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Adam Serwer defends himself on the grounds that I'm just perpetuating white privilege:

I wrote about this during the election, but white people are far less concerned about racism than they are about accusations of racism, because racism isn't really a part of their experience, but being accused of being racist is. So this is a pretty self-serving argument: Kling's racism isn't problematic, because it doesn't "shut down the discourse" but Walcott calling out Kling is out of line because it might hurt some delicate feelings. Note that this is a reactive form of speech policing, the sort McArdle is criticizing: I can say what I want, but you can't criticize it because it "shuts down the discourse." Oh, and criticizing Kling is "McCarthyism" and tantamount to telling all libertarians to "shut up."

I'm really less concerned with whether a person is "a racist" because I think everyone's racist. I can remember getting lectures from teachers in high school about how if we were a class of white kids, we'd know how to behave. I'm much more concerned with calling out individual actions as racist, and if you want to complain about that, well you're just shutting down the discourse.

As for my "hiding" the context of the quotation from Kling about reparations, I thought it was fairly obvious that Kling had produced a flimsy pretext simply to use the word. In fact, I explained that in a later post, and if one wants to "hide" something on the internet, one generally doesn't link to it.

I can't speak to what "most white people" do or do not care about, because I am only an individual white person.  Had he looked for evidence about this particular white person, by, say, googling what I've written about racism, he would have found that his statement was not an accurate characterization of the specific white person he was talking about.  I read through the first hundred hits or so, because hey, maybe he's right--I actually agree with him that we are all guilty of subtle racial bias, so maybe I'm too worried about accusations of racism, and not worried enough about the lingering legacy of slavery. 

But indeed, pretty much all of the links are about the problem of racism, not the problem of people who are falsely accused of it.  I do not submit that I have been free of racial bias, or that my maunderings on racism are of any possible interest to anyone.  But the only actual evidence available to Mr. Serwer indicates that I am far more concerned about racism than frivolous accusations thereof.

The charge that I am just trying to keep valid accusations of racism from being made is also not borne out by history.  I was one of that gang of libertarians who took a whole lot of grief from the paleolibertarian contingent for urging the shunning of Lew Rockwell for the vicious crypto-racist tone of the newsletters he ghost-wrote for Ron Paul, and of Ron Paul for having turned a blind eye to it.  I think that accusations of racism should be aired when there's solid reason to believe they're true.  And if it seems that they are true, I think the people who engaged in such behavior should be socially ostracized unless they make a serious effort at reforming their behavior. 

But accusing someone of deliberately using racial code-words to inflame prejudice against Barack Obama is a serious thing.  The very reason it is a serious thing is that in order to try and stomp it out, we have made overt prejudice into the social equivalent of a capital crime.  I approve of this.  But the severity of the punishment means that accusation of the crime should be held to a high standard--"beyond a reasonable doubt".  It should not rest on a single infelicitous word choice.  I am sure that Mr Serwer is very smart and talented, but I do not believe he is gifted with the ability to infallibly read peoples' hearts.

As for his failure to include the context, again, I think the gravity of the charge warrants showing that it's deserved.  And as I am quite sure Mr. Serwer knows, very few people actually click through the link to read the source text, so he was quite safe in letting a number of readers believe that Arnold Kling had compared the stimulus package to reparations for slavery.  Many of those readers will not have seen the follow-up post, and will retain that impression to this day.  I don't think that's responsible journalism.


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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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