“Facing Facts About Race”? Or, Refuting Racism by Blaming the Victims
By Dennis Loo (7/24/13)
When I was a teenager I spent part of a summer in Washington, D.C. attending along with other teens an introduction to Capitol Hill politics. We were bussed around to various politicians’ offices and got to meet with several of them. I also got to find out what a miserable humid hellhole D.C. was in the summer.
This was in 1968 when Eugene McCarthy was challenging President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic Party nomination and Nelson Rockefeller was challenging Richard Nixon for the GOP nomination. 1968 was also the highpoint of the 1960s: all delightful hell was breaking loose in the country and world. Despite that political upheaval, I was still very naïve about politics. I was more into Zen and philosophy and regarded politics with interest but with a certain amount of detachment. Here I was, after all, in high school during the peak year of the Sixties, and I identified with Rockefeller as a “liberal” Republican! I actually represented Rockefeller in a mock debate and was congratulated on my unusual arguments by our college age mentors. I regarded McCarthy’s run for the nomination as foolhardy as he would never get the nomination, repeating the nostrums being circulated in the mass media. What did I know? Needless to say, the 1971 Attica uprising and Rockefeller’s order to crush the uprising and kill prisoners wouldn’t be for three years yet.
It would have to wait until I entered Harvard for me to become more engaged with the political storms of the times. I remember in particular walking to class in the Spring of my first year in Harvard Yard and seeing a small picket line of students walking in a spirited circle in front of a very big white spray paint job on the building wall: “FOUR DEAD IN OHIO.” But that is another story.
In any case, during this 1968 adventure on Capitol Hill one of the other high schoolers in our group was a nephew of National Review’s founder and famous right-wing intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. This nephew worshipped his uncle, taking on his mannerisms and speech patterns in very exaggerated form, including leaning far back in his chair with his face upturned and tilted and toying with a pencil. One day Buckley was on TV and his nephew sat close to the TV and adopted an adulatory pose in front of his marvelous uncle. One of the more vivid memories I have from that time.
Even then, as unsophisticated as I was about politics, my reaction to Buckley was that he had a very large vocabulary but the content of what he said was shit. It was like someone getting all dressed up in a tuxedo to serve you a meal, and with great ceremony and flourish taking the cover off the plate in front of you on a fancy white table cloth, revealing on the elegant china, a pile of steaming doo-doo. Buckley’s legacy of fancy words dressing up reactionary and illogical ideas of white privilege and general all-round reaction continue at the National Review. Which brings me to the subject of this article.
Victor Davis Hansen, a National Review Online (NRO) contributor and, wait for it, Hoover Institute Fellow, has written a truly odorous piece posted July 23, 2013 at NRO entitled “Facing Facts About Race.” Reading it is like going to a badly disorganized and randomly laid out library. Books are stacked in no particular order, some of them with their spines facing in, haphazardly strewn about, pages torn at random from books and dust storms swirling about to boot. Just being there makes you upset by the sheer disorganization and crappiness of it all. The arguments in it, if you can call them that, are disjointed, bald assertions without any support, and when “evidence” is offered, if you can call it evidence, it comes exclusively in the form of personal anecdotes rather than actual data.
To give you a sense of this article, let me begin by quoting from the very end of the piece:
I offer one final surreal footnote to this strange juxtaposition of reading the real news while listening to the mytho-history that a Eric Holder constructed from the death of Trayvon Martin to indict both the police and the public.
What were the names of two of the men suspected of being the ones who last week shot it out with the Santa Rosa jeweler as Eric Holder demagogued the Trayvon Martin shooting?
Traveon Banks-Austin and Alexander Tyvon Brandon.
And so the tragedy continues.
Mr. Hansen’s point, apparently, is, “See the similarity of the names?! Traveon and Tyvon and Trayvon. Do you see it? That just proves that Trayvon was up to no good, that Zimmerman had good cause to suspect him, and that Trayvon deserved what he got.”
I could stop here, which would be more merciful on you and on me, without even going into the rest of his article because this finale speaks for itself to those who are not regular NRO readers and true believers in the NRO version of reality.
After spending the entirety of his article claiming that racism is a thing of the past, that Trayvon and those like him have more to fear from fellow blacks than whites, that Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was not a racial incident of any kind since Zimmerman’s a “Latino of mixed heritage,” and that what some think is white racism is really merely a rational reaction to the criminal propensity of “young, black males” and if blacks would stop committing so many crimes then people being suspicious of them would simply stop, he ends with this spurious syllogism: you see, these two robbery suspects have names that are very similar to Trayvon’s. His reasoning goes like this:
Major Premise: All young black males are criminally prone.
Minor Premise: Two suspects of a robbery who are black males have similar sounding names to Trayvon.
Deductive Conclusion: Therefore Trayvon Martin was a criminal.
He doesn’t even think to point out that they are only suspects and that for that reason alone his example shows how rank and superficial his reasoning is since they could very well be suspects only because of their skin color. He accepts that they must be guilty.
But let’s assume for his sake that these two young black males are the ones who did the robbery. What does their alleged robbery have to do with Trayvon Martin? And even more to the point, isn’t this finale to his story precisely an example of racial profiling that he argues in his whole article does not exist?
And it’s not even a moderately sophisticated racial stereotype – it’s an absolutely ludicrous stereotype – their names are similar and they’re all black and of course, this explains it!
The prosecution rests. You have just gutted your entire position with your own words and proved our case. You are racially profiling in the process of arguing that racial profiling does not exist.
