McWhorter on Black People and New Orleans

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I've pointed out numerous times in the past how black conservatives have moved conservatives in a new direction from where white conservatives had gone in the past. The primary difference is that black conservatives seek to remedy problems in the black community through conservative values and policies, or in many cases the removal of certan liberal attitudes and policies. A good example of that is John McWhorter's article last month in the London Sunday Times, arguing that liberals are right that white people are responsible for the fact that poor people in New Orleans are predominantly black, and white people are indeed responsible for the particular kind of poverty black people in New Orleans have been living in.

Yet it would be misleading to stop there. It's not white people per se who are responsible for this. It's the white people who crafted the proposal to expand welfare massively in the 1960s to take black people from jobs and make them dependent on government doles for generations. It's the white people who were convinced by those people that they would be promoting racial harmony and helping out people they felt guilty about. It's the white people who continue to vote for people who promote such policies due to the rhetoric that it's the decent thing to do. I think it's unfair to portray white conservatives as opposing things like welfare simply because they don't care about black people or poor people. But it's certainly evil to portray black conservatives who make this sort of argument that way. What's amazing to me is that McWhorter gets that sort of critique all the time from people who don't even bother to hear what he's saying.

McWhorter's more recent National Review piece on race and the government response to the hurricane is even more telling, and I think more obviously correct. His closing comments on identity politics are apt. I agree with them fully, but it's sort of old hat for him. This is nothing new, and I've talked about it many times. What caught my eye in this piece is the first part. His response to Kanye West's "it's been five days because most of the people are black. George Bush doesn't care about black people" is hilarious, if you can put aside the fact that we're talking about people suffering here (and that West is using these people's suffering merely to score political points):

To say "George Bush doesn't care about black people" means that one honestly believes that if it were the poor whites of Louisiana who happened to live closest to the levees, hardly anyone would have gotten wet. Fifty thousand troops would have been standing at the borders of the city as soon as Katrina popped up on meteorologists’ radar screens. The National Guard would have magically lifted the long-entrenched bureaucratic restrictions that allow states to call up troops only when it is proven that they are needed. The U.S. Navy would have anticipated that refugees would number in the tens of thousands, and would have started the days-long process of loading up rescue ships with supplies a week before the storm actually hit. Suddenly, against all historical precedent, just for that week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have morphed into a well-organized and dependable outfit.

He then provides a bit of the historical background for the last statement. There's nothing new about how FEMA handled this, and the other cases he mentions show that it has nothing to do with race. Those who act as if it does need to figure out how to channel their energies into something a little more productive. I'm suspicious when anyone claims that a public personage is lying, but I'm beginning to wonder if these people really believe what they're saying.


Only slightly related: it is ironic that the "neocons" -- former Democrats and liberals -- became Republicans, bringing with them support for civil rights and color-blind politics.

Color-blind politics has been a key element of the Republican Party at least since Reagan, though it's much older than that. Republicans were pro-civil rights before Democrats were, way back in Lincoln's day but even in the early stages of the Civil Rights Acts in the mid-60s. More Republicans voted for those than Democrats. The migration of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party in those days brought some segregationists, leaving the civil rights branch of the Dems to take over, and classic integrationist colorblind Republicans were at odds with their newly found party members who helped them win the presidency for Nixon. Classic Republicanism of the non-SouthernDem variety never supported segregation and fully supported civil rights, but they didn't have as much of a voice in the party during the 60s and 70s. It was with Reagan that the classic wing of the party clearly had taken over again, and color-blind rhetoric become common again (over states' rights rhetoric, which was more common in Nixon's time). I don't think the neocons had a lot to do with this, since they came a bit later.

It's only with the current administration, which happens to be more neocon-influenced, but mostly on foreign policy, that you've actually had some moderating of the harsh color-blindness (pretending race matters for nothing) toward acceptance of differences between racial and ethnic groups as valuable, something the absolute color-blind integrationist view and the segregationist view both denied. It's not as far as the current Dem view, which is that racial preferences should continue even if it's a drastic lowering of standards and no matter what effect it has on those it's supposed to be helping, but it doesn't pretend that race never has any effect on anything at all, the way the colorblind view has to pretend (or it wouldn't be colorblind). I don't think Bush and his people go far enough with it, but they've taken a step in the right direction, and no other recent administration has gotten as close to the view that I think is correct.

Some may carry around two (or a hundred) books on the different ways that they want to treat people, but I will not.

Race only matters because some want it to matter. I've played that game but can no longer stand the smell.

Race only matters because some want it to matter.

That's exactly right, but not in the way you mean. Race does only matter because some want it to matter. If no one wanted it to matter, it wouldn't matter. The problem is that the people who want it to matter aren't the ones who will stop wanting it to matter. Because they do want it to matter, those of us who wouldn't otherwise want it to matter have to acknowledge that it affects social relationships. Anyone who denies it is simply ignoring reality, even if it's a merely social reality that shouldn't have to be the way it is. Recognizing that it has effects that we need to pay attention to does not amount to endorsing those who want it to matter. I don't want it to matter, but I don't see why we should pretend that it doesn't matter just because we don't want it to.

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