Race Talk

For most of my life I have found the topic of race to be uninteresting. The best we could hope for, in terms of black-white relations, is an uneasy peace between the races. A colorblind society was never going to happen because of history and nature. Humans are tribal and familial, thus making a colorblind society an impossibility anywhere on earth. Even if nature got out of the way, history would always be there. That leaves some form of uneasy peace.

The first hundred years post-slavery the peace was kept through separation. In the north that meant physical separation. Whites kept blacks in urban ghettos, away from middle-class whites, usually using working-class white ethnics as a buffer. In the South, a legal separation was the preferred method. Blacks were non-citizens living amongst the white citizens. Once the North decided the South could not keep the peace that way, the South adopted a form of northern separation as their way of keeping the peace.

That’s where things have sat since the Civil Rights movement. Blacks are full citizens, but there is a physical, spiritual and cultural separation from whites. Overt racism is bad for keeping the peace so whites make sure they police that on their side of the fence. In cities like Baltimore and Washington, keeping the black ghetto from spilling into tourist areas is the main job of the cops. City leaders, black and white, look the other way and tacitly accept the arrangement. It keeps the peace.

That’s what made race talk so dull for me. There was no good reason to talk about the reality of race relations, as that would violate the unwritten rules of keeping the peace. That left the sterile banalities from the Civil Rights Movement drifting around like pot smoke in a late 60’s dorm room. People with nothing to say, but determined to say it, filled the space reserved for discussions about race.

The determination of the American Left to fashion an electoral majority around the hatred of white men has made keeping the peace impossible. Here we are with a black ruler and yet we have race riots. Whether it is materially true or not, the perception of the American people is that race relations are worse now than before Obama. That makes ridiculous platitudes about race less tolerable. NRO’s Jonah Goldberg, has this up today.

On Tuesday, the day after it was announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the slaying of Michael Brown, President Obama for a second time called for calm. His statement was measured, careful and responsible. He condemned violence and looting while acknowledging the legitimate concerns animating the protestors. He wasn’t all that moving or eloquent, but this might have been one of those times when swinging for the rhetorical fences wasn’t what the moment needed.

One theme he hit repeatedly, and correctly, was that the passions of many protestors are rooted in something very real. The “frustrations that we’ve seen are not just about a particular incident,” Obama said. “They have deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.”

The Nazis passions were rooted in something real too, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. The Hutu’s slaughter of Tutsis was rooted in something real, hatred of Tutsis. This solipsistic babble is just a passive-aggressive way to agree with one side without accepting the moral consequences. In this case, Goldberg can pretend to sympathize with the blacks, without saying they are right.

There’s no doubt that is true. As John McWhorter writes in Time magazine, “The key element in the Brown–Wilson encounter was not any specific action either man took — it was the preset hostility to the cops that Brown apparently harbored.” Officer Wilson made a legitimate request of Brown. Brown, in turn, saw no legitimacy in it and behaved recklessly.

In a community where cops are feared, resented, or reviled, it’s almost inevitable that bad things will happen when cops try to do their job, even if they do everything by the book. Moreover, to simply say that the resentment of the police is unwarranted does nothing to solve the problem. People forget that for a brief moment in August, the protests turned peaceful and law-abiding when Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American from Ferguson with credibility in the neighborhood, was put in charge of policing the protests.

Eventually, thanks in large part to an influx of professional agitators, rabble-rousers, and opportunists — attracted to television cameras like ambulance chasers to a bus accident — the protests got out of hand again. But that moment was instructive.

Now, if you’ve been following the news lately — and by lately, I mean the last several years, or even decades — none of this is particularly shocking. Friction between police departments and minority communities has been part of the national conversation on race (that liberals insist hasn’t been going on) for as long as I can remember. The New York Times has been regularly covering that beat for at least half a century. It’s a major theme of movies and music. It’s a huge profit center for Al Sharpton, who doesn’t lack for influence or microphones.

Before Jonah was born, everyone knew that blacks hated the cops. There’s never been a time in America when the blacks did not hate the cops. Policing has changed a lot over the years and the makeup of police departments has changed too. Even where most cops are black, the blacks hate the cops. Blacks especially hate black cops.

Of course, Jonah never bothers to ask why blacks hate cops or if their hatred is warranted. That leads to uncomfortable revelations about race, which are forbidden. Instead he veers off into babbling about the national conversation, elite chattering skulls and so forth. More nonsense wafting about the room for no good reason.

That’s what is making the race discussion interesting. One side is trying to keep the peace by sticking with the threadbare platitudes. The other is trying to stir up war by misrepresenting common everyday events so that blacks riot. You can’t have both of these for very long. Either the Left backs off and finds another way to get the black vote out in force or the race discussion moves from the banal to the painfully serious.