The assault on skilled, independent, intelligent blacks
by Bruce S. Thornton
When Barack Obama accused Hillary Clinton of “playing the gender card,” the hypocrisy that typically defines our public discourse on race descended into the surreal. Obama’s whole career has been created by and has exploited the perception that he — son of a white mother and an African father, raised in Hawaii, graduate of Columbia and Harvard — is “black,” that is, a victim of America’s incorrigible racism and oppression. In other words, Obama has gotten to where he is by subtly playing, or allowing others to play for him, the most powerful trump card in the game of social and political power.
The rules of this game state that all blacks, no matter how privileged, are victims, all whites are racist oppressors who just don’t “get it,” all black cultural dysfunction is a consequence of white racism, and only whites who loudly and repeatedly acknowledge their guilt can redeem themselves by distributing social, economic, and political reparations. The Amarillo Slims of this game are the Democrats and racial hustlers like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Cornel West. But even some Republicans these days have accepted the rigged rules. Just look at how easily the whole Katrina disaster, a consequence of an entrenched, inept black city government, was laid at the feet of the Bush administration.
But there is a more insidious consequence of this racial narrative — the institutionalizing of black inferiority and dependence. Behind the guilt of white liberals lurks a smug assertion of power: we who have the power to oppress also have the power to redress. As the African proverb has it, the hand that gives is always above the hand that receives. To be a victim is to be inferior, always to be looking up at one’s oppressor and one’s deliverer.
Which is another way of saying, as Jim Sleeper, Thomas Sowell, and Shelby Steele have said, that liberal racial attitudes are indeed racist: they categorize millions of people as inferior. That the inferiority is explained as a consequence of environment or history rather than genes doesn’t make that much difference in the end. History has changed, and the environment has changed, but despite the vast improvement in the lives of black Americans, the presumption of victimhood, and perforce of inferiority, persists, as though there is no difference between being passed up by a cabbie and being lynched by the Klan. If this presumption were not so, the other Democrats in the primary race by now would have demolished the lightweight Obama’s preposterous candidacy by ridiculing his pretensions to “blackness.” Wouldn’t you love to see Hillary run an ad in which Obama’s nerdy little dance with Ellen Degeneres was set to the tune of Tower of Power’s “You Got to Funkifize”?
The most disgusting expression of liberal racism, however, is seen in the demonization of any black person who strays off the liberal plantation and challenges this racial narrative. There’s a sort of Fugitive Slave Law in America’s public culture that allows white liberals to pursue and hound blacks who dare to think for themselves and challenge the imposition of a demeaning identity based on stereotypes. Exhibit number one, of course, is the continuing vilification of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As his recently published memoirs show, here is a genuine story of black achievement in the teeth of prejudice, a tale of character and virtue overcoming harsh circumstances, a parable illustrating the power of the human spirit to transcend environment.
Yet rather than being an inspiring model for black Americans and an example of an empowering self-reliance, Justice Thomas has been viciously scorned and marginalized, for no other reason than the fact that his life and philosophy challenge the dominant liberal narrative of black inferiority and dependence on white largesse. He has committed the greatest crime a black man can commit in the liberal Decalogue: he thinks for himself and challenges received wisdom. White liberals will idolize illiterate rappers who glorify violence and demean women rather than respect a freethinking black man.
Once again we see how modern liberalism betrays its own principles. People are supposed to be individuals, judged by their own character and merits rather than by pigmentation or hair texture; yet blacks are lumped together and defined by stereotypes and generalizations that obscure individual particularity. Discrimination is the most heinous crime; yet liberals endorse programs like affirmative action that literally discriminate on the basis of those same stereotypes and generalizations. Liberals are eager to celebrate “black culture”; yet they think that a people who survived 300 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism are still so weak and fragile that white people have to whisper the ludicrous euphemism “n-word” lest blacks become terminally traumatized.
Worse yet, liberals are supposed to prize free speech, the independent thinker, the “dissident” who challenges received wisdom and fossilized orthodoxy, the intellectual who is “edgy” and provocative and shakes up the “establishment.” Yet black thinkers who do just that — Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, for example — are marginalized, vilified, and turned into “invisible men” by a liberal establishment clinging to outworn orthodoxies, all the while that postmodern minstrels like Cornel West are courted by Princeton and Harvard. So why marvel that a laughable tyro like Barack Obama, with no experience in the scruffy real world of performance, consequence, and accountability, is taken seriously as a contender for the presidency solely on the basis of his constructed “blackness”?
©2007 Bruce Thornton