Privileged individuals have a knack for making themselves known and every once in a while, they get a little exposure on DDSS. Gene Marks, John Derbyshire, Glenn Greenwald and most recently, David Sirota. Between them, every single one has made the cardinal sin of adopting a particularly privileged view of ethnic relations between themselves and their black American counterparts. It's a particular view that's far removed from the realities of everyday black American life and more rooted in an idealized and pre-packaged conceptualization easily influenced by deliberate and subconscious pre-judgements, as well as by their own personal experiences, some of which are also easily influenced by deliberate and subconscious pre-judgements.
If you've somehow construed the above as yet another "racist" rant from a man still wearing his "race goggles," chances are you'd probably find yourself in some form of agreement with Victor Davis Hanson's piece on the president's most recent speech on the Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin. Hanson immediately opens up with a salvo that sets the tone of the article:
Last week President Obama weighed in again on the Trayvon Martin episode. Sadly, most of what he said was wrong, both literally and ethically.
Pace the president, the Zimmerman case was not about Stand Your Ground laws. It was not a white-on-black episode. The shooting involved a Latino of mixed heritage in a violent altercation with a black youth.
Which leads you to wonder exactly what was it all about, if it wasn't any of these things. Removing "Stand Your Ground" and the deep-set racial components from the event, it devolves into a mere altercation between two individuals that got out of hand and resulted in a loss of life on one side. Distilling the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman down to that anodyne reasoning obviates the need for an uncomfortable discussion about race or even gun control, for that matter. Everyone gets to go home without putting too much thought in a case that's now become worthy of a below-the-fold mention somewhere in the extreme lower right-hand corner of the Sanford Herald, with a brief blurb buried somewhere on A7.
Hanson also manages to squeeze in the question of George Zimmerman's ethnic background, black America's insistence on identifying him as white and the outrage of those who wanted to play up Zimmerman's Hispanic origins, most notably those on his Peruvian mother's side of the family, to disarm and de-fang the "white-on-black" aspect of the case. Nevermind that his father comes from German-American stock. It's something that's rarely, if ever mentioned by the mainstream.
Nevertheless, this sets the stage for Hanson to question the president's involvement in the case via his recent speech, along with Eric Holder's involvement via civil rights probe:
Is it ethical for the president to weigh in on a civil-rights case apparently being examined by his own Justice Department? The president knows that if it is true that African-American males are viewed suspiciously, it is probably because statistically they commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime. If that were not true, they might well be given no more attention as supposed suspects than is accorded to white, Asian, or Latino youths. Had George Zimmerman been black, he would have been, statistically at least, more likely to have shot Trayvon Martin — and statistically likewise less likely to have been tried.
Barack Obama knows that if non-African-Americans were to cease all inordinate scrutiny of young African-American males, the latters’ inordinate crime rates would probably not be affected — given other causation for disproportionate incidences of criminality. Yet should their statistical crime profiles suddenly resemble those of other racial and ethnic groups, the so-called profiling would likely cease.
Like many others, Hanson zeros in on black crime rates to justify Zimmerman's rationale for confronting Martin, but with the added twist of condemning the president's interest in the case. If Zimmerman was just another black guy or a visible Hispanic (as opposed to one that appears roughly as white as his father), neither the president nor the U.S. Attorney General would have bothered with any attention. After all, it's not like they or their fellow blacks pay attention to black-on-black crime, which is yet another argument others used to condemn the president's interest in Trayvon Martin.
Hanson's claims of black crime rates remaining unaffected by a cessation in racial profiling would be dis-proven once the NYPD, LAPD and other law enforcement agencies across the country cease their profiling efforts. Further still with the advent of the end of drug sentencing guidelines weighted heavily towards drug activities most likely performed by minority groups and the impoverished.
Finally, Hanson goes in for the kill:
The president, I think, spoke out for three reasons: 1) He is an unbound, lame-duck president, with a ruined agenda, facing mounting ethical scandals; from now on, he will say things more consonant with being a community organizer than with being a nation’s president; 2) he knows the federal civil-rights case has little merit and cannot be pursued, and thus wanted to shore up his bona fides with an aggrieved black community; and 3) as with the ginned-up “assault-weapons ban” and the claim that Republicans are waging a “war on women,” Obama knows, as a community activist, that tension can mask culpability — in his case, the utter failure to address soaring unemployment in the inner city, epidemic black murder rates, the bankruptcy of Detroit, and the ways his failed economic policies disproportionately affect inner-city youth.
In short, Hanson distills the president's concern about the state of his country in the aftermath of a game-changing case and verdict not as any sort of genuine concern for the nation's welfare, but as an opportunity moment for a mere lame-duck desperate to mask his own policy and leadership failures with a last-minute rapport with "his people," to both allay their grievances and improve his own appearance.
And it would be a most brutal deconstruction of the president's supposed political chess-move, if it wasn't for three simple and salient facts.
That America has a very real institutionalized problem with race.
That aspects of the Zimmerman case were steeped in it, whether people wanted to admit it or not.
That the president did the right thing by reminding people of the first and that people should try to work out why the second matters and ultimately, how to not let a future case be influenced in that manner again.
Then again, I didn't expect Hanson to have a clue in the first place.
The following puts a choke-hold on that point:
Attorney General Eric Holder earlier gave an address to the NAACP on the Zimmerman trial. His oration was likewise not aimed at binding wounds. Apparently he wanted to remind his anguished audience that because of the acquittal of Zimmerman, there still is not racial justice in America.
