Back when NPR and other news outlets were reporting that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet” on hurricane Katrina I made an ill-conceived joke in The Corner about how the Superdome was going to hell-in-a-hand basket. I wrote:
ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS [Jonah Goldberg]
I think it’s time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you’re working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he’s not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It’s never too soon to be prepared.
I was mocking what at the time seemed like out-of-control media hype. When things turned out to be worse than I–or most of us–ever could have expected, I apologized.
That didn’t stop scores of blogs and hundreds of angry e-mailers from tearing me a new one for my insensitivity. As the week progressed, however, a lot of folks wrote me–half jokingly–to congratulate me on my prescience. After all, except for the gill-growing and serpent-talking I turned out to get it pretty much exactly right. If I’d only said I wasn’t kidding, I’d be in the clear.
They were onto something. Because, you see, I hadn’t even raised the possibility that, after just three or four days without food, blacks in New Orleans would transform into Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
Before we move on, let’s be clear about all the components of this sentence. First, it is deadly serious. Indeed, its import is such that it caused the man to lose all faith in America. Second, blacks are eating the flesh of the dead to survive: Not “hurricane victims,” not “the poor,” not “the refugees,” not “New Orleans residents,” but “black hurricane victims” and black hurricane victims alone are feasting on the bodies of the fallen. Second, it asserts as fact that “it is reported.” At the time I searched Google News and Nexis and found not one story mentioning this fairly dramatic piece of news.
Robinson has since retracted this single solitary assertion. But he says he stands “behind everything else I wrote without reservation.”
We’ll get to “everything else,” but let us linger for a moment. Robinson did not apologize for his error, he merely offered a retraction. So, in other words, he doesn’t feel the need to make amends for the fact that he told the world black people–and black people alone–were willing to eat their fellow human beings after 72-96 hours without food (a “fact” now reported as far away as Turkey). Moreover, he feels no shame for believing it.
Imagine if I said, “Oh, you know those blacks–after a couple days without food they start eating each other. White folks? They can go weeks before they’d even consider such a thing. But if the food runs out on a Monday, zombism will break out among the black population by Thursday.” People would be outraged. As they should be. Talk about the soft bigotry of low-expectations.
One of the great ironies here is that, like most people, I first heard of Robinson thanks to his various hunger strikes. His most recent one was in 1994 when he went 27 days without food to restore Haitian “democracy.” His fast is widely credited for changing Clinton-administration policy. Perhaps this gave Robinson some special insight into the black man’s willingness to break the final taboo? (One doesn’t want to think that this wealthy lawyer-activist thinks only the poor black folk eat the dead). Perhaps the rule among his entourage was “Keep your hands and feet away from Randall’s mouth.” Democracy is one thing. But even Jean Bertrand Aristide might draw back a nub if he got too close.
There’s an old axiom which says that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. But Robinson was so keen on believing this allegation he went straight to the megaphone after someone simply told him it was so. What kind of person takes such news at face value? Let’s see: Racists surely would. But that’s a bit of a stretch. Idiots would take it at face value. But I don’t think Robinson is anybody’s fool. I’ve got it: He’s a fraud. Yeah, that works. It’s not perfect, but it will do the job.
Robinson writes: “My hand shakes with anger as I write. I, the formerly un-jaundiced human rights advocate, have finally come to see my country for what it really is. A monstrous fraud.”
Maybe I’m wrong. But here’s how I read this passage. He’s saying that he’s very angry and this anger is atypical. He’s “finally come” to the conclusion that America is a very bad place. Indeed, America is a “monstrous fraud.” The desired impact for the reader seems to be: Even the un-jaundiced Randall Robinson has given up! Even Randall Robinson is quitting America. Robinson even writes “I am a sixty-four year old African-American. New Orleans marks the end of the America I strove for.”
Oh that poor man, he can’t keep the dream alive because that hateful George W. Bush chose to do “nothing” for New Orleans, leaving black residents no choice but to consume man’s flesh.
Oh, but wait. Robinson already quit America a while ago. In fact he already declared America a fraud. How do I know this?
Well, because he wrote a book saying so. It’s even called Quitting America. Here’s the book’s official description “Randall Robinson is quitting America, and this book charts his journey from the most powerful nation on earth to the tiny tropical island where his wife was born. His search for a more peaceful and hospitable place grew out of the disappointment and increasing sense of abandonment he felt in the land of his own birth….”
He even has a whole chapter titled “Frauds” in which he explains how exhausted he is after fighting the monstrous fraud that is America.
So while I have no doubt that Robinson was angry when he wrote that blog entry last week, the only thing that was actually new in his post was his declaration that black folks were eating the dead. The rest was rhetorical featherbedding and, frankly, shtick.
Which gets us to the real point: Robinson belongs to the growing ranks of Bush haters and race industrialists who see nothing wrong with saying the worst thing possible about Bush–or about America under his “rule”–because the benefit of the doubt must always be given to any allegation which ascribes the maximum evil to Bush. Robinson wrote “No-one” had come to help the blacks of New Orleans even as it was obvious that perhaps the largest domestic rescue and recovery operation in American history was already well underway. I harbor many criticisms of the federal response, but there’s an enormous chasm between doing nothing and doing what had already been done as Robinson’s hands shook.
I’m sorry for personalizing this, but this makes my hands shake a bit. For a week my e-mail box filled with the nastiest stuff imaginable because of a joke or two I made when everything seemed like it was going to be okay (I particularly liked the e-mail titled “Are All Zionists A**holes?”). I apologized, sincerely, for my undue levity. Now Robinson, a man far more respected and better known than I am, flatly asserts that blacks–and blacks alone–became such savages that they literally fell like ghouls upon the bloated corpses of the dead floating in the filth of New Orleans. And he sees nothing wrong with saying so. There’s not even a trace of shame that maybe there would be something amiss in the souls of black folks were this allegation in fact accurate. Objecting to the cannibalistic tendencies of black people would just be “blaming the victim.”
Oh sure, it turned out to be a grotesque falsehood he never bothered to spend a moment fact-checking. But why should he bother when the burden of proof falls squarely on Bush and Bush alone?