Making the Argument


What killed me about Rand Paul was, again, that he wouldn't stick to his guns and follow through on his thinking. As most of you know, my first intellectual tradition was nationalism. In that vein, black nationalism holds that, in fact, whites should not be required to integrate private businesses, that what we really should be doing is opening more of our own. I think that's a rough approximation of the Booker T/Malcolm X position. I think that argument sounds better than it actually works, but having debated many a nationalist over this issue, I'm familiar with the arguments contours.

While I'm basically a West Baltimore cosmopolitan now, I remain convinced that you can't make people love you. When I wake up in the morning to write, I don't think about how I can make the world "less racist." I think racism is a cancer, but I also believe in having the argument. I wonder about Brown vs. the Board. I wonder about housing desegregation in Detroit during the '50s, even as I have no better solutions.

What I'm driving at is raising the question about methods is never wrong, to the contrary it's essential. That process is undermined by people who raise those questions, without having thought about them, without being able to speak to their nuances, and are mostly concerned with tribal signaling. People were dragged from their homes, raped and murdered over civil rights. Talk about it, by all means. But talk about it with the intellectual seriousness it deserves.This is not a third grade science fair project. 

In that vein, here is the best response I saw in comments:

I'm not Chadius, but I probably fall at the same place on the ideological spectrum as he does. In theory, I'm with Dropple and against the Civil Rights Act. If I knew nothing about the history of the US, I'd share those views in practice as well. Any business that discriminates against minorities will in theory be at a compettetive disadvantage. A restaurant that serves more patrons will have higher profits and should be able to drive all the racist businesses out of businesses. 

However, other white businesspeople would essentially form a cartel and threaten and use force and violence against black owned businesses trying to serve white clients and white businesses that went against discrimination . Theoretically speaking, one ought to go after those trying to coerce non-segregated businesses into segregating, however local and state police forces generally colluded with the white business cartel against blacks. The national government suffered from less overt racism than southern states and so was the entity capable of breaking down this violent cartel. 

Unfortunately, the national government doesn't have the local knowledge necessary to break up the cartel on a city by city basis. Therefore, the government needs to resort to blunter tools like anti-discrimination laws. I think enforcing these laws is extremely difficult. Occasionally, and innocent white person is accused or racism. More commonly, force is used against blacks and white businesses opposed to racism and the law does nothing. While the Civil Rights may be an infringement of property rights, its necessary to avoid even greater infringements of liberty. If local governments did their jobs, this wouldn't be an issue but local governments often were racist. 

I'm all for eliminating the Civil Rights Act in places where I'm confident local government will do its job and a cartel of white businesses won't use coercion to discriminate against black people. However, the Arizona immigration law, insistence on flying the Confederate flag, and a veneration for the founder of the Klan makes me believe that it is too much for me to expect local government to do its job.
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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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