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.”
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.