Category Archives: race

The “Racist Tea Parties” debate

My RealClearPolitics.com column, Tea parties racist?  Not so fast, has drawn not one but two responses on Salon.com.  The first is from Prof. Christopher Parker, a political scientist at the University of Washington and the lead investigator on the study of the racial attitudes of Tea Party supporters on which my column was largely based.  The second is from Salon.com editor Joan Walsh, whose article based on Parker’s findings, “The Tea Partiers’ racial paranoia,” I  mentioned and criticized in the column.

When Prof. Parker’s study was first released, it was widely discussed as evidence that the Tea Party movement was driven in large part by racism.   The proof was in the numbers: as Salon.com’s David Jarman summed it up, in a “Who are the tea partiers” article that for some reason can no longer be found at its original URL,

Among whites who approve of the Tea Party, only 35 percent said they believe blacks are hard-working, only 45 percent believe blacks are intelligent, and just 41 percent believe that they’re trustworthy.

Salon.com editor Joan Walsh, whose article also seems to have disappeared but is cached here, sarcastically inquired,

And Tea Party supporters don’t like it when anyone notices the racists in their midst?

As I found when I obtained a fuller set of numbers from Prof. Parker (by now, all the data are on the UW website), the actual picture was far more complex.  Continue reading

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Filed under conservatism, race, U.S. politics

Ricci and The New York Times

Today’s New York Times editorializes on the Ricci v. DeStefano decision.  They point out, correctly, that the 5-4 ruling in favor of the plaintiffs is hardly a stinging rebuke to Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor, who ruled against them earlier as a federal circuit court judge.  The dissenting view is not an opinion of some radical crackpots.

However, the Times also says this:

Cases like this, even the dissenters concede, pose difficult questions of fairness. New Haven’s decision to reject a test on which one group did poorly hurt other firefighters, who studied hard and were not to blame for the test’s flaws. But in the end, as Justice Ginsburg noted, New Haven was within its rights not to use a flawed, possibly illegal, test to make its promotions.

Of course, the test’s only “flaw” is that not enough black and Hispanic test-takers passed it with high enough scores.  As the majority carefully explains, the test was devised with painstaking attention to fairness, with black and Hispanic reviewers involved in the process.  The view that the racial disparity alone makes it flawed and even illegal may not be “racist” (I think we need to draw a moral distinction between race-conscious policies intended to subordinate and stigmatize a group of people, and race-conscious policies intended to remedy past wrongs), but elevating race-consciousness over standards to this degree seems to me deeply polarizing, counterproductive, and yes, discriminatory.  The bare fact is that Frank Ricci and the other plaintiffs would have gotten their promotions if it were not for the fact of their race.

The Ricci ruling is definitely worth reading in its entirety, particularly for the political atmosphere in New Haven that surrounded the decision to throw out the exam (described in detail in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion).

For antoher take on Ricci and the future of race preferences, see this excellent piece by John McWhorter on TNR.com.

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Filed under affirmative action, race, Supreme Court

Thank you, Lord, for not making me politically correct

The other day, I was browsing Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog on the New York Times website when I stumbled on this post, discsussing the saga of an alleged racial faux pas by “momblogger” Jackie Morgan MacDougall.  Apparently, a year ago MacDougall shared the story of how her three-year-old son, brought by her husband to see her at the office, saw her African-American co-worker and blurted out, “Mommy, why is her face brown?”

MacDougall wrote:

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren’t we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have “dots” (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat–thought about what she said–and then asked if we could watch Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice–it’s natural. It’s when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that’s hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.

The post sat there quietly for nearly a year with only two comments (the first quite positive, praising MacDougall’s wisdom, the second neutral), until it was discovered by another blog in May and became fodder for debate.  Champions of “anti-racist parenting” flocked to MacDougall’s blog to accuse her of “white privilege” and call her post “disgusting.”  She was castigated for everything from punting the question to her co-worker — and thus forcing a person of color to be a spokeswoman for her race — to having the temerity to think that being “colorblind” is a good thing.

There was more criticism after Belkin publicized the debate.  Well, now, MacDougall offers profuse apologies that brings to mind the “self-criticism” sessions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as the horror of a character in George Orwell’s 1984 who learns he’s been guilty of  “thoughtcrime.”

