Calling Spades

Let me precede what I am about to say by noting that I've written some of what follows before. But I think it bears repeating, and so with that in mind, I offer this:

Yesterday somebody asked if I'd comment on the following passage from Byron York:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

At first, I said I wouldn't--mostly because I don't want to be that guy who patrols the net looking for right-wingers who say dumb shit about black people. Moreover my fellow Left-Coast Avengers were already on the case. But then the quote stayed with me. And after thinking on it, I realized why--Even by the standards of a National Review alum, I think that Byron York's column is incredibly racist.

We spend a lot of time attacking people for playing the race-card--I've done my share. But what largely animates this idea that crying racism is an overused tactic (as opposed to say crying antisemitism) is this notion that among polite, thinking people, there are no employers of racism. Racism is the trade of the American savage--the man who flies the Confederate flag,  has an undiscovered dead dog under the porch, and lives in West Virginia. This man doesn't walk among the civilized.

But here is your political correctness run amok:

James Watson argues, not simply that there may be a biological explanation for IQ differences, but says of notions of intellectual equality, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not to be true," and be held up as a truth-teller.

A series of newsletters entitled the Ron Paul Freedom Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report, The Ron Paul Politcal Report are revealed to be incredibly racist. ("Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks" Martin Luther King "seduced underaged girls and boys.") But Paul knows nothing about them, and is the farthest thing from a racist. ("Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero.")

Duane "Dog Chapman is recorded repeatedly calling a black woman a nigger, but his son says the following of him, "My dad is not a racist man. If he was he would have no hair. He'd have swastikas on his body and he would go around talking about Hitler. That's what a racist is to me."

Geraldine Ferraro claims that a black guy has only succeeded at presidential politics because he's black (twice!) but is most offended by the notion that someone would think she was racist. (Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist.")

Michael Richards, repeatedly, yells at a black heckler, "He's a nigger!" then goes on national TV and says he's bothered that people think he's racist. "I'm not a racist," Richards said. "That's what's so insane."

We live in a country that may well be offended by racism, but it's equally offended that anyone might actually charge as much.


York, to his credit, does not say of Obama's voters, "They're all niggers!"--he simply argues that they don't count, presumably because they're zombies in the sway of a black dude who knows how to string together a couple of sentences.

The essential Dave Weigel displays more patience than I can muster and calmly notes what any decent political observer already knows--Obama's support among blacks isn't exactly aberrational, when compared to other Democrats. That point needed to be made, but it's so obvious that I'm at a lost to explain how York could miss it.

Which leaves me with this: I know that certain black public figures had made a game of name-calling out of racism. I also know that white people, like all people, want the benefit of the doubt--and, like all people, they deserve it. I try to give it as much as possible. In this instance, it has to be withheld.

I don't say this because I expect York to care very much. I say this because I hope some of my white readers, who think Bobby Rush is the end of this discussion, understand why I'm very comfortable calling York's column racist. As for the matter of York's heart, I leave that to him. I don't wash his laundry. I don't balance his affairs.

For the rest of you, I don't want to be in the business of shutting down conversation. But I also think that in this particular business a spade, forgive the irony, must be called by its name.

UPDATE: I edited the third graph to make my point a little clearer. Here is the old graph:

Which leaves me with this: I know that certain black public figures had made a game of name-calling out of racism. I simply know people who are under headstones because of it. I know that white people, like all people, want the benefit of the doubt--and, like all people, they deserve it. I try to give it as much as possible. In this instance, it will be withheld.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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