Or, how I provided fodder for all conservatives to be smeared

Columnist Jonathan Chait


One might understand why I could be expected to take particular offense, therefore, at Chait’s attempt to use me as a race-issue piñata. Despite all his disclaimers that he feels “highly confident” (note the element of doubt he inserts, a step down from feeling “certain” that I oppose slavery) that I abhor racial discrimination, it is a far different thing to accuse somebody of garden-variety insensitivity than it is to do so specifically in the context of calling him a “cultural heir” to a brutish overseer guilty of “horrific torture.”

What is saddest about all of this is that Chait’s smarmy, below-the-belt attack on me (funny that he never seems to have noticed a single thing I’ve ever written until immediately after I mildly tweaked him on Twitter) is that it actually detracts from, rather than adds heft to, some thoughtful and interesting observations he makes about how conservatives and liberals see race. In truth, the rest of his column is a worthwhile (even if ultimately wrong-headed) contribution to a tremendously important topic of national debate.

What on a personal level is the most tendentious sentence in Chait’s column also probably happens to be, alas, quite true on another level: “Most African-Americans, and many liberal whites, would read [my NRO passage] as a cultural heir” to the brutal overseer described above. Therein lies the problem. Far too many black Americans and liberal whites really do assume that racism is lurking in every conservative heart. It’s not merely a political tactic to put us on the defensive (although surely some demagogic politicians know they are spewing bilious rot when they make such accusations); instead, much of the Left really has convinced itself the accusations are true.

While Chait pretends to absolve me personally of intentional racism, he clearly is sympathetic to a similar reading of conservatives in general. Because “no racial alarm bells sound in [our] brain[s],” we therefore are to be held guilty in effect, if not in specific intent, of furthering a modernized form of cultural slavery. Or, as Chait calls it, of “the broad social structure of white supremacy.”

Well, if he wants to accuse us of not hearing alarm bells that shouldn’t exist in the first place, conservatives must plead guilty. It is leftists, not conservatives, who are obsessed with race. It takes more twisting of logic to see latent racism in all descriptions of Barack Obama as “haughty” (or arrogant, or uncompromising, or ill-intentioned) than it does to fail to hear “racism” when somebody justly criticizes the vast expansion of the phone-subsidy program now commonly (if somewhat inaccurately) called “Obamaphones.”

The Left is so eager to see racism in every conservative heart and utterance that it ignores overwhelming evidence that more blacks these days feel racial animus toward whites, and more act in race-antagonistic ways, than do whites toward blacks. By huge margins, blacks vote in racial blocs more often than whites do. By significant margins, blacks commit a larger percentage of reported hate crimes (20.9 percent) than their total share of the population (12.6 percent) while whites under-commit hate crimes (59 percent) compared with their overall population share (72.4 percent) — even after what anecdotal evidence suggests is a reporting bias to the contrary. And at least some polls show that even blacks are more likely to attribute racist attitudes to their own race than to whites.

The point is not that blacks are inherently racist or ill-motivated, or that there aren’t good historical reasons for more residual black distrust of whites than vice versa. Of course there are strong historical reasons, sickeningly and inexcusably strong; and of course there is still too much white racism toward blacks, with such racism being more potentially devastating because of that terrible history. (One more personal note: I endured quite a backlash from some whites when I first moved to Mobile and wrote columns calling attention to some of this recurring racism.) And of course there is more white racism in private hearts than that which shows up in identifiable incidents.


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