Race: December 2003 Archives

1. A mixed-race woman is claiming that Strom Thurmond is her father. As far as I can tell, she's probably right. A former Thurmond aide (who happens to be black) was just on Fox News saying that he definitely had a relationship of some sort with her and that she did believe she was his daughter. He wouldn't confirm that Thurmond was her father, however. As far as I can tell, the San Francisco Chronicle broke this.

Her lawyer said she's got strong evidence for this and is willing to submit to DNA testing. Then he said that when people saw her and heard her speak, they would know she's his daughter. She's very articulate and intelligent.

What? The only sense I can make of this is that he thinks the only way a black woman could be articulate and intelligent is if she's not fully black but her father was a white senator. This lawyer was also black, however, so I'm not sure at all what this was supposed to mean. It's as baffling as pro-choice Howard Dean's statement (see below) that of course he never performed any abortions because he's a medical doctor. Are the lowered standards of affirmative action for this black lawyer making him think that black people can't normally be expected to be articulate and intelligent?

One additional thought. A quick web search revealed that there were suggestions of this at least as early as this summer, when he died. Everything commenting on this that I could find accused him of hypocrisy, thinking it odd that a white racist could have a daughter with a black woman but still advocate racist policies. I think these people understand little of what the States Rights Party he ran under was really shooting for. Their goal was to resist being forced by the federal government to make changes that reminded them of Reconstruction, which grates on the southern consciousness even today (which is the only reason Zell Miller and John Breaux are still Democrats). He recently said that some of his speech to this end was wrong. He probably played to the audience a little more than he later would have preferred. Does this reveal innate animosity to black people? I don't think so, especially if he really cared for this woman. I think he probably wanted states to be able to pursue progress on their own but was pragmatically willing to play to whatever racism there was in the audience, something I find intolerable but not necessarily inconsistent with loving his daughter, and it doesn't mean he was a KKK-style racist. It's more like the store-owner who doesn't mind black people but won't hire any out of fear that racists won't shop there. It's still bad but not the same thing most white people think when they hear cries of racism.

I'm not sure he was ever a racist in the KKK sense, though I do think some policies he advocated had negative racial consequences. I never thought Trent Lott was a racist in that sense either, though it was clear that he didn't understand how black people would take his comment about Thurmond's run for presidency, and an argument can therefore be made that he didn't have black people's interests in mind when he made the comment. (That doesn't say anything about whether he ever does. He may well.) Whatever you think of Thurmond or Lott, it's clear that Thurmond at one point said some things the he later believed were wrong. He clearly advocated policies that made race relations in this country worse. Of course, I think most Democratic policies regarding race nowadays do exactly that, thinking they're doing the opposite, and I don't think Hillary Clinton is a racist in any strong sense (keep in mind that I think everyone has some residual racism that most of us think we should overcome and don't want to admit). So it doesn't follow that Thurmond was, either.

There's certainly a tension here, but I don't think it's any more than all the Kennedy politicians saying they're for the little people, when their abusive and destructive behavior has demonstrated that they care very little about the average Joe. It's not the same tension (one is acting in a way that harms those one cares about for a supposedly greater principle, and the other is acting in a way that really harms those one says one cares about but looks as if it helps them and therefore gets those very people's votes). Is it worse to care about someone and do something that harms them but later repent of it, or is it worse not to care, to pretend to care, and to do something that looks as if it helps them but doesn't? Jesus certainly thought the latter was worse, and I'm inclined to defer to his judgment.

2. According to several prominent black voices, Michael Jackson is a victim of a larger white racist conspiracy that doesn't want a black man to be successful. There have been accusations of police brutality in the arrest. (For those who care, Katherine Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, and Dick Gregory are three such people whose statements along these lines I have evidence for. I saw some mention of the Reveler Al Sharpton saying something like this, but I lost it before I saved a link to it.)


Hello? McFly? First, Michael Jackson's success can't be averted. It's part of history. The arrest was televised. Second, everyone saw it, and there wasn't any brutality beyond what's normal for an arrest of someone who isn't violently resisting it. A black woman was just on Geraldo Rivera pointing out that cops intimidate. That's their job when they're arresting someone. There wasn't any brutality here. Third, a lot of people don't even think about the fact that Michael Jackson is black. He certainly has tried to make people forget it with his plastic surgery, so I'm not sure why he's hiring the Nation of Islam now to provide bodyguards for him. Most people just think of him as an incredibly successful singer, and it's his celebrity status if anything that first affects how people think of him, just as it was for O.J. Simpson, who got off because he was a football star. (If the black women on the jury were of the sort to let race affect their judgment, they would most likely have seen him as a race traitor for marrying a white woman and not one of their own.)

This sort of thing is just divisive. Even the ultra-liberal Geraldo (who just indicated on the air that he believes there's such a thing as DWB -- driving while black) is urging people not to go the "race card" direction with this case, because it will cause division as those who played the race card in the O.J. case did. It's amazing to me that people could get such delight from saying things that just seem so implausible just to feel good about making white people feel bad for the terrible things white people do, when in this case (as in many) they're not even doing it. This has no good result except a sort of perverse, passive-aggressive, anti-triumphal triumphalism. Victimology strikes again, and race relations are worse for it.

Christian philosopher Michael Rea has posted a very interesting exchange with Daniel Dennett on the issue of naturalism. Dennett is known, among other things, for his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, a discussion of the philosophical implications of evolutionary theory.

Dennett recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Apparently the point of the piece is to come out of the closet as an atheist (or, to use his preferred and highly pretentious, dialectically loaded, term, a bright) and to ask for more respect for atheists. Yes, atheists are now playing the victimology card.

John McWhorter spends his first chapter of Losing the Race, argues that the black community in the United States (and pretty much nowhere else) seems to emphasize victimhood merely for the sake of saying it to feel better. There's no attempt to make things any better. A number of other groups in American society have done this sort of thing, with political correctness as the most obvious result. Christians have certainly joined the bandwagon, as evidenced by David Limbaugh's new book. (Incidentally, I think what Limbaugh is pointing out is true. Christians are often belittled by the intellectual elite. However, I think it's ridiculous to emphasize this as persecution in the face of what Christians in Saudi Arabia or China have to deal with or what most seriously Bible-following Christians throughout history have had to deal with.) Another example is the "reverse racism" idea, which in some ways does get to a real issue about whether fairness is the standard and how it should be achieved. This issue is actually far more complicated than both the right and the left tend to make it seem. See my thoughts on this past summer's Supreme Court ruling and John McWhorter's argument that affirmative action's real problem is its racism against underrepresented minorities, not against whites and Asians. Still, white people actually complaining about (and even bringing lawsuits over) the unfairness they've experienced for being white is as bad as any other kind of victimology.

Well, now atheists are claiming victimhood. They just want a little respect. I think Rea makes it clear that Dennett isn't really looking for mutual respect. Most of what he says about Dennett is about right, as far as I can tell. Basically, Rea is blowing the whistle on a real presumption for atheism among professional philosophers, something Christians in philosophy have been able to see for a long time. It's actually gotten better in recent years, but Dennett exemplifies the attitude I've seen in many I know who want to portray evangelicals as "ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked" (to quote Rea). It's interesting that someone who clearly does have this agenda (whose view on this issue happens to be considered orthodoxy among philosophers) would claim victimhood.



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