A very interesting book published this week shows why. In Racial Paranoia (Basic Books, $26/£15.99), the University of Pennsylvania anthropologist John L. Jackson Jr suggests that extravagant theories of white racism – from the widespread Aids rumour to Louis Farrakhan’s allegation that the US actually blew up the levees to cause the deadly New Orleans floods during Hurricane Katrina – have their roots in the decorous language that mostly white leaders have invented for talking about race.
The US has not managed to eliminate racism, Mr Jackson thinks, but it has succeeded in eliminating racist talk. Remarks the slightest bit “insensitive” draw draconian punishment. White people, because they feel thoroughly oppressed by this regime, assume that it must be some kind of “gift” to minorities, especially blacks.
It is not. It is more like a torment. It renders the power structure more opaque to blacks than it has ever been, leaving what Mr Jackson calls a “scary disconnect between the specifics of what gets said and the hazy possibilities of what kinds of things are truly meant”. If the historic enemies of your people suddenly began talking about you in what can fairly be called a secret code, how inclined would you be to trust in their protestations of generosity?
This is the core of the problem Mr Obama aims to address. Bringing subterranean racial narratives into the light of day, where they can be debated openly, is a risk. Although the early news coverage of his speech has been positive, polls appear show that what Americans most want from Mr Obama is a simple demonstration that he is not like Rev Wright.
As an example of the PC police in action we need look no further than my previous post. "Old Punk" of the InstaPunk crowd posted his thoughts on why specific behaviors of a specific subset of the black community annoys him [that is a willfully generous but defensible characterization - see below]. Frankly, there is very little in his post I would be inclined to defend, but I would be very curious to learn how widely held his viewpoints might be. As an example, I would guess his aversion to the hip-hop gangsta sub-culture is widely shared.
Well. Rather than trying to look for the message in his message, the Usual Suspects, led by Glenn Greenwald, seized on the offensive sections as an opportunity to brand Glenn Reynolds and the entire conservative movement as racists.
So let me summarize the exchange:
Obama: We should have a national conversation about race.
Old Punk: OK, here is what annoys me about some black people.
Lefties: The Old Punk is a racist, as are all righties.
One might well argue that this does discourage anything like a candid conversation.
Ann Althouse provides an interesting perspective.
BELOW: I assert that the Old Punk has problems with "specific behaviors of a specific subset of the black community". Does that square with this:
I don't hate black people. I can't pretend to be color-blind because absolutely nothing in my culture will allow me to be. I admire Thomas Sowell, Duke Ellington, Roberto Clemente, Muhammed Ali, Alexandre Dumas, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Count Basie, Tiger Woods, and Bill Cosby. There are many others but that's a sampling of the famous folks whose courage, genius, character, and achievements I would be proud if I could get anywhere in the vicinity of. The bald truth of the matter is that they're better than I am, and it doesn't arouse a flicker of racial feeling in me to acknowledge it. They have enriched and elevated my own experience of life.
On the other hand, I am sick to death of black people as a group. The truth. That is part of the conversation Obama is asking for, isn't it? I live in an eastern state almost exactly on the fabled Mason-Dixon line. Every day I see young black males wearing tee shirts down to their knees -- and jeans belted just above their knees. I'm an old guy. I want to smack them. All of them. They are egregious stereotypes. It's impossible not to think the unthinkable N-Word when they roll up beside you at a stoplight in their trashed old Hondas with 19-inch spinner wheels and rap recordings that shake the foundations of the buildings. It's like a broadcast dare: Go ahead! Call me a nigger! And then I'll cap your ass.
There are black people he likes but he hates them as a group - what does that mean? I am opting for the notion that he objects to specific manifestations of a collective black culture, but folks intent on shutting down the dialogue will insist he just doesn't like all blacks.
MORE: John Cole provides a chuckle:
That being said, this Tom Maguire post had me laugh out loud:
...If Tom Maguire thinks that when Obama was writing his speech and Caldwell was writing his piece, what they had in mind for a candid discussion about race was a bunch of jackasses stating “Here is what I hate about niggers,” then he probably really didn’t understand the speech or the FT piece.
Hmm. I have put about as charitable interpretation on the Old Punk's tirade as I care to, but it does lend itself to a less nuanced summary.