The Burden of Bad Ideas

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

It is a timely moment, I think, to inoculate ourselves against racial demagoguery because we’re about to see a dramatic escalation of it thanks to the slavery reparations campaign. So let’s examine the race industry and what it doesn’t want us to know about black America.

Sometimes the race industry operates at the level of mere farce. Take the recent delicious humiliation of Harvard University by Cornel West, one of today’s great academic poseurs. West threw a temper tantrum when Harvard’s new president, Lawrence Summers, gently suggested that advising Al Sharpton on his presidential run and recording a rap album do not count as scholarly research, even by today’s debased academic standards.

We should only give two cheers for Larry Summers, since he would have been on even stronger ground had he told West that his so-called scholarly research was worthless. Most of West’s output is impenetrable jargon, but, in one of his few comprehensible sentences, he asserted that Marxist thought has become “even more relevant after the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”

Now, after his chat with Summers, this beacon of enlightenment let it be known that Harvard’s president had disrespected him. West instantly got fawning front-page treatment in the New York Times for his wounded ego. After letting Summers twist slowly in the wind for a few weeks, West haughtily decamped to Princeton, where he will be able to write rap lyrics in well-compensated glory. Happily, there are no victims in this story since Harvard has all but abandoned the ideal of a serious liberal arts education and so deserves whatever occasional humiliation it gets.

Seeing the World in Black and White

But if the West-Harvard flap is merely amusing, more often the race industry creates serious and even tragic damage. For the past year, the city of Cincinnati has suffered under a racial extortion campaign, triggered by three days of vicious rioting last April set off by a fatal police shooting. Cincinnati’s race agitators quickly turned the shooting into a symbol of the alleged racism of Cincinnati’s police. Leading the campaign was one Damon Lynch, a little-known minister whose strident rhetoric after the shooting inflamed the rioters. His accusations against the police were unjustified, but rather than standing up for law enforcement, city leaders elevated Lynch to a newly formed racial reconciliation panel.

Lynch quickly made a mockery of his role as racial healer, for, from his perch atop the reconciliation committee, he continued to direct the most outrageous charges against Cincinnati. He accused it of practicing “economic apartheid.” He called the police rapists, murderers, and terrorists. He preposterously claimed that Cincinnati blacks live under “absolute oppression.”

Naturally, he became a media darling. Network and cable TV, the Los Angeles Times, and other news outlets hung on his every word, giving him free advertising for his boycott campaign against the city. That boycott has cost Cincinnati at least $10 million in revenues.

For this destruction, Cincinnati leaders awarded him the ultimate prize on the one-year anniversary of the riots: a $20 million settlement of a groundless racial-profiling lawsuit he had brought just before the riots. The city’s effort at appeasement has already failed, however, since Lynch immediately vowed to continue the boycott until the rioters get amnesty. And just two weeks later, a crowd of 300 blacks attacked police officers and white drivers while shouting “get whitey!”

Now let’s imagine an alternative to this pathetic story. The city could have listened to and learned from a different set of black voices. I went to Cincinnati last year after the riots. And I discovered its secret resource: a treasure trove of courageous black men who utterly reject victimology and stand up for personal responsibility.

There’s Rapheal Adams, a very hip young air force veteran who works the night shift at General Motors so he can battle Cincinnati’s black nationalists during the day on a radio talk show he hosts. Ask Adams about reparations, and he will look at you with visceral outrage. “I would never accept reparations,” he says. “I don’t have shackles. If you want to mess around with some old bones, go ahead, but guess what? The slaves have been dead a long time!”

Adams decries the constant excuse-making by anointed black leaders. “Conyers, Mfume, Sharpton, these people can’t sleep at night without getting before a camera to push the get-whitey syndrome,” he laughs. “Well, blacks are making more money than whites in Appalachia, but you don’t hear whites crying, ‘This is unfair!’”

I asked Adams where he got his values. “My grandfather taught me,” he said, “that if you can’t be nice to everyone, then something’s wrong with you!” This lesson is all the more remarkable since Adams’s grandfather grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when black men weren’t allowed on the sidewalks.

Adams nearly got assaulted for showing up as the sole counterprotester in a hate-filled demonstration against the police. But he is not alone in bucking Cincinnati’s race industry.

There’s Tom Jones, a wiry and intense copy store owner, who has organized his fellow businesspeople to fight back against drug dealers. Jones has nothing but contempt for the post-riot shakedown. “Developed neighborhoods work very well without social programs because they got up off their ass and solved their problems,” he told me. Jones’s strong support for the police has earned him death threats, not just from the drug dealers but from the city’s race-mongers.

There’s Babe Baker, an effervescent 85-year-old entrepreneur and impresario who brought jazz to Cincinnati in the 1950s and 1960s. Baker embodies a powerful tradition in black culture: optimistic self-help. “You can’t go around with a chip on your shoulder, blaming the world for your problems,” he told me. “You must have a desire to do something.”

There’s Pastor Ed Gaines, who is heartsick at the city’s capitulation to what he calls “the mob.” “Black students need to hear that there’s no one to hold you back but yourself,” Gaines says. “But instead, all students hear from the so-called civil rights leadership is that they won’t be treated fairly no matter what they do, and they give up,” he laments.

