The Conversation That Hasn't Started
A great writer, Salon's Alex Pareene, writes a vicious and disappointingly reasoned article accusing Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen of all manner of racial prejudice. He argues
The occasion of this week’s installment of “Richard Cohen explains why black men should be treated as second-class citizens for the safety of us all, which is to say rich old white men” is the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cohen is very sorry that Martin is dead due to Zimmerman incorrectly assuming him to be a criminal of some sort based solely on Martin’s demographic profile — in other words, Cohen is sorry that Martin is dead because of racial profiling — but on the other hand, Cohen argues, racial profiling is correct and necessary because black people are scary, at least when they wear certain things.
Uh, no. If you read more carefully (not difficult) than did Pareene, you will read
Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime.
And then you will read "After all, if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk." And then you will read "If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated."
If you believe, as Pareene seems to, that there is no difference between black people (as in Cohen thinks "black people are scary") and young black males, consider whether there is a difference between white people and young white males. The youth and gender make a difference- including as to incidence of crime- with Caucasians, and it would be a major upset if it made no difference among blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or any other racial or ethnic group.
Remarks about Trayvon Martin and Barack Obama aside, Cohen falls short when he maintains
The problems of the black underclass are hardly new. They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed.
Pareene sarcastically paraphrases Cohen as "Whoops, we created a huge impoverished underclass. There is probably nothing we can do for them now, and they scare me, so they should work on fixing their 'culture.'” Enactment of legislation tends to focus the mind, and people often do not change behavior until persuaded by the force of law, as the history of civil rights legislation demonstrates. Pining for a change in culture removes from government, and the people upon whom its legitimacy rests, the responsibility to alleviate the factors which divide individuals on the basis of race, gender, class, or any other classification.
Pareene notes Cohen "keeps claiming that no one in America is willing to broach the topic of Black Criminals." (Note the capitalization there, a clever and disingenuous implication that Cohen has suggested something dark and institutionalized of blacks.) And in fact, Cohen does observe "crime where it intersects with race is given the silent treatment," to which Pareene can only snark "and, obviously, the nightly news has no ingrained bias in favor of fear-mongering and sensationalist coverage of crime."
But fear-mongering and sensationalizing crime has no more to do with analysis where crime intersects with race any more than coverage of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West represents a report about the increase of inter-racial marriage in the U.S.A. or coverage of Natalie Portman is equal to analysis of out-of-wedlock births. Mention the issues racial disparity in the criminal justice system (or gun violence), conservatives almost reflexively respond "Chicago;" mention urban crime to progressives, "whites" are charged with racism, sexual profiling, or fear of blacks. Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups escape blame. Cohen, Pareene contends, is "speaking for rich old white men" and "addressing the fears of white people like Richard Cohen." Perhaps Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups are unconcerned about street crime, or their motives are beyond reproach.
The national discussion about race is not just beyond the horizon. Four years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder observed "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." That was accurate then and remains so, as the response to Richard Cohen demonstrates.
There will be no blogging here for several days. Please return on Monday, July 22 for scintillating and incisive commentary. Or for whatever appears.