really is. So I started this piece with high hopes. Sadly, I didn’t find it all that thought-provoking at all. It just seemed wrong.

    African-Americans (and Latinos, and Asian-Americans, and…) are just as intelligent – and as unintelligent – as those of us whose ancestors immigrated from Europe. But they also carry with them burdens that other ethnicities don’t. Some of this is historical, some of it is institutional, and some of it is in how people perceive you. African-Americans teenagers do stupid things, not because they are African-American but because they are teenagers. Caucasian teenagers often do similarly stupid things. Quite often, though, they face less stiff penalties. In the criminal justice system, white teens are more likely to get parole and black teens are more likely to get sent to jail. Predominately white school districts are more likely to be better funded than predominantly black school districts which means more coaches and guidance counselors to catch troubling behavior. (Also more of a sense that succeeding will matter.) And on down the list.

    Now, we can ask whose fault these different circumstances are. Much of it does come down to bad choices of the previous generation; some does not. But even if the bad situations are due to bad choices, they’re usually not the bad choices of the person suffering from them. If you’re sixteen it’s not your fault that your dad wasn’t around or your school isn’t well enough funded or whatever. This is the fundamental problem I have with modern conservatism: it acts like if a person does not succeed it is because he is dumb or lazy or just plain bad, without admitting that the playing field isn’t level to begin with.

    Now, I don’t think you have to be a racist to insult racial minorities. The current president has had to prove his legitimacy in a way we didn’t demand of the forty-three white presidents before him. The voter ID laws do disproportionately affect minorities (and, as a white woman who recently had to get a state ID for the first time, I can tell you it takes a lot of time and energy and money). The criminal justice system does damage black communities more than it damages white communities, for a variety of reasons. (For more on this, check out The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.) I’ll grant you that a lot of people who support the policies I mention aren’t racist, because there are legitimate reasons to support each of these things. But conservatives should ask themselves whether these legitimate reasons justify doing real harm to a group of people that is already vulnerable due to historical and institutional problems (and yes, some problems of their own making) – and whether there’s a way to address these problems in a way that doesn’t come down hard on “the least of these.” Whether or not that comes down to courting the black vote, that definitely seems like the Christian thing to do.