“Just when I thought I was out,” Michael Corleone said, “they pull me back in.” I’d intended for yesterday’s post-Derbyshire blog item to be my last word on the subject, but based on the reactions I’ll say a bit more.
Liberals frequently behave as if any awareness of race as it relates to crime and other social problems is inherently racist, unless white racism is itself being fingered as the culprit. When people of good faith say that these liberal cliches do not comport with their experience or understanding of reality, they are often told that they are acting out of some kind of racism, be it intentional, institutional, or subconscious.
Since the 1960s, we have heard that “crime” and “law and order” are racist code words rather than legitimate concerns about crime and personal safety. As recently as this election cycle, complaints about welfare were greeted as dog whistling to racists rather than genuine concerns about welfare dependency and the government’s fiscal problems. In 1995, Charlie Rangel — the Harlem Democrat (is that a dog whistle?) who eventually rose to chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — went so far as to say that talking about tax cuts was equivalent to using racial slurs.
In each of these controversies — to say nothing of controversies where the racial angle is much more overt and less the product of liberal imagination — there is an implicit assumption that white racial animus is fairly widespread. That in many white people, especially conservative white people, there is a little Klansman hiding who wants to get out. Most white people do not recognize themselves in this description.
The left’s tolerance and occasional celebration of racial hucksterism has produced an equal and opposite reaction on the right. It has made some more mainstream conservatives automatically dismissive of claims of anti-black racism. On the more extreme end, it has produced an audience for white nationalism. These white nationalists — the people I called “white nats” in the comments thread of yesterday’s post — start by rejecting liberal caricatures and asking plausible questions: Would you rather live in Haiti or Switzerland? In [insert dangerous inner city neighborhood here] or [insert prosperous white suburb here]? Would you rather be governed by Marion Barry or George Washington? Once you have provided the obvious answers, they head further down the road.
The overwhelming majority of people can hold two thoughts in their head simultaneously: they can avoid a dangerous neighborhood at night without it affecting their treatment of their black friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers they meet (yes, white people do have black friends, neighbors, and coworkers). Even John Derbyshire acknowledges as much in the column that led to his separation from National Review (the Atlantic helpfully lists some racists who criticized Derbyshire for this acknowledgement; Jason Lee Steorts makes the case that the column goes on to violate this principle).
In essence, the extreme left and right paint an unrealistic picture of American race relations as being something akin to the Hutu and the Tutsi. Few people share either group’s worldview entirely, but the number of Americans they influence is larger. And while many commenters were disappointed I didn’t weigh in more directly on Derbyshire himself, I thought this undercurrent — which the controversy surrounding his column for Taki’s brought to light — more interesting than being the thousandth person to denounce Derbyshire’s piece or trying to defend views that don’t resemble my own.
UPDATE: Derb speaks for himself with Gawker.