Race: March 2008 Archives

Kevin Drum had a very helpful discussion of the charges the Obama campaign and its surrogates have been leveling against Hillary Clinton. I'm not sure I agree with him in every case, but it's one of the best things I've seen on the subject. Any claim that it's Hillary who's really driving the racial overtones of the Democratic race is just ignoring a lot of what's out there. Some on her side have surely said things intended to be taken in a racially-negative way. But the examples he gives (and see the discussions he links to for arguments why the criticisms are indeed over-the-top) show that it's not simply an example of the Hillary side raising racial issues and the Obama side ignoring them and not making anything of race.

I had to take interest in the first two comments mentioning Geraldine Ferraro, who didn't come up in the post. What interested me most about their appearance is the assumption that that's a genuine case of racism that they must be taking to undermine his whole argument. First of all, if it's genuine racism that doesn't undermine his argument. His point is that many of the accusations of racism are going way too far. One case that is racism doesn't undermine that claim.

Second, I don't think it's fair to describe that as racist. If the same person who says Barack Obama's race has helped raise interest from the media and the Democratic higher-ups to jump-start his campaign also says of herself that the same is true from her being a woman, it strikes me as very unlikely that she's saying the former out of racism but is rather just acknowledging that the Democratic party is more likely to use affirmative action considerations for selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates, something Democrats aren't generally opposed to and don't generally consider racist. (It's Republicans who are more likely to level that charge.) So why is it racist to point out that affirmative action techniques on that level might put someone in a position to get more attention than they could have gotten otherwise?

[I do realize that some people think Ferraro was saying more. According to them, she was claiming that no one would now support Obama if he weren't black. But I think that's a very unlikely interpretation. It's so radically at odds with the exit polls that I don't know how she could have thought she'd get away with saying something so empirically false.]

Update March 29: Is it racist for Obama to say the things of himself that Ferraro said of him?

One of the most irksome things about the fascination in cable news with certain missing persons cases is that virtually all of the cases they pay any attention to are of blond, white girls or young women, and they pay absolutely no attention to the vast majority of missing persons cases, and yet the few they can find with an attractive blond girl will get hours a day for months. It's such a clear example of a kind of white racism that isn't what most white people think of when they hear the word 'racism'. White people think of negative, overt, conscious attitudes against non-whites when they hear that word. This is clearly not that, and yet there's no way it's not a kind of racism.

In light of that, see this interesting poster campaign. [hat tip: Racialicious]

A janitor at the University of Indiana at Purdue is in their continuing education program, trying to improve his lot in life on the side. He reads during his break time. One book he reads is called Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. It's not exactly favorable to the KKK, but it does include their name in the title.

Somehow the university thought it was ok to ban him from reading this book during his breaks [hat tip: David Bernstein], because there were black people around him, and they were offended that the book mentions the KKK. Here is the statement from the affirmative action office on why this counts as racial harassment:

"You demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your coworkers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence...you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black coworkers."

First of all, how could someone possibly think that it's immoral to read a book that's highly critical of the KKK while in the presence of a black person? Second, it's not as if he was reading it aloud. All they had any access to was the fact that he was reading it. Third, even if it's immoral to read something in the presence of someone else, how does that give the university a good reason to ban it. It's not as if he was waving the book around and saying anything to anyone else about it. He merely had the book and was reading it. Fourth, why would they want to give the appearance that they're hindering a janitor, who does some of the dirtiest jobs at the university, from getting his education? It doesn't reflect all that well on them. Fifth, they accuse him of being insensitive and expressing disdain for his co-workers, when he's the one who tried to explain the book's content to several people who refused to listen to him and insisted that anything even remotely discussing the KKK is offensive. How backwards is that?

Well, they recanted while pretending to clarify their position. Some higher-up must have realized how silly the whole thing was.

I don't spend a lot of time harping on this point, but this is a pretty good instance of something I've tried to motivate a few times before. There is certainly plenty of room for improvement in how sensitive white people are to black people's experiences, and a lot of offense can occur that isn't intended. Nevertheless, it only hurts that cause to insist on offense over stupid things like this. The guy was reading a book whose very title shows that it's not in support of the KKK. It's not a good idea to try to get your employer to ban someone from becoming educated about the realities of race relations, something white people certainly need more of.

John McWhorter's stuff on victimology is often dismissed among those on the left who recognize real racial problems (not that McWhorter ever denies those, of course). But he's surely right that there's a culture of complaint about relatively trivial offenses and in many cases immoral complaints about non-offenses like this one. This kind of reaction only fosters the attitude among many on the right that racial problems are caused by black (or in general non-white) people who won't learn to get over it, because it confirms that at least in some cases there's some truth to that.

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