Tag Archives: Racism

Behavior : Legislation :: Chicken : Egg

Brilliant letter from Prof. Boudreaux to the Saturday NYT:

Reacting to Rand Paul’s remarks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, you say that his libertarian philosophy “is a theory of liberty with roots in America’s creation, but the succeeding centuries have shown how ineffective it was in promoting a civil society….  It was only government power that … abolished Jim Crow” (“Limits of Libertarianism,” May 22).

You’ve got it backwards.  Jim Crow itself was government power.  Jim Crow was legislation that forced the segregation of blacks from whites.  Research shows that people acting in the free market that you apparently believe is prone to racial discrimination were remarkably reluctant to discriminate along racial lines.  It was this very reluctance – this capacity of free markets to make people colorblind – that obliged racists in the late 19th century to use government to achieve their loathsome goals.*

Had Mr. Paul’s libertarian philosophy been followed more consistently throughout American history, there would have been no need for one government statute (the Civil Rights Act) to upend earlier government statutes (Jim Crow) and the business practices that they facilitated.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

* See especially Robert Higgs, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914 (University of Chicago Press, 1976); Jennifer Roback, “Southern Labor Law in the Jim Crow Era: Exploitative or Competitive?” University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 51 (1984); and Jennifer Roback, “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 46 (1986).

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Racism and “Whiteface”

Is the Obama/Joker poster racist?  The Washington Post says it is.  Here’s the argument:

Perhaps because the poster is ultimately a racially charged image. By using the “urban” makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can’t openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and ’70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.

The Joker’s makeup in “Dark Knight” — the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world — emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks — the thinking goes — don’t just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.

It is an ugly idea, operating covertly in that gray area that is always supposed to be opened up to honest examination whenever America has one of its “we need to talk this through” episodes. But it lingers, unspoken but powerful, leaving all too many people with the sense that exposure to crime creates an ineluctable propensity to crime.

Superimpose that idea, through the Joker’s makeup, onto Obama’s face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life. It is another effort to establish what failed to jell in the debate about Obama’s association with Chicago radical William Ayers and the controversy over the racially charged sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama, like the Joker and like the racial stereotype of the black man, carries within him an unknowable, volatile and dangerous marker of urban violence, which could erupt at any time. The charge of socialism is secondary to the basic message that Obama can’t be trusted, not because he is a politician, but because he’s black.

Via Volokh.

I’ll be discussing a broader context for this in the next few days—I’d love to hear people’s take on this.  Here’s Reason on the same topic.

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Reverse Rosa Parks

One more on the Gates imbroglio, from James Taranto’s Best of the Web.  NB: This entire piece is lifted directly from WSJ’s daily Taranto email.  I omitted block quotes to preserve all internal quotations:

Forty-two-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, and convicted four days later of disorderly conduct. But the conduct that prompted her arrest–remaining in her seat on a municipal bus–was, by any reasonable standard, entirely orderly. But reason did not rule in segregated Montgomery, Ala., when bus driver James Blake ordered Parks to make way for a white passenger.

As Parks recounted in a 1987 interview, quoted in a State Department obituary: “When [Blake] saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’ ” He did.

It was a classic–and spectacularly successful–act of civil disobedience: protesting an unjust law by defying it and submitting to the authorities. A young pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., launched a boycott of the Montgomery bus system, and in December 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a trial judge’s order desegregating the Montgomery buses.

When Rosa Parks was arrested, Henry Louis Gates Jr. was 5. Skip ahead 53½ years, and we find Gates under arrest for disorderly conduct at his home in Cambridge, Mass. A passerby who did not know him had called 911 when she saw him trying to force open the door to his house. It was not the only case of mistaken identity that afternoon. When the cops arrived to investigate what they thought was a burglary, Gates mistook Sgt. James Crowley for Jim Crow. Gates antagonized Crowley, in what one might term an act of uncivil disobedience.

Like Parks, Gates sought to use his arrest to make a statement about racial injustice in America. Unlike Parks’s statement, Gates’s turned out to be false. By now it is clear that Gates erred in accusing Crowley of racial animus or profiling. The worst that can be said about the officer is that he acted stupidly by remaining on the scene once he had established that Gates had every right to be there.

But Gates went beyond asserting that he was the victim of racial discrimination. In an interview last week with The Root, an online magazine of which he is editor in chief, Gates claimed: “There haven’t been fundamental structural changes in America. . . . The only black people who truly live in a post-racial world in America all live in a very nice house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” That is the address of the White House, official residence of President Barack Obama, who is black.

What happened in the aftermath of Gates’s arrest, however, belied his claim that “there haven’t been fundamental structural changes in America.” Parks, who comported herself with dignity throughout the 1955 incident, did not have the charges against her quickly dropped, and she did not get invited to the White House for a beer, as the Boston Globe reports Gates has been. (She did eventually make it to the White House, including in 1996, when President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)

Notwithstanding the problems that continue to affect black communities in America, two things clearly have changed enormously for the better: white attitudes and the structure of our legal system. If a bus driver today behaved the way James Blake did in 1955, almost everyone would view his actions as freakishly deviant. He would likely be fired and sued, maybe even arrested.

