But white conservatives have good reason to believe that wolf cries of racism do at least as much these days to exacerbate racial discord as do real racist incidents or even unexpressed racist thoughts. The reason we are oblivious to “alarm bells” is because so many of the bells are clanging so falsely.
It also would help promote racial understanding if liberals were not so likely to refuse to acknowledge the human cost to aggrieved whites and to unprepared blacks (note: not incapable blacks, but unprepared ones) when race-based government edicts stack the deck in education or access to employment.
If Chait is right that conservatives who are tired of the cacophony of bells clanging “Racism” sometimes pull a see/hear-no-evil act even when racism actually is evident — and, less often than he thinks but still to some extent, he is right — so too do liberals willingly see and hear no evil from their favored groups or policies even when the evils are blindingly obvious. Meanwhile, Chait gives far too little credit to conservatives under 50, to so many of us who grew up as admirers of the famously minority-friendly Jack Kemp, for being perfectly well aware of, and greatly saddened by, what he calls the “still-extant residue” of the more virulently racist society that once existed. If he would only look, he would find plenty of examples of conservative thinkers and writers expounding thoughtfully and sympathetically on problems still faced by black Americans and on the Right’s own failures to address them.
It’s hard to make progress in good faith when the other side refuses to assume you possess good faith to start with.
Down here in Alabama, we remember well when Ted Kennedy and company blocked the judicial nomination of one Jefferson Sessions because Sessions supposedly exhibited racial animus. The same Jeff Sessions, now a U.S. senator, was the leader for nine solid years in the ultimately successful effort to reduce the disparity in criminal sentencing for crack-cocaine possession versus powder-cocaine possession — specifically to alleviate unfairnesses to blacks who disproportionately use the former. It’s amazing what conservatives will do when you give us a chance.
The first time I ever saw my father cry — not even close to weeping, but just quickly wiping a few escapee tears from his cheek — was when he got the news that Louis Armstrong had died. Dad, in the segregated South, used to steal out to the back alleys between musical sets to hang out with and hear stories from the black jazz musicians who weren’t allowed to mingle inside the clubs while not playing. Earlier, as a high-school student, he had welcomed the news of the Brown v. Board desegregation decision, telling his teacher that it wasn’t fair to black children to provide them inferior facilities. This was the same man who was an enthusiastic Goldwater conservative and an attendee at the famous Sharon Conference where the Young Americans for Freedom was founded — because there was no natural, philosophical link between conservatism and racism.
So yes, Chait is right that my criticisms of Obama have nothing to do with an imagined “long-ago-imbibed white southern upbringing bubbling to the surface,” because my “white, southern upbringing” was devoid of racial animus.
What Chait doesn’t understand is that I am hardly unique. Almost every American under 50, conservatives most definitely included, was raised in a culture where such animus was shunned. We’re all the “cultural heirs” far more of Martin Luther King Jr., or at least of his famous speech on the National Mall, than of George Wallace. We’re not oblivious to racism; we just want to transcend it by leaving it out of discussions where it doesn’t belong.
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow of the Center for Individual Freedom.