Race: July 2004 Archives

The biggest mistake of the Democratic Convention earlier this week was to allow Al Sharpton to speak. Everyone was expecting a smaller bounce than normal for Kerry after the convention, but the polls I've seen suggest that he's actually still losing ground after the convention, just at a slower rate of losing ground than he had been before it. Al Sharpton is one of the reasons, I'm sure. They were trying hard to have a well-scripted, well-timed convention, masquerading as conservatives, toning down the rhetoric against Bush so as to look positive with all sorts of veiled venom whose depth of negativity the average viewer won't detect. Most of the speakers were performing admirably. See my comments on Clinton's speech to see how masterful he was at pretending he was being positive and uniting while making all sorts of false and unfair claims. He has amazing skills at the kind of rhetoric philosophy courses teach people to see through. It's brilliant psychologically, though to someone like me it just gives the appearance of stupidity for lack of a real argument.

Well, Sharpton didn't hide anything. He still had bad rhetoric in lieu of any arguments, but it was exactly that -- bad rhetoric. He's not fooling anyone. Even those who don't know of his history of bigotry can see that the guy is a divider, an angry hater who gives a very different image from what Kerry is trying to fashion for himself with this convention. All the liberal commentators on MSNBC (Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, etc.) were pointing this out. There are some aspects of his speech that are so evil in the disguise he puts on them that not everyone would notice, but it only took viewing a couple minutes of the 24 he spent (though he was allotted only 6) for me to think the Democratic leadership were regretting allowing him on. Here's his speech.

Drugs for Blacks

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There's a new drug for African-American heart patients (found at Volokh). There's something right about this, and there's something a little dangerous. The drug had been tested and abandoned in the 80s due to little success among most people. At some point someone figured out that it had a better effect among black people, and studies to confirm this showed good results. What's most likely going on is that a genetic trait common among Americans of recent African descent (one suggestion has to do with nitric acid levels) allows this drug to be more successful with this particular kind of heart condition, just as some other kinds of medication are less successful in the same population. It doesn't seem related to the genes for pigmentation. Skin color may be a good guide to seeing whether someone has the relevant trait for the drug, but enough race mixing has gone on in the history of this country, and enough immigration of people who look enough like Americans of African descent but who are genetically very dissimilar, that prescribing such medicines according to racial identification is a very bad idea.

I just got around to reading President Bush's speech to the National Urban League. It's very good. I don't think there's any question which candidate should appeal more to black voters, as long as they're willing to put aside long-standing prejudices against the Republican party. Bush knows how to speak the language of the ordinary person, something Kerry can't even succeed at doing when he puts on his actor's hat and tries. It's no surprise that some of this involves speaking the language of the ordinary black American. The things Bush choose to emphasize in this speech are the things so many ordinary Americans, including those who are black, value very much. They're the very things black voters have been convinced for a couple generations that Republicans don't value at all.

This time there's no way you can charge Bush with just saying it when speaking at this sort of gathering, because most of his speech was a defense of actual policies he's enacted or tried to enact unsuccessfully. It's not just a defense, but it's a good defense. He knows how to make this argument well. I don't agree with every single point, and it may be (for all I know) that on some points I'd be more inclined to agree with Kerry, but John Kerry doesn't hold a candle to him on these issues.

One thing I've been covering in my ethics course this summer is whether it's possible for there to be black anti-white racism and black anti-black racism (I say yes to both). I've been suspicious of a common attitude toward Colin Powell and Condi Rice fits both categories, namely that they're not really black due to their being conservative, serving in a Republican administration, being part of "the man", etc. I've written on this subject here, here, and here. What just occurred to me yesterday is that the main argument for the line of thinking that I'm suspicious of seems quite at odds with one of the main arguments for affirmative action.

Today I began my unit on racism in the summer course I'm teaching. One of the readings I'm using is Naomi Zack's Thinking About Race. I was looking through the section that defines various types of racism, and I noticed some pretty suspect analysis in a couple places. She stretches the definition of racism to include things that just don't seem to me to fall under that category at all, particularly with institutional racism. She also fails to allow something to count as racism when it seems obvious to me that it should (and with this kind it's not clear if it should count as institutional racism, though it is structural racism of a sort). So her account of institutional racism may well be both too strong and too weak, interestingly.

King of Fools pointed out a while ago (I'd saved a link to it and just noticed that I hadn't gotten around to posting about it) that people scared of test result discrepancies have prevented black children from taking IQ tests in California. Removing a test that's remarkably good at predicting certain kinds of success in life on the grounds that it doesn't lead to equal scores for every group defeats the purpose of trying to identify what factors lead to those kinds of success in life, which is the only way to identify whatever leads to the lower test scores among black students and therefore the only way to progress toward solving any problems that lead to that test score gap (and the only way to see if any particular attempts to deal with problems are working).

Even aside from that, I'm not sure how this policy can still be maintained given California's rejection of race-based preferences as discrimination, unless that was just a rejection of one specific kind of race-based preferences in the form of affirmative action in college and university admissions.

Here's an argument I just simply don't understand. Bill Cosby has become vocal of late in calling to the carpet those of his fellow black Americans who have participated in the self-destructive behavior that has popularized a form of separatism from education and hard work among a segment of African American culture, contributing toward the perpetuation of disproportional poverty among African Americans. Some have criticized him, but to their creidt Jesse Jackson and Kwesi Mfume have been willing to tolerate this message, even though it's at odds with their continuing emphasis on eternal victimhood. Mfume distinguishes between Bill Cosby's statements and those who have been saying such things for years. Why?

Bill Cosby has legitimacy, that's the one difference... He has legitimacy in the larger black community. [Cosby's] been, there, done that. He has legitimacy that the super-ultra white conservative doesn't. So when he says something, you listen differently. That's opposed to Rush Limbaugh, who has no legitimacy whatsoever in the black community - none, although he thinks he does.

Avery at Stereo Describes My Scenario has an excellent post on colorblindness. One question he raises is whether it's good, or even possible, to treat people as if they have no race. He quotes someone he knew who once told him that he didn't really think of him as black. To whatever degree it's impossible to treat people as raceless, it's also illegitimate simply because it's deceptive. I'm with Avery on that. I have one additional concern with this colorblindness thing, but it's a little more complicated than just thinking colorblindness is wrong. It's occurred to me that there are two different ways of being colorblind, one normal and natural and the other viewed as good by the classical liberal framework (of which both conservatives and liberals in the U.S. are part) but which actually can involve real residual racism and certainly negative attitudes toward the people you're being colorblind about.

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