Gates, who directs the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, is one of the most distinguished scholars of race in America. Yet in this incident, he saw individual racism where it was absent and failed to acknowledge the enormous social progress that America has undergone in his own lifetime. To judge by the commentary the Gates tumult has occasioned, such misunderstandings are very common among black Americans. Typical is this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Like Henry Louis Gates Jr., they are black professionals, men of status and achievement who have excelled in a nation that once shunned them.

Next comes the pivotal question: “Do I protest or just take it?”

And for many of them, their only shock upon learning of the celebrated scholar’s recent run-in with police was the shock of recognition.

They know too well the pivotal moment Gates faced at his Massachusetts home. It was that moment of suspicion when confronted by police, the moment one wonders, in a flash of panic, anger or confusion: “Maybe I am being treated this way because I’m black.”

The Tribune closes with an anecdote about a man who decided to “take it” rather than to “protest”:

Vibert White, a history professor at the University of Central Florida, recalled driving along a highway in Indiana, and spotting a line of cars that had pulled to the side of the road. All the drivers were black men. So White, too, pulled over.

”He told me, ‘Sir, you can go on with your business.’ I realized how deeply ingrained this lesson had become–of not causing a ruckus, of just playing the game, of doing what you needed to do in order to live your life.”

An officer walked up and asked him why he stopped.

”I told him that I’d seen the line of cars and just reacted,” said White, 51.

White was submissive rather than aggressive, but there was no actual need for him to be either. Although he responded to the situation very differently than Gates did, he misread it in exactly the same way: by falsely assuming that police were targeting him because he was black.

It would be churlish to suggest that blacks are to blame for such misunderstandings, which obviously have their roots in injustices of the not-that-distant past. But blacks bear the burden of such suspicions and, by necessity, of overcoming them. Rosa Parks’s arrest forced Americans to confront the gap between our ideals and reality. Perhaps the Gates tumult will induce a reckoning with the gap between the assumption of still-pervasive racism and the reality of America in 2009.

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More on Race and That Other Stuff

Insulted by the WaPo calling Sotomayor “Souter w/ a salsa beat,” Andrew Cline asks: What if she were white?

Of the nine paragraphs in the New York Times endorsement, five mention her race and sex. Were Sotomayor a white male, the Times would have 55 percent less to say about him.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote yesterday that Sotomayor was “Souter with a salsa beat.” Because Sotomayor is Hispanic we can assume she comes “with a salsa beat”? How is that not an ethnic stereotype? What if Sotomayor doesn’t like salsa music? If she were black, could we say she is Souter with a hip-hop beat?

See my opinion on the race stuff here. More immediately I think Sotomayor is qualified, I just don’t like her opinions. If she didn’t bring this reggaeton to the table the Times would likely focus those five paragraphs on her jurisprudence. And that would likely be a much stronger indictment than all of this “affirmative action” finger-pointing.

Like Obama, Sotomayor is an eminently qualified candidate in a sea of similarly qualified individuals. Both offer inspiring stories that put them over the edge. I see nothing wrong with that. I agree that an inspiring story brings more to the table than a little extra Latin on a resume — which, incidentally, appears in droves on the resumes of both BHO and SMS.

I’ll say it again: Focusing on someone’s jurisprudence and record carries a lot more weight than focusing on his or her race. Conservatives should stop engaging in these mini-trials re whether “diversity” is criteria enough and should start discussing those criteria that are actually, empirically relevant. The latter category is indictment enough. The former is not. Eye on the ball, people! This kind of issue blurring is what fractured conservatives in the first place!

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Are we all a little racist?

At the risk of asking the unpopular question: Doesn’t it feel like politics have turned into a witch hunt?  

Republicans accuse dems of playing “affirmative action,” e.g., acknowledging and focusing on differences traceable to “race” rather than on what we all have in common.  Democrats’ “racism” cries started when Obama became the big POTUS contender and continued until, well…I’ll let you know when it ends.  And it’s totally deserved.  Look at us.  How many times has the word “Hispanic” been uttered just today?

The point is that all we’re doing is focusing on race.  Racism is just that: focusing on what’s different among us.  Even many of Sotomayor’s biggest fans are primarily enthused because she brings the “Puerto Rican voice” to the table.  In his nomination introduction Obama himself focused on her backstory rooted in “diversity” rather than on her huge, valuable qualifications.

It’s just as racist to imagine that support for Sotomayor and support for Obama come from different places.  Both are eminently qualified individuals among eminently qualified individuals.  Both have extremely inspiring stories, and, indeed, I love the idea of promoting those high achievers who overcame adversity.  But call it what it is.  The American dream is all about celebrating ambition in the face of hard times.  Though I don’t like Obama, I love that we elected a black man.  I intensely dislike some things about Sotomayor’s jurisprudence and philosophy, but I love the idea of a woman reflecting the quickly-increasing Hispanic demographic in the States.

In other words: I’m a little bit racist, because I recognize that there’s some benefit to focusing a little bit on race.  I’m a little bit sexist too, because I’m glad Obama nominated a woman instead of a man.  As a white, non-hyphenated-American woman I realize that my position is unpopular.  But look at us.  All we’ve done is talk about race for the past year.  And we’ve spilled an enormous amount of ink pointing fingers at colleagues, shouting “racist” in a terrifyingly McCarthy-esque way.  

Let me just be the first to ask: Can’t we move on to the next topic?  All this witch hunting doesn’t prove we’re past it.  So either admit that you’re a little focused on race, or stop talking so much about it.  Either way, next topic, please.

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