In a Democratic National Committee video in April 2010, Obama called on “young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women . . . to stand together once again.” Shortly before the November 2010 congressional elections, Obama told an audience that Republicans “are counting on black folks staying home.” Before the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama affected the supposed accent of black America in emphasizing shared race: “Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.” Was “we” the black community or all of America? He appealed to Latino voters not to stay home from the 2010 elections, but instead to “punish our enemies”—and not to fall prey to the Republicans’ “cynical attempt to discourage Latinos from voting.” Conservatives, remember, wished, according to the president, to round up Latino children while eating ice cream. There is now an African Americans for Obama campaign group, and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith warns us that he has Obama’s back.
All this is not quite new. Obama stereotyped the Cambridge Police Department as having “acted stupidly” for detaining Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. He allegedly complained that racial bias explains much of the Tea Party opposition to his own administration, and used the derogatory “tea-baggers” sexual slur to characterize the protests. After Rev. Wright, the clingers speech, and “typical white person,” one would have thought that Obama would have tended to avoid the question of racial tensions.
Members of the Black Caucus have talked a lot about the Trayvon Martin case, calling it an “assassination” and a “murder” and alleging that Zimmerman shot Martin down like “a dog.” This too is not new in the age of Obama. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said debt arguments showed racial animosity toward Barack Obama. Rep. Barbara Lee accused Republicans in racist fashion of trying to deny blacks the vote. Rep. Andre Carson claimed that the Tea Party wished to lynch blacks from trees. Rep. Charles Rangel alleged that Rick Perry’s job creation in Texas was “one stage away from slavery,”
Post-racial icons like Morgan Freeman blasted opposition to Obama with “It’s a racist thing.” Whoopi Goldberg blurted out, “I’m playing the damn [race] card” over Obama’s sinking polls.
I could go on and on, but one gets the message. So why the anger at this point and not, say, in 2007, when the evil Bush was president and Obama was but a weak senator and a dubious presidential candidate? For eight years there were African-American secretaries of state. Bush, through his African AIDS initiatives, saved millions of blacks who had no access to medicine. Minorities were visible in his cabinet. No one objected to the fact that Obama garnered 96% of the black vote, or thought much about it when, in the bitter Democratic primaries, the Clintons alleged that race was used to whip up support against them. So why, then, the anger now, when things should have improved even more?
And I do not mean just African-American anger. To read comments following these stories on the Internet is to enter the world of white counter-rage at a level I have never seen. We talk of black accusations of racism, but they are earning a counter-response that is equally scary, with some irate and others wearied to the point of quietism and isolation. The lurid Drudge Report weekly posts videos of African-American teens flash mobbing or attacking and beating whites, in not so subtle reminders that in terms of violent crime blacks commit roughly 50% of the offenses, while making up only 11-13% of the population, and are 7-8 times more likely to harm whites than vice versa. Indeed, 94% of all blacks who are murdered each year die at the hands of blacks. The more Eric Holder emphasizes racial distinctions, the more he seems oblivious to the fact that he is alienating far more than he is encouraging.
What Is It All About?
Two racial narratives without much hope of a compromise seem behind these different views:
A) The current black leadership believes in the following narrative: Due to the wages of past American racism and well over a century of Southern chattel slavery, blacks have been damaged in ways still underappreciated by whites. Thus, true equal opportunity and justice will take decades more of instruction, recompense, affirmative action, and set-asides to achieve real fairness. Whites say that they are not racist, but daily they do or say things that to others seem very racist. One can be destructively racist without the overtness of Jim Crow.
When blacks employ the N-word, or a Rev. Wright uses racist language, or the Black Caucus (or Black Panther Party) employs incendiary vocabulary that would earn their white counterparts ostracism, all that is a false equivalence. One must see this apparent asymmetry as a faux-asymmetry, given the hurt in the black community that suddenly in 2012 cannot quite be held to the same standards as the inheritors and present beneficiaries of privilege. If 50% of the black community has achieved near parity in the half-century since the civil rights reforms, 50% have not, largely due to the unwillingness of the majority culture to invest the necessary resources and alter attitudes to finish the job of racial parity. Therefore continued federal reparatory action is necessary until 100% parity is achieved, to paraphrase Eric Holder. If black crime is inordinately high, it is largely because of either present racism or the legacy of racism or both, and continues on due to the general neglect of the white majority, who objects only when the violence spills into their own enclaves. As for other minorities, they have suffered from white racism and may have transcended it, but slavery was a special case and left an imprint on the American psyche that explains the sensitivity of black/white relations in ways unlike other racial and ethnic polarities.
B) The counter-narrative is just as uncompromising. It runs I think as this: We live in a multi-racial society now, where almost every minority group has genuine claims on past exploitation, from the Holocaust to the frontier wars to the internment. But after a half-century of hyphenation and racial identity politics, and a trillion dollars spent on federal race-based programs, it is time to move beyond race and evaluate Americans on their behaviors and talents, without worry whether any particular group statistically does better than another–especially given that race itself in the 21st century is problematic with intermarriage and the waves of new immigrants. If we do not, our future is Rwanda,the Middle East, or the Balkans.
Millions of so-called whites are now adults who grew up in the age of affirmative action, and have no memory of systemic discrimination. To the degree some avoid certain schools, neighborhoods, or environments, they do so only on the basis of statistics, not profiling, that suggest a higher incidence of inner-city violence and crime. Most in this generation assume that a B+ white student in state college has none of the chances to get into law school, medical school, or graduate programs that a B- African-American student enjoys. If the black leadership were to preach a more balanced message of both monitoring race-based discrimination while addressing more vigorously endemic pathologies in the inner cities (such as illegitimacy, absentee fatherhood, drug use, crime, violence, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism), most racism would eventually disappear—as black crime rates, graduation rates, or illegitimacy rates matched those of the general public. Liberal whites and black elites profile as much as anyone (consider where they live, where they put their children in schools, and the fact that they associate with those quite distant from the inner city).
The phenomenal success of Asians, Punjabis, Armenians, Arabs, Latin Americans, and other supposedly non Anglo-Saxon groups is proof that the majority culture holds no one back on the basis of skin color. The crux for every group is culture, not skin color. Unfortunately, “racism” has become a careerist tool that leads to political and professional advantage when the charge is leveled; if there are indeed two black Americas, then the elite often uses the plight of the non-elite as arguments for its own claim to exemptions from criticism and often advantages in admissions and hiring.
Those two narrative don’t match and won’t, and so race relations have gotten only worse—as Barack Obama and Eric Holder well know. They do not seem to care or feel there is advantage to be had in the new polarity.