Gaza and Discrimination Against White People


Via Adam Serwer, here's Shelby Steele:

One reason for this is that the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past--racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on. 

When the Israeli commandos boarded that last boat in the flotilla and, after being attacked with metal rods, killed nine of their attackers, they were acting in a world without the moral authority to give them the benefit of the doubt. By appearances they were shock troopers from a largely white First World nation willing to slaughter even "peace activists" in order to enforce a blockade against the impoverished brown people of Gaza. Thus the irony: In the eyes of a morally compromised Western world, the Israelis looked like the Gestapo.

This is, at its core, a charge of widespread systemic racial discrimination. The argument is that the rest of the world holds "white" people to a higher moral standard, than it does "nonwhite" people. We are hard on "whites" who want to enforce the border, while soft on "nonwhites" who want to cross the border. We have a higher standard for "Western civilization" because it's white, than we do for non-Western but it, presumably, isn't. And in the instance of the flotilla, we are harder on a "white First World nation," than we are on "the impoverished brown people of Gaza." In sum, Steele's argument is that we discriminate against white people out of a fear of white racism.

I think that black conservatives, like Shelby Steele, have done us all a service by repeatedly challenging those who lob lazy, unfounded charges of racial discrimination. At the very least, it's caused some of us who are not conservative to tighten our arguments and gird our charges with evidence. I think this is a good thing.  

I do not see much value in charging people with motives, that you can not prove, but I see great value in a standard equally enforced. Such a standard demands proof that race explains our border problems, proof that it puts us at  pains us to slight "Western Civilization," and proof that systemic worldwide racial discrimination against white people is at the root of criticism of the commandos who boarded the Gaza flotilla.

As it stands, what we have here is column that proceeds from the same kind of thinking, that black conservatives have long attacked. What causes partisans to fly a standard in one instance, and discard it when it becomes inopportune is opaque to me. I could throw out some theories. But they'd all go to motives. 
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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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