Monday, April 13, 2015

the conservatard canon on race


theatlantic |  THAT brings me to the issue of race consciousness. America in Black and White takes a very strong line in favor of what might be called "racelessness" for blacks (and whites). The authors castigate a black high school student for speaking of "my people" in reference to people of African descent. "His people" should be simply the American people, they suggest. Would that it were so. Public expressions of racial solidarity by blacks worry them. They call "racially divisive" a slogan one used to see on T-shirts -- "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand." They go this far: The police in Boston, believing the story of one Charles Stuart, a white man who alleged that his wife had been killed by a black, laid down an invasive dragnet seeking the killer in a largely black community. Later it was learned that Stuart himself had slain his wife. The Thernstroms argue in this context that the credulity of the police was understandable, in part because rap-music lyrics declare all whites to be the enemy, and worthy objects of black violence.

The Thernstroms know that race relations are not at a happy juncture in America these days. They discuss the O. J. Simpson trial, a source of much recent racial disharmony, at length. (All they can find to say about that enormous expression of race consciousness, the 1995 Million Man March, is that Minister Louis Farrakhan, who called the march, gave a bizarre speech.) Their diagnosis of the problem places great weight on a syllogism that may now be outmoded, proposed originally by Shelby Steele: Blacks and whites are supposedly locked into a relationship of mutual psychological dependence and reciprocal cognitive dissonance. Blacks fear they may be inferior. Whites fear they may be racist. Blacks want status achievement while avoiding true competition, which might reveal their inferiority. Whites want to avoid a confrontation with black claimants over the basis of black status, so as not to appear to be racist. Blacks convey approval to whites, certifying them as morally fit; and whites provide status to blacks, protecting them from the reality of their competitive inadequacies.

This purported symbiosis accounts for blacks' aggressive displays of their sense of grievance. Thus
The relentless pretense that almost all whites are an enemy, that white racism remains a constant, serves a purpose. It invites whites who are nervous about their racial rectitude to remain supplicants. The result is an unending game (black anger, white guilt) in which the white score is always zero, and the illusion of power is bestowed upon a group whose members seem to live in constant fear that their hard-earned status is not quite real -- that they remain the "invisible" men and women they once so clearly were.
This was a new insight a decade ago. It has not worn well over time, however. Events like the publication of the 1994 elections, and the passage in California of Proposition 209 raise questions about the power of white guilt to drive political culture in this country. Is it not enough to cast an eye over the scene unfolding in inner-city America in order to grasp that blacks have real reasons to be angry, and that the white score in the game that counts is positive after all?

The authors of America in Black and White blame the existence of affirmative action -- in college admissions, in the drawing of voting districts, in employment -- for an excess of race consciousness among blacks. This, they say, gives blacks an incentive to sustain their belief in "the figment of the pigment." The authors consider recommending that official government bodies do away entirely with the use of racial categories in economic and social statistics, but ultimately reject the idea. They note that in 1993 a group of big-city mayors asked the U.S. Attorney General to cease collecting crime data by race, because this information was of no use to policy and fostered harmful stereotypes. These officials reasoned, not without some basis in experience, that if people are constantly told that most criminals are black, they may come to think that most blacks are criminal. The Thernstroms chide these mayors for inconsistency -- the mayors want the bad racial news suppressed, but welcome the collection of employment or education data showing that blacks are underrepresented in some desirable pursuit.