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RACE DOES MATTER, PART II

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By DAVID BEILSTEIN

FOOD for thought is a rare commodity these days. But thankfully, it seems to be in abundance over at Pat Buchanan’s digs, The American Conservative; a paleo-conservative webzine worth an eye and some attention.

The American Conservative website and magazine birthed out of paleo-conservative objections to the war in Iraq (from a non-interventionist) perspective. As I said before, the best arguments against the Iraq War and how the war in Afghanistan was being fought came from the right – not the left.

The progressive left saw both wars as a dunce cap to hang on Pres. George W Bush, while the writers at T.A.C. dove much deeper into the ideological inconsistency of social engineering by the barrel of a gun underlining the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan betrayed.

Nevertheless, on issues of race, The American Conservative brand is almost just as good – with several recent articles written by paleo-cons and libertarians about mainline conservatives and the deep problems such folks have with race in America.

Samuel Goldman writes,

Jamelle Bouie argues that conservatives are simultaneously obsessed with and oblivious to race. Citing Glenn Beck’s accusation that President Obama hates white people and some conservatives’ public delight in the Zimmerman verdict, Bouie contends that conservatives have adopted a distorted and distorting understanding of racism according to which “anyone who treats race as a social reality is a racist.” It follows that:

Because Obama acknowledges race as a force in American life—and because he even suggests that there are racists among us—he becomes the “real racist,” a construction designed to give conservatives moral high ground, while allowing them to insult Obama. After all, for them, “racist” is the worst accusation in American life.

Bouie is right to criticize the naivëté about race that Dan McCarthy mentioned in his defense of Jack Hunter, which is characteristic of talk radio and other political entertainment. But he misunderstands the conceptual frame that many conservatives apply to these issues.

When I was on my blogging sabbatical, I wrote about the Zimmerman verdict. I did not post my comments, however, and so any details now would feel – to the reader – as Monday morning quarterbacking.

Let it be said, I called the verdict correctly. And I was also perturbed Zimmerman became the epitome of a “conservative hero” which played like hell to my mind.

Goldman continues,

Conservatives correctly observe that this kind of overt hatred is rare today. They wrongly conclude from this that legacies of slavery and segregation are not relevant to modern life–and that anyone who says they are must therefore have ulterior motives.

Jonah Goldberg offers a representative sample of this view. In a post several months ago, Goldberg argued that racism “should be defined as knowing and intentional ill-will or negative actions aimed at an individual or group solely because of their race.”

Note the qualifiers: “knowing and intentional”; “ill-will”; “solely”.  According to Goldberg, racism is limited to conscious malice independent of any non-racial considerations. And racism, on this definition, is no longer a big problem.

But this definition seriously obscures the role of race in American society, past and present. To mention only an obvious defect, it excludes the ideas about black inferiority that informed the “positive good” defense of slavery. John C. Calhoun was not Calvin Candy, the psychopathic plantation owner in “Django.” But it is obtuse to deny his racism on the grounds that he believed the slave system was beneficial to blacks.

In more contemporary inquiries, the restrictive definition of racism Goldberg suggests conceals systematic inequities in the economy and other spheres of activity. One need not regard every racially disproportionate outcome as the result of discrimination to understand that it is not simply a coincidence that blacks, who have within living memory been been excluded by law and custom from the vehicles of upward mobility, tend to be poorer and less educated than whites. Colorblindness on these issues is more like simple blindness.

And it was said here, before, Sen. Rand Paul’s approach offers a better approach – and the Senator from Kentucky offered some salient comments about race in his Howard University Speech.

And this exactly where Mr Goldman goes, thankfully,

Clumsy as it was, Rand Paul’s speech at Howard University in April was a step toward more serious conservative reflection on race. Although he relied implicitly on a definition of racism as conscious bigotry, Paul at least acknowledged that the bigotry of the past has had unconscious and enduring consequences, which have to be the starting point for arguments about policy. The task for conservatives is to make a plausible case that the policies they favor will be more effective in ameliorating those consequences than either the status quo or progressive alternatives. Until then, our black fellow citizens will be correct in their judgment that we are either hopelessly naïve or playing dumb about the unique and heavy burdens that they continue to bear.

Minus the [clumsy as it was] part of Mr Goldman’s reflection, I concur – heartily.

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