Holder noted in lamentation that he had to repeat to his own son the lecture that his father long ago gave him. The sermon was about the dangers of police stereotyping of young black males. Apparently, Holder believes that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yet I fear that for every lecture of the sort that Holder is forced to give his son, millions of non-African-Americans are offering their own versions of ensuring safety to their progeny.
In my case, the sermon — aside from constant reminders to judge a man on his merits, not on his class or race — was very precise.
First, let me say that my father was a lifelong Democrat. He had helped to establish a local junior college aimed at providing vocational education for at-risk minorities, and as a hands-on administrator he found himself on some occasions in a physical altercation with a disaffected student. In middle age, he and my mother once were parking their car on a visit to San Francisco when they were suddenly surrounded by several African-American teens. When confronted with their demands, he offered to give the thieves all his cash if they would leave him and my mother alone. Thankfully they took his cash and left.
I think that experience — and others — is why he once advised me, “When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you.” Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like “typical black person.” He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young — or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.
It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping. When I was a graduate student living in East Palo Alto, two adult black males once tried to break through the door of my apartment — while I was in it. On a second occasion, four black males attempted to steal my bicycle — while I was on it. I could cite three more examples that more or less conform to the same apprehensions once expressed by a younger Jesse Jackson. Regrettably, I expect that my son already has his own warnings prepared to pass on to his own future children.
I remember when John Derbyshire tried his own version of The Talk™. Like Derbyshire, Hanson doesn't quite grasp the actual reason why black Americans had to devise life-saving rules of conduct for their young black children, boys and young men, especially, to survive life in this country at a most basic level.
The story of Emmit Till was an example of what happens when a young black male strays outside of the rules of conduct laid down within The Talk™, thereby bringing eventual harm to himself by offending the sensibilities of a shockingly violent mainstream white society. Till's story was just one of the few out of thousands that managed to be immortalized and documented.
These days, the reward for not following the rules of conduct as explained in The Talk™ is much of the same - possible expulsion, possible jail time and in many cases, possible death, whether administered by an officer of the law or by someone whose sensibilities were as offended as the people responsible for transforming Emmit Till's face into the infamous visual that shocked and deservedly shamed the rest of America into giving black America's plight larger consideration.
This isn't to say that George Zimmerman's intentions were as vicious and venal as Till's murderers. At this point, readers sympathetic to the man have likely clicked away in disgust, denouncing yours truly as "a sick racist who only sees race and nothing else" or "just another race-hustling pimp just like his idol Sharpton (or Jackson) and Holder." That is, if they've even made it to this point.
Hanson justifying his own trepidation around blacks by comparing the black community's need for "The Talk™" with his own, notably tamer experiences, smack of privileged stupidity. Neither Hanson nor his father had to bear the worries of traversing an institutionalized and deeply-ingrained minefield of racially-motivated antagonism. Nor did they have to worry about "night riders" assaulting and killing them in the dead of night just because or being publicly murdered in the town square, their bodies left up for decoration by a bemused yet thrilled crowd.
Victor Davis Hanson doesn't have to worry about his ethnic background being a factor in his sudden death at the hands of someone whose sensibilities were offended by his appearance.
I'll let Ta-Nehisi Coates offer his own explanation:
Let us be direct -- in any other context we would automatically recognize this "talk" as stupid advice. If I were to tell you that I only employ Asian-Americans to do my taxes because "Asian-Americans do better on the Math SAT," you would not simply question my sensitivity, but my mental faculties. That is because you would understand that in making an individual decision, employing an ancestral class of millions is not very intelligent. Moreover, were I to tell you I wanted my son to marry a Jewish woman because "Jews are really successful," you would understand that statement for the stupidity which it is.
It would not be acceptable for me to make such suggestions (to say nothing of policy) in an enlightened society -- not simply because they are "impolite" but because they betray a rote, incurious and addled intellect. There is no difference between my argument above and the notion that black boys should be avoided because they are overrepresented in the violent crime stats. But one of the effects of racism is its tendency to justify stupidity.
Those of who have spent much of our lives living in relatively high crime neighborhoods grasp this particular stupidity immediately. We have a great many strategies which we employ to try to protect ourselves and our children. We tell them to watch who they are walking with, to not go to neighborhoods where they don't know anyone, that when a crowd runs toward a fight they should go the other way, to avoid blocks with busted street-lights, to keep their heads up while walking, to not daydream and to be aware of their surroundings.
When you start getting down to particular neighborhoods the advice gets even more specific -- don't cut through the woods to get to school, stay away from Jermaine Wilks, don't got to Mondawmin on the first hot day of the year, etc. There is a great scene in the film The Interruptors when one of the anti-violence workers notes that when she sees a bunch of people in a place, and then they all suddenly clear out, she knows something is coming down. My point is that parents who regularly have to cope with violent crime understand the advantages of good, solid intelligence. They know that saying '"stay away from black kids" is the equivalent of looking at 9/11, shrugging one's shoulders and saying, "It was them Muslims."
It should come as no surprise that Victor Davis Hanson's generational advice has met with mixed results. But when you are more interested in a kind of bigoted nationalism than your actual safety, this is what happens.
When it comes to ethnic relations, Hanson couldn't recognize systemic, institutionalized racial antagonism if it had surrounded his car and demanded his cash, jewelry and smartphone. That's what privileged stupidity does to a man. It leaves him without a clue and it doesn't have the common decency to let him know it's gone.