Continue reading

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Filed under motherhood, political correctness, race

Post-inaugural thoughts

The speech: The best inaugural address since Ronald Reagan, says Thomas Sowell.  That’s pretty high praise.  “A fine speech,” says Michael Goldfarb on The Weekly Standard blog, particularly impressed by Obama’s emphasis on the role military force has played in maintaining American democracy.   Ron Radosh likes the speech too, while The New Republic‘s John Judis doesn’t (particularly the overly Bushian “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”) and neither does Paul Krugman, who thinks Obama’s assertion that we’re all collectively at fault for the economic mess we’re in is a cop-out.  (I couldn’t disagree more; I’m glad it was said in so public a venue.)  This is not to say that Obama is generally making a better impression on conservatives — at least, those of a neoconservative bent — than liberals, but he certainly continues to confound expectations.

Incidentally, Jonathan Last at the Standard blog thinks that Obama’s  reference to “worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics” was a potshot at conservatives, but Ron Radosh thinks it was a reference to dogmas of both right and left (notably, Judis disliked it).  I’m inclined to agree with Ron, since at least so far, if the Obama presidency has an ideology, it’s trascendence of ideology.   Take this passage: Continue reading

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Filed under Barack Obama, left and right, race

NAS conference notes 2: Barack Obama and the colorblind vision

Remember when conservatives talked about the vision of a colorblind society and about moving past racial preferences?

In the past couple of years, this issue has been out of the limelight. Last November, a ballot measure to ban the consideration of race in public college admissions and other government operations succeeded in Nebraska but was narrowly defeated in Colorado, after a vicious smear campaign that linked the initative to the Ku Klux Klan and questioned the high salary paid to one of the leaders of the anti-preferences movement, African-American businessman Ward Connerly. Several similar measures were kept off the ballot in other states.

What now?

It’s interesting that two speakers at the NAS conference who are strongly associated with the anti-preferences movement — both decidedly right of center — spoke of Obama and his election with unrestrained and unabashed enthusiasm. At the opening session, my good friend Abigail Thernstrom, co-author with her husband Stephan Thernstrom of the classic America in Black and White, called Obama’s election “a historic turning point” and “a racial conversation-changer.” She also noted that a black man’s ability to win a contest for the White House came as no surprise “to those of us who have been following polling data and have long believed in the racial decency of ordinary Americans.” The fact that the leader of the free world is now a black man, Thernstrom said, has to make it easier and more attractive for people to move beyond race and race consciousness — and harder to justify preferences with arguments about the alleged intractability of racism. “The younger generation is coming of age in a racially altered world,” Thernstrom said, and eventually campus politics will have to catch up.

Maybe Abby is an optimist, as someone suggested in the Q & A; to that, she replied she was cautiously optimistic. It is worth noting that Obama has suggested (in vague terms) that affirmative action should refocus on class, not race.

On Friday, one of the luncheon speakers and award recipients was Ward Connerly, the man hailed as a civil rights leader by some and derided as an “Uncle Tom” by others. At the NAS luncheon, Connerly got a standing ovation. (One of the few people who remained seated, and did not applaud, was the AAUP’s Cary Nelson.)


Connerly is an amazing speaker; gracious, warm, energetic. He opened his speech by saying, “We are here in the nation’s capital a few days before an event that will demonstrate something most of us in this room have always believed: that America is a fair country and that the colorblind vision works.”

Connerly noted that he did not vote for Obama, but believed he deserved to win: “He ran the best campaign and made the strongest case. I accept this verdict by the American people, and I wish him success.” (Here, there was a burst of applause from which about half the people in the room abstained; including, I might add, Victor Davis Hanson, who sat on the dais.) “He will be inaugurated only feet away from where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I have a dream’ speech. I am sure that the spirit of Dr. King will be smiling on him,” Connerly continued, recalling King’s “deep patriotism.”

After discussing the recent fortunes of the civil rights initiatives, Connerly noted that “the issue is not just getting beyond racial preferences but getting beyond race. The election of Barak Obama confirms that.”

I think Connerly and Thernstrom are right; and I think the kind of conservatism that has a future today is their kind. I’m an optimist, too.

(Ward Connerly photo courtesy of the American Civil Rights Institute.)

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Filed under Barack Obama, civil rights, conservatism, race

The O’Reilly race factor

I haven’t been particularly gentle to Bill O’Reilly before. While his “common man talking common sense” persona was once refreshing at times, and his refusal to toe any party line was a welcome contrast to his ideologically sturdier Fox News colleagues like Sean Hannity, his grandiosity, paranoia, and growing tendency to demonize opponents and disparage secular values have turned the culture warrior extraordinaire into self-parody. That said, I think his latest roasting by his longtime nemesis Media Matters over allegedly racist remarks about a black-owned restaurant in New York, and the ensuing brouahaha which has turned into a fairly big news story (it was on the front page of the Washington Post entertainment section yesterday), is seriously unfair.

