Race–on the Brain

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Someone named Elspeth Reeve, in an Atlantic posting, is suggesting that the Derbyshire essay was no different from other commentary on National Reviewon the Trayvon Martin case, citing my observations, along with those of others at NR, as proof:

Perhaps Derbyshire was surprised by his dismissal, given that theNational Review has recently published Victor Davis Hanson wondering why Trayvon Martin could use the N-word freely but George Zimmerman was attacked for allegedly saying “coon.”

That’s not quite what I wrote and so Reeve is lying in this case; my concern was a) that we had no idea what Zimmerman said; and b) I was not objecting to criticism if he did, in fact, use the word, but rather to the enormous effort to invest one word with proof of Zimmerman’s motives, as if a slur on the phone will tell us who prompted the fight or the extent of the injuries suffered or the actual circumstances of the altercation; and c) unfortunately the entire vocabulary of racist slurs has been cheapened, and few anymore insist that no one of any race should use any racial slurs:

The country is obsessed with decoding a scratchy tape to ascertain whether Mr. Zimmerman said “cold, coons, goons, or punks,” with the idea that if the garbled word proves a racial slur, then we have the magical key that will supposedly unlock the case — even as the late Travyon Martin self-identified himself with the N-word on his Twitter account and used it of his friends. No one can explain why Mr. Martin felt a need to so self-identify; no one seems to care; and no one can provide rules of the conditions under which (who says it, and when, why, how) society must deplore the use of such an epithet.

Subsequent audio analysis suggests that those who accused Zimmerman of using the “c-word” were, in fact, mistaken, although they have moved on to other arguments to prejudge the case by insisting on a racialist motive. But Reeve misses the larger point, again, that the promiscuous use of the N-word by anyone only cheapens its currency, even if that is the supposed intent. There was a time not too far in the past when the black community attempted to stop the use of the N-word in rap music, on radio, and in movies for precisely the reason that its reborn ubiquity would insidiously cause it to lose any shock value, and make it more, not less, difficult, to curb its use against blacks, when young black males themselves were using it, and not just as a term of endearment.

As for the Martin case, notice how so many have been proven wrong about the supposed racial slur on tape, wrong about the video proving no injury, wrong about a doctored NBC tape. They don’t seem to care that a rare rubric “white Hispanic” was introduced uniquely in this case for similar purposes of polarization, or that photos were published with the intent to mislead the public about the size and age of the victim, or that there have been calls for an immediate arrest, before the review of probable cause is finished, as if arresting someone through mob pressure is a compromise solution. Most will be glad to see Zimmerman charged — if a review of the evidence suggests that there is probable cause to think he was not endangered physically by Martin and so shot the latter without sufficient reason. But so far the media and commentators have not been interested in ascertaining that, at least in comparison with hyping a supposed white/black racial incident for careerist purposes.

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he surely must have known that what he wrote was way over the line, and, besides, did not follow his own usually rigorous standards of statistical logic. He knows that purported IQ per se is not necessarily proof of competency; if it were, the stellar Steven Chu would be a great cabinet secretary rather than on his way to be the James Watt or Earl Butz of our age. And if crime rates for young, black urban males prove disproportionately high, why would one use them as probable cause not to lend assistance to blacks in general when stuck on the side of the road? That it is statistically iffy to walk alone in downtown Detroit at night is certainly no reason to pass by a black person on the road in dire need of assistance, given the vast majority of blacks are not urban/young/male/with criminal records, and to treat them as if they all were by virtue of their shared race seems not merely wrong and racist, but, to someone of Mr. Derbyshire’s intellect, statistically illogical. I would wager that Mr. Derbyshire himself, reviewing crime statistics in a nanosecond, would in fact stop to help a black motorist, since the great majority would not match his probabilities and I believe him to be a decent person. (He would probably stop to help a black middle-aged woman while passing by three or four young tough-looking whites.) I have met Mr. Derbyshire three or four times; he was always wonderfully polite, enormously learned, and spoke without a shred of bias toward anyone. He was a sharp critic of George Bush and the Iraq War, and most who supported both, but he expressed his wrath logically and without rancor and held no grudges.

Mark Steyn also has a point that there are no rules of consistency about uncouth behavior. Alfred Knopf published a book imagining the assassination of George W. Bush, a theme of a docudrama shown at the Toronto Film Festival. The New York Times published at a discount a “General Betray Us” ad on the eve of the general’s testimony. Jonathan Chait’s “I hate Bush” rant inThe New Republic was not just puerile and incoherent, but incendiary.

Racist speech and the need to distance oneself from it? The president of the United States attended a church for 20 years overseen by an abject racist (and was married by him and took his book title from him). When he was presented with audio-video proof of that creepy racism and anti-Semitism, Mr. Obama swore he could no more disown Reverend Wright than he could his own grandmother — although in nearly every subsequent public appearance Wright’s slurs confirmed a racism that appeared second-nature and of long duration. In the latest outburst (yes, he’s back), Wright complains his racism was taken out of context — by using more racist stereotyping. Wright was finally ditched by Obama not for his 20 years of racist stereotyping, but because, shortly after his embarrassing defense of the egotistical Wright, the latter committed the far greater felony of provoking the media at the National Press Club with more of the same buffoonery when basking in his 15 minutes of fame.

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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