A Conservative Conundrum: Racism Can't Kill If Racism Doesn't Exist

Race can be a very uncomfortable thing to talk about. It is so uncomfortable for some conservative writers to talk about that they feel moved to call for everyone to stop talking by declaring racism dead.

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Race can be a very uncomfortable thing to talk about. It is so uncomfortable for some conservative writers to talk about that they feel moved to call for everyone to stop talking by declaring racism dead. As vociferous as the outrage over Trayvon Martin's death has been, it's not really been a partisan story.  The main national political angle has been over gun control -- Florida adopted Stand Your Ground after some efforts by the National Rifle Association -- but the heart of the story is a local one about race: whether a white Hispanic man was blinded by racist stereotypes and killed a black teenager, whether white law enforcement officers then looked the other way because of the race of the victim and shooter. Unlike some other national flare-ups involving race (the left's fixation on racist placards at Tea Party rallies in 2009, the right's fixation on alleged voter intimidation by New Black Panthers in 2010, or the Republican primary's fixation on birtherism in early 2011), no one in the Trayvon Martin case has been calling Republican politicians or Tea Partiers racist. But after President Obama briefly addressed the story last week,  after a reporter asked him about it at a press conference, by saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," conservative pundits have seemed to sense that the Martin case is somehow benefiting liberals and Democrats who have been saying that, well, racism is still a problem in the United States of 2012. Conservatives must therefore argue that, no, it isn't. Racism is not even real.

Not only is racism dead, the only people who think it still exists are liberals. "Increasingly, racism -- and more generally the division of our country into racial and ethnic interest groups -- is all the Democrats have. The rest of liberal/leftist ideology is disintegrating all around them, as fragile and illusory as the welfare state itself," writes Pajamas Media blogger Roger L. Simon. He should know, he asserts, since he was "an ex-civil rights worker (South Carolina, 1966)."  Liberals keep pushing the notion that racism exists not because they oppose it but out of a "yearning for the halcyon days of the civil rights movement when we all could feel righteous (or self-righteous) for battling the likes of Bull Connors or George Wallace... What we see now is an attempt -- conscious or unconscious -- to generate racism by false accusation, literally to manufacture it." Out of thin air! This non-existent racism.

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich agrees. Obama's identification with Martin based on their shared race was "appalling," Gingrich said. "It's not a question of who that young man looked like ... Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn't look like him?" Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, considered a potential presidential candidate a year ago until he was quoted in the Weekly Standard reminiscing about how great the segregationist White Citizens Councils were, wasn't quite sure where to stand on Gingrich's comment in his appearance on Meet the Press this past Sunday. At first, Barbour said of Gingrich's comments, "Well, I wouldn't have characterized it that way. But look, he's right. Any child, white, black, brown, red or yellow that gets killed, it's a tragedy... Now there's -- he's absolutely dead right, there's no difference because of what race somebody is when something like this happens." But then later on the show, he backtracked a little, invoking famous lynching victim Emmett Till. He praised the mayor of Sanford, saying, "That's what leaders are supposed to do. Even if it's not proper at home to say, 'Guys, it's in our interest, it's the right thing for the city, the state, let's bring the F.B.I. in here.  Let's bring the Florida State Police in here.  Let's do whatever it takes to get all the cards on the table, face up, and then we'll figure out what to do.'" Barbour is admitting race might play a role after all -- not just in the crime, but in local public opinion, too.

This would put Haley Barbour at odds with a big swath of the conservative commentariat. The National Review's Jonah Goldberg argued Tuesday that black liberals who think racism is real are merely misinformed about black America. "If you go by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times, or Donna Britt in her NPR interview, or much of the blather on MSNBC, you’ll get the impression that the foremost problem facing young black men in America is violent white racism," Goldberg writes. Wrong! Goldberg exlpains:

The richest and most successful African-Americans spend a lot more time in elite 'white' America than they do in Compton or East St. Louis. And, my hunch is, they’re more understandably more worried about white men with guns than they are about guns in their kids’ private schools. 

If they're only hanging out with rich white people, and they're "understandably" scared of white people with guns, does that mean rich white liberals are the real people you have to watch out for going on racially-motivated shooting spree? Perhaps they read his book Liberal Fascism and have seen the light that their liberal white friends are secretly Nazis? Alas, Goldberg does not elaborate. Instead he continues that this is black folks' version of the red-state-blue-state divide.