According to the Media Matters spin, in a September 19 discussion on his radio show, O’Reilly was “surprised” to find no difference between Sylvia’s, a famous black-owned restaurant in Harlem, and other New York restaurants, and even noted the fact that “There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’ ” Other coverage has been along the same lines: “Bill O’Reilly Is Shocked That Not All Blacks Are Animals,” “Bill O’Reilly Shocked that Sylvia’s Harlem Restaurant is Normal,” and so on.

However, if you listen to the clip and read the transcript in the Media Matters post, they don’t really support that interpretation. True, O’Reilly’s choice of words — “I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City” — was somewhat infelicitous. But in the context of the entire segment, it was not an expression of shock on O’Reilly’s part so much as an expression of being struck by the contrast between this normality and the image of African-Americans in the media. The “M-Fer, I want more iced tea” remark was a reference to the image of blacks and black behavior perpetuated in the hip-hop culture.

In fact, O’Reilly opened his comments with a sympathetic discussion of the racism blacks still face:

Black people in this country understand that they’ve had a very, very tough go of it, and some of them can get past that, and some of them cannot. I don’t think there’s a black American who hasn’t had a personal insult that they’ve had to deal with because of the color of their skin. I don’t think there’s one in the country. So you’ve got to accept that as being the truth. People deal with that stuff in a variety of ways. Some get bitter. Some say, [unintelligible] “You call me that, I’m gonna be more successful.” OK, it depends on the personality.

So it’s there. It’s there, and I think it’s getting better. I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They’re getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They’re just trying to figure it out: “Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.”

You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he’s made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia’s, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.

And I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that’s really what this society’s all about now here in the U.S.A. There’s no difference. There’s no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment — people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you’re gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody’s skin.

Later on, his guest, journalist Juan Williams, brought up the issue of gangsta rap, and the discussion continued as follows:

O’REILLY: You know, and I went to the concert by Anita Baker at Radio City Music Hall, and the crowd was 50/50, black/white, and the blacks were well-dressed. And she came out — Anita Baker came out on the stage and said, “Look, this is a show for the family. We’re not gonna have any profanity here. We’re not gonna do any rapping here.” The band was excellent, but they were dressed in tuxedoes, and this is what white America doesn’t know, particularly people who don’t have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think that the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg.

WILLIAMS: Oh, and it’s just so awful. It’s just so awful because, I mean, it’s literally the sewer come to the surface, and now people take it that the sewer is the whole story –

O’REILLY: That’s right. That’s right. There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, “M-Fer, I want more iced tea.”

WILLIAMS: Please –

O’REILLY: You know, I mean, everybody was — it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.

It seems to me that O’Reilly was clearly discussing the stereotypes held by many people in “white America” and the disparity between those stereotypes and reality, not his own amazement at finding those stereotypes to be inaccurate. Sure, his remarks can be seen as somewhat condescending, as always happens when you praise people for behaving well. But racist? In fact, O’Reilly went out of his way to emphasize that “there’s no difference” between the mainstream of black culture and the mainstream of white culture.

Another fact that has hardly been noted in this controversy is that Juan Williams, O’Reilly’s guest and co-discussant, is a renowned black journalist who has written a great deal about issues of race. The Washington Post story did not even mention Juan Williams — which is rather ironic, because Williams worked for the Post for 23 years, from 1976 to 1999, as editorial writer, op-ed columnnist, and White House correspondent. (Today, he is a political contributor at Fox News but also a frequent commentator on PBS and a senior national correspondent for National Public Radio.) Would Williams have played along with racist comments by O’Reilly? I doubt it. In fact, one virtually unreported fact is that he has come to O’Reilly’s defense over the incident.

The Post did talk to CNN’s Rick Sanchez, who has made a prime-time story of the O’Reilly race flap:

Sanchez, in a phone interview, said O’Reilly is perpetuating racism by using “the Mandingo argument” against black rappers. “The idea [is] that there’s a big, bad African American out there that we all need protection from,” he said. “It’s a dangerous way of looking at racial relations. The African American community is extremely complex. The thinking that black culture is confined to guys sticking their underwear out is just wrong, and many African Americans resent it.”

But isn’t that what O’Reilly was saying, too — if in a rather clumsy fashion? On this one, I think he’s getting a bum rap — and while I have criticized him in the past for calling Media Matters “smear merchants,” I think his charge has just acquired a little more legitimacy.

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Filed under media, race