Now if Cincinnati had turned to Adams, Jones, and Gaines after the riots, it would have avoided rewarding violence and instead have sent the message that hard work is the route to success. But are these radical thinkers ever courted by the media or the rest of the country’s elites? Never! They are given no voice whatsoever, effectively erased from existence. The only blacks granted racial authenticity by the liberal elites are angry blacks. Liberal whites need black anger to prove the persistence of racism in America, which they alone can atone for with the paternalism of racial preferences and other double standards. So for their own sense of moral superiority, liberal whites confer racial legitimacy only on people like Damon Lynch and Al Sharpton, self-proclaimed angry victims of American bigotry.

To see how seriously committed the cultural elite is to perpetuating black rage, you have only to visit the country’s most prestigious prep schools, such as Phillips Andover and Exeter. Such bastions of tradition have established massive diversity bureaucracies, whose sole purpose is to create race-consciousness in their students. Their numerous multicultural deans and directors of diversity will readily admit that students today aren’t all that interested in race. Students view the emphasis on difference as divisive, report the diversity deans.

Now if you think that this desire to move beyond race should be greeted triumphantly, as a sign that America has finally conquered its most vexing problem, you obviously will never qualify as a worker in the race industry. To the contrary, color-blindness has now been defined as the problem and angry or guilty color-consciousness as the solution. The diversity dean at Andover scoffs when his black students tell him they don’t see racism anymore. “Don’t you notice all the people following you around the store?!” he asks them. And the dean works his darndest to make sure that every Andover student learns to see the world in terms of black and white.

The Biggest Casualty

I said at the beginning that the race industry sometimes produces tragic, not just farcical outcomes. This was not hyperbole. The biggest casualty of contemporary race politics is public safety.

In city after city, the police have been subject to an endless tirade about their alleged racism. The elites tell the police that if they have too many law enforcement interactions with minorities, it’s because they are bigots. The other possible explanation—that minorities commit more crime—is simply off the table. And the police have responded as directed: They have backed off from assertive policing.

The results are disastrous. Cincinnati went through its bloodiest summer ever after the riots and the slandering of the police. Blacks killed blacks 20 times more often than the police had shot black civilians, mostly criminals, during the previous five years, yet no one started new riots demanding an end to the violence. A lovely elderly black lady living in the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhood told me that she had wanted to attend the annual police memorial last year but was terrified of the antipolice protesters, so she didn’t leave her apartment.

Other cities where antipolice bigotry has been strongest have seen similar outbreaks of violence. The Clinton Justice Department slapped a consent decree on the Pittsburgh police requiring the department to monitor the race of everyone an officer stops. Homicides jumped nearly 100 percent last year. The likely reason? The police say they now make arrests according to racial quota. Arrests in Los Angeles, whose police department had been under fire from the Clinton Justice Department, dropped 25 percent in the first nine months of 2000, while homicides rose 25 percent.

The Politics of Police-Bashing

The politics of police-bashing has become impervious to the truth. In 1999, then governor Christine Todd Whitman famously accused the New Jersey state troopers of racial profiling, an accusation that set off frenzied celebrations among antipolice forces nationwide. Well, according to a recent study, it turns out that black drivers on the New Jersey turnpike speed at twice the rate of white drivers. This explains their higher stop rates, which are at the heart of the racial-profiling charge.

So catastrophic is this finding to the antipolice crusade that the Bush Justice Department spent three months trying to bury the data showing this disparate speeding behavior. Surprised? The Bush Justice Department, I am sad to say, plays racial politics along with the best of them.

The speeding study was finally leaked to the press this April, thus foiling Justice’s cover-up. But the findings have not made a darn bit of difference to antipolice politics. A few weeks later, the New Jersey attorney general freed 86 defendants, found with drugs and guns on the New Jersey turnpike, who had alleged that they were only stopped because of their race. These often armed drug-runners will thus rejoin the criminal gangs who are once again spilling vast quantities of blood in Newark and Camden, now that the constantly maligned New Jersey troopers have backed off of law enforcement.

I would like to plant a prediction in your minds. More and more studies will show that the police make stops and arrests based on behavior, not race, but the science will never catch up with the politics of police-bashing. In early April, for example, another racial-profiling controversy erupted, this time in Durham, North Carolina. A defense attorney alleged that the police were arresting “too many” Hispanics on drunk driving charges.

Guess what? It turns out that Hispanics are five times more likely to get in alcohol-related crashes than whites. It should be case closed, but it never is.

The Allure of Victimology

It is absolutely imperative to break the race industry’s cartel. Its message ensures continued racial tension, academic failure on the part of minority students, and hampered law enforcement. But how do we break the monopoly? The New York Times, the Ford Foundation, and other elite institutions are certainly not going to give up their crusade to perpetuate black victimhood.

The only thing I can think to do is to use every possible means to amplify the resisters’ voices. The race industry’s power rests in part on its implicit claim to speak for all blacks. But as we have seen, there are many people who are appalled by its lies. Are they a majority? Maybe not. The siren song of victimology takes considerable moral strength to resist. But there are enough dissenters from racial orthodoxy to constitute a serious threat. That’s why the race industry works so hard to silence them.

I must add that no race has a monopoly on the practice of blaming others for our own bad decisions, which has become a reflex in our culture.

The upcoming reparations crusade has the potential for much mischief. But maybe, just maybe, it can provide the occasion to finally tell the truth about opportunity and racial progress in America.