I also think it’s a lot easier for rich black liberals to have an “honest conversation” about white racism than it is for them to engage in an honest conversation about the other problems facing black America that have little to nothing to do with white racism.

Thankfully we have Goldberg to explain black life for them. Sure, black and white liberals alike might say that the problems Goldberg aludes to are the lingering effects of past racist practices like redlining. But no. His colleague Heather Mac Donald statistically proves racism isn't real. How can you quantify how widespread an attitude is? Murder statistics:

Most homicides are intraracial, but the chance of a black being killed by a white or Hispanic is much lower than the chance that a white or Hispanic will be killed by a black. Seventeen percent of what the FBI calls “white” homicide victims in 2009 were killed by blacks, compared to 8 percent of black homicide victims who were killed by “whites.”

Simon cites the same statistics and comes to a slightly different conclusion: since so many murders involve killers and victims of the same race, there are very few racist murderers. Or as he puts it, "By way of comparison, traffic deaths for the same year were 33,963. Obviously, you have much better chance of being killed by a Porsche than by a racist." So hooray! By the bar's lowest setting (how often are people killing each other because of race?) racism has been made to disappear. But that's not the end of it. By arguing that if the killed teen were white, and the shooter were black then the police would have investigated immediately, racism-manufacturing liberals are defaming law enforcement, Mac Donald argues:

But if such evidence of racial indifference does emerge, it would be not only shameful but also a great exception to the practice of police departments across the country. Far from showing a “reckless disregard for [black] lives,” in Sharpton’s words, it is the police and prosecutors who are the most reliable responders to black victimization, trying relentlessly to put together a case even when the witnesses to crime refuse to cooperate. Most police chiefs will say that they could solve every inner-city killing if the people who saw the crime or know the perpetrators came forward, instead of obeying the “no snitching” code.

Her sole evidence for the relentless efforts of police nationwide is that the rate of blacks being murdered has been cut in half since 1991. She does not point out that the murder rate for victims of all races has also been cut in half since then. Nor does she provide statistical evidence that more crimes would be solved if those dummies quit "obeying the 'no snitching' code."
Not everyone on the right is seizing the moment to declare the end of racism. For some it was already dead. Michelle Malkin writes that she hasn't had enough time to cover the Martin case, but says the left has "turned the horrible death of Trayvon Martin into a racial litmus test." Then she links to a 2010 post in which she declared racism dead. Back then, some Democrats said some Tea Partiers were racist. "[T]he Left never takes a break from falsely accusing the Right of fomenting hatred and violence through political speech," Malkin wrote. This was Democrats' tool to pass health care reform, she said. "If you can’t stand the heat, manufacture a hate crime epidemic."
Conservatives' declarations of the end of racism would be more compelling if they didn't have such strange ideas of what black people are like. There's Mac Donald's casual reference to "stop snitching." National Review's Victor Davis Hanson declared racism dead back in September, since white people were supporting Herman Cain. "In the current racial circus, the president of the United States, in addressing an assembly of upscale black professionals and political leaders, adopts the style of a Southern Baptist preacher of the 1960s," he wrote. Of course, it seems unlikely that Obama would, as Hanson charges, consciously steal from Southern Baptists, since their church's founding principle was an explicit endorsement of slavery. (The church did manage to apologize for explicitly endorsing segregation… in 1995.) Then there was Goldberg's January post mocking Mitt Romney for talking about the "streets of America," writing, "If he's street than I'm the shock collar for a vicious Mexican drug gang." Of course, the term is "shot caller," as anyone who has ever watched MTV knows. Shock collars are to keep the tiny toy poodles that people like Goldberg feed caviar and paté from yapping. (Is that a gross stereotype? My b.). And then there was Geraldo Rivera's argument for why racism didn't kill Martin, it was his sweatshirt and his race. "I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies," he said Friday. "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was." On Tuesday, he apologized to anyone offended by his "crusade to warn minority families of the danger to their young sons inherent in gangsta style clothing; like hoodies." Alas, the hoodie-loving gangsta's shopping at JCrew.com did not heed his call, as the photo at right shows.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.