But in case you think I’m misrepresenting the rest of his argument let’s go into more of what he says:
The subtitle to his article reads:
Young black males are at greater risk from their peers than from the police or white civilians.
Translated: “Don’t worry about the cops or white people. You black folks are your own worst enemy.” There is no white power structure. There is no “man.” There’s just blacks killing other blacks.
He goes on:
[T]he Zimmerman case was not about Stand Your Ground laws. It was not a white-on-black episode. The shooting involved a Latino of mixed heritage in a violent altercation with a black youth.
Translation: “This was not a case of racial profiling. Zimmerman’s ‘a Latino of mixed heritage.’ This was not a racially motivated murder because it could only be if Zimmerman was 100% white, not only half-white, err, of ‘mixed heritage.’
Apparently, Hansen won’t own Zimmerman (now there’s an Hispanic name if I ever heard one), because he’s not pure white. Ergo, it’s not a “white-on-black episode.” By the way, what’s a real white, anyway? Does this mean that Tiger Woods could shoot a white person and because he’s Cablasian and not pure black, this would not be a “black-on-white” episode?
[I]f it is true that African-American males are viewed suspiciously, it is probably because statistically they commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime.
Translation: God-fearing non-black people suspect black males of being up to no good because they commit higher amounts of violent crime. Probably. Except for Zimmerman who was not racially profiling. It was merely a “violent incident.”
Yet should their [blacks’] statistical crime profiles suddenly resemble those of other racial and ethnic groups, the so-called profiling would likely cease.
Translation: It’s not really profiling. It’s rational behavior. White people don’t profile black people. They have rational reasons for avoiding them. It’s blacks’ own fault and if they would just shape up, all their troubles would go away. Racism used to exist, back in the day, but since then the white antipathy for black people, that is purely due to blacks’ criminality.
[My father, a life-long Democrat} once advised me, “When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you.” Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like “typical black person.” He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young — or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.
Translation: (I had to read this one a few times to figure out what he was saying.) He seems to be saying that his Democratic father’s warnings to him about “young black males” was not about race because he didn’t tell him to watch out for young Asians or Native American males, or black women or very young or very old people. If it were about race then he would not have been so specific about “black youths.” The fact that he was so specific – young, black, males – means that he wasn’t racially profiling because otherwise he’d have condemned the whole race, men, women, children, old, young alike. Or at least that’s what I think he is saying. I’m still not really sure.
It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping. When I was a graduate student living in East Palo Alto, two adult black males once tried to break through the door of my apartment — while I was in it.
Translation: “I told my son to watch out for young, black males the way my good life-long Democratic Daddy did based on my own experiences, not my father’s advice because his advice had no effect on leading me to ‘stereotype.’ While I was living in East Palo Alto two ‘adult’ black males tried to break into my apartment, while I was in it! That’s what made me suspicious of blacks. Before that, I simply ignored my father’s advice to avoid groups of black youths, that is, until I had my very own experience with blacks committing a crime on me. I didn’t nor do I now, however, have a racist bone in my body. Daddy was wrong, by the way, based on my own experiences: it’s both young and adult black males.
African-Americans understandably cite racism and its baleful legacy to explain vast present-day disparities in income, education, and rates of criminality. Others often counter by instead emphasizing the wages of an inner-city culture of single-parent families and government dependence, and the glorification of violence in the popular media.
Translation: racism is a thing of the past only. The problem isn’t racism. It’s “inner-city culture.” Blacks bring this on themselves.
[T]he attitude of the so-called white community toward racial challenges is not so much political as class driven.
Translation: There is no such thing as a “white community.” That’s why it’s only “so-called.” Apparently, there is no white solidarity or shared general sentiments among them. The notion that there is a “white community” is a fictional boogeyman created by people like Al Sharpton. It’s not about race. It’s about class. He doesn’t explain anywhere after this line what he means by class driven and instead goes on immediately to pointing out what he sees as the hypocrisy of white liberals who don’t live in black neighborhoods so I’m not sure what this means. But given his experiences living as a white person in East Palo Alto, which as of latest census data is some 7% white, I don’t know why he thinks that white people should live in minority communities, so I suppose the consistent position of his should be that whites should be honest about not wanting to live among minorities, and then they’re not hypocrites? But if there is no such thing as a “white community” what do you call communities that are predominately or exclusively white? “So-called” white flight?
Hansen then spends several paragraphs talking about two jewelry heists in Daly City and Santa Rosa. In the first one two Asians were killed and the suspects in both cases were blacks. In the Santa Rosa incident the two black suspects wore hoodies. His point was, apparently, that blacks kill Asians too. But I’m not really sure. This leads him to his finale in which he reveals that the two in the Santa Rosa robbery, the ones with hoodies, have names eerily similar to Trayvon’s.
If you can take it, read his whole article here. It’s worthwhile from the standpoint of learning directly from reactionaries’ words and arguments how they see things and their mode of argumentation. His argument wanders all over the place and he doesn’t follow up on assertions with evidence or even with elaboration. At best he uses a few anecdotes as his “evidence.” If you don’t want to really admit that something exists, call it “so-called.” When in doubt, attack other people for their problems and/or call them hypocrites. Imply that Zimmerman was right to shoot a young black male wearing a hoodie, but disassociate yourself from him as being of “mixed heritage” and therefore not a white and therefore the killing had nothing to do with racism. Above all else, advance racist arguments while asserting that your behavior which others correctly see as racist is merely good sense.