The Beatles. Joan of Arc. Abraham Lincoln.
Hey, white people have done some pretty cool stuff.
It’s very difficult to praise white people. It implies that you’re racist. But in the wake of the election and the shrill warnings about the rainbow-colored tsunami that is about to wipe conservatism away, it’s time that intelligent people of good will talk honestly about race. There is a cogent argument to be made, one that threads the needle between Chris Mathews’ thrombosis and the conservative counterattack.
But first: Do left-wingers (not necessarily liberals) have any idea how racist they sound? They’re exactly like Southern whites from the 1950s, peering out the window and seeing mongrel hoards descending on the country. The only difference is that to the modern left, it’s the extant white people who are the danger. The Huffington Post’s Geoffrey Dunn referred to the GOP convention in Tampa as a “gathering of pasty white people.” He later apologized — sort of: “I was trying to be ‘clever’ or ‘witty’ in my remarks,” Dunn wrote, “when what I really wanted to do was draw serious attention to what was, for me, a troubling demographic of Republicans gathered in Tampa. And whenever I could stomach watching the proceedings on television, the gathering in Florida looked, quite frankly, like a congregation of Pillsbury dough boys, often times in cowboy hats. But by making fun of them — and I did that — I undercut my message.”
The message, of course, is that every time a Republican breaks wind it’s a “dog whistle” to their seething, Billy Bob base that it’s time for the Klan to mount up. This argument makes some liberals feel virtuous, which is why they keep seeing more and more racism in smaller and smaller examples. It’s also why they feel so cavalier about stereotyping white people.
But I think most Americans are more in the middle, and in their minds hold certain truths about racism. The truth of the matter is that slavery and Jim Crow traumatized the African-American community, which is still dealing with the fallout. It’s here where the argument breaks down when it should get specific. For while conservatives need to admit the reality of this trauma, as well as the fact that most blacks don’t like what it has done to them, liberals need to face the fact that many liberal policies — though not all — over the last 40 years have made the problem worse.
In my view, the best argument for getting past America’s race obsession goes something like this. Liberals can draw a line from slavery to segregation to failing inner city public schools. But if they are honest, that line will also run through the disastrous public policies of the 1960s that paid poor black women to not be married (liberal journalist Haynes Johnson details this in his 1963 book “Dusk at the Mountain”). Note: This is not an argument about unemployment insurance, affordable health care (which Republicans punted on and which we owe not only blacks but all Americans), or anything else. I’m simply saying that slavery and segregation were traumas in every sense, and that welfare policies that kept couples unmarried and resulted in a lot of fatherless children allured by drugs and gangs made recovery more difficult. A conservative who yells that a black person needs to just “get over it” discounts the possibility that that person does want to get over it, has tried to get over it, and would do anything to get over it. But the culture that person was raised in makes it damn near impossible.