The Corner

Drawing Moral Lines against Racism

As a literal child of the Sixties (I was born in 1960), I have always accepted cultural taboos on racist talk as a social good.

Race is different from anything else. A whole race of people was enslaved in my country — imported from other countries in order to systematically deny their basic human rights and American guarantees of civil rights, which stem from God not government. When slavery was overthrown, a whole set of other barriers, formal and informal, to the exercise of basic human rights by African-Americans was created and imposed to sustain a racist legal and social order, a system which lasted roughly 100 years after slavery. Dismantling this government-imposed and encouraged racism was a gargantuan undertaking. Social taboos against racist language or genuinely racist ideas were part of this process.

At the same time, taboos against racism ought not to be allowed to shut down legitimate political or intellectual debate generally. The tendency of the Left from the beginning to redefine “racism” to mean “any conservative idea or person we don’t like” is obvious.

Because taboo-setting on racist speech became a pathway to power, including the power to exclude and marginalize the taboo-breaker as racist — the inevitable incessant temptation concerning this taboo is to politicize it, to use its power to exclude and marginalize not those who are genuinely racists, but just one’s political opponents. Because power corrupts, I do not see any way around this temptation except to honestly attempt to draw and sustain an important moral line. And to resist efforts to politicize it, or worse, to expand it to ever new categories of victims. The story of race in this country is sui generis. Nothing else is like it.

#more#Obviously it’s not in my interest to wade into this story line, but I don’t want to exclude myself from this process of line-drawing. I recently had a hard time taking seriously a media story about a three-year-old memo which allegedly shows NOM playing “racial politics.” Because, while I honestly do regret some of the language used (in particular it is arrogant and disrespectful to imagine I or NOM can manipulate either African-Americans or gay people, and wrong to try), the underlying project was not to create a racial divide, but to bring together black, white, and Hispanic leaders to fight for marriage, whether they are Democrats or Republicans or independents. The project was not to create a “wedge” issue to elect Republicans, in other words, but to create a pan-ethnic, interfaith, coalition to protect marriage.

One can get weary with the number of narratives launched by the Left to try to make one look bad.

I don’t know in the post-web era if “respectable” opinion exists or means anything anymore. I do know the conservative movement I joined is profoundly pro-individual, pro–human rights, and ideologically opposed to racism. For NR to kowtow to outside pressure would be weak, but drawing the moral lines we are willing to stand on as a movement is leadership.

I am aware opponents of gay marriage — folks like me — will be the first to be chucked out of polite society by the Left, if we are even still in it (see former Minnesota GOP candidate for governor Tom Emmer’s story about losing a teaching job at Hamline University); the game is rigged by the Left.

But the views expressed by John Derbyshire in this one piece are in fact, racist, if that word means anything. Who are we as a movement? Does the U.S. conservative movement include genuine honest racism, openly (however politely) expressed?

That’s the question. Not us vs. them, but who are we? Only we can answer that.

I vote with Rich Lowry.


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