It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping. When I was a graduate student living in East Palo Alto, two adult black males once tried to break through the door of my apartment — while I was in it. On a second occasion, four black males attempted to steal my bicycle — while I was on it. I could cite three more examples that more or less conform to the same apprehensions once expressed by a younger Jesse Jackson. Regrettably, I expect that my son already has his own warnings prepared to pass on to his own future children.
Holder, of course, knows that there are two narratives about race in America, and increasingly they have nothing to do with each other. In one, African-Americans understandably cite racism and its baleful legacy to explain vast present-day disparities in income, education, and rates of criminality. Others often counter by instead emphasizing the wages of an inner-city culture of single-parent families and government dependence, and the glorification of violence in the popular media.
In the old days of the Great Society, we once dreamed of splitting the difference — the government would invest more in the inner city, while black leadership in turn would emphasize more self-help and self-critique.
Not now. Both sides have almost given up on persuading the other. Eric Holder’s speech to the NAACP might as well have been given on Mars. It will convince zero Americans that stereotyping of young African-American males and Stand Your Ground laws are the two key racial problems facing America.
Again, Holder may offer his 15-year-old son the same warning that his father gave him about the dangers of racist, stereotyping police. Yet I suspect — and statistics would again support such supposition — that Holder privately is more worried that his son is in greater danger of being attacked by other black youths than by either the police or a nation of white-Hispanic George Zimmermans on the loose.
Besides, two developments over recent decades have made Holder’s reactionary argument about black/white relations mostly irrelevant. First, America is now a multiracial nation. The divide is not white versus black. And as the Zimmerman trial reminds us, it is no longer a nation where most of the authority figures are white males. We saw a female judge, a female jury, and an Hispanic in confrontation with an African-American; today those of various racial pedigrees and different genders interact in ways that transcend the supposed culpability of white males.
Second, the attitude of the so-called white community toward racial challenges is not so much political as class driven. White liberals have largely won the argument that massive government expenditure must be infused into the black community. Yet they have probably lost the argument that such vast government investments have done much to alleviate the plight of urban black youth.
Stranger still, there is no evidence in our increasingly self-segregated society that white liberals stand out as integrationists. The latter increasingly have the capital to school their children far from the inner city, to live largely apart from inner-city blacks, and in general to avoid the black underclass in the concrete as much as they profess liberal nostrums for it in the abstract.
No one seems to care that the children of our liberal elite, black and white, go to places like Sidwell Friends rather than to Washington public schools, where the consequences of 50 years of liberal social policy are all too real. If Chris Matthews wishes to apologize collectively for whites, then he should have long ago moved to an integrated neighborhood, put his children in integrated schools, and walked to work through a black neighborhood to get to know local residents. Anything else, and his apology remains what it is: cheap psychological recompense for his own elite apartheid.
Just as Eric Holder preferred anecdote to statistics, so too I end with an unscientific vignette of my own. Last week I was driving in northern California with the attorney general’s speech playing on the car radio. North of San Francisco I stopped to buy coffee and two local newspapers.
In one, there was a gruesome story of a young African-American male charged with ransacking a San Francisco jewelry store and murdering two employees, Khin Min, 35, of San Francisco, and Lina Lim, 51, of Daly City. The owner of the shop, Vic Hung, fought back and survived, despite receiving gunshot and stab wounds in the attack.
The suspected attacker had a prior record of violent assault. The victims were all of Asian ancestry. I don’t think their families would agree with Eric Holder that self-defense laws were the cause of such interracial violence. Nor would the six policemen who were fired upon by the suspect agree that stereotyping prompted this sort of mayhem.