Paternalistic Right Obsessed with Skin Color

Being that they're such avid proponents of "colorblindness," conservatives sure as heck like to drone on about race. Reading "The Week" round-up in the April 22 National Review, a journal of the conservative elite, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a kleagle of good old boys sitting around cursing "them damned @#$%^&s." Maybe not, but the best you can say is that this collection of right-wingers of "sheer intellectual superiority" are the ultimate purveyors of paternalism: This is what you black folk and Indians (sic) ought to be thinking. We're smarter than you are, so listen up.

Six items on their minds this week had to do with US race issues (never mind the Arab-focused ones). Let's indulge ourselves with some juicy right-wing porn, one "colorblind" image at a time.

1. Slave reparations. The Review, as we regulars call it, complained about the class-action suit filed by an African American --black, or is it "nigra"? --New Yorker. The effort is to "shake down" three of the right's blessed corporations: FleetBoston, Aetna and CSX, which plaintiffs claim profited from slavery. The Review: "Legally, it is demented to make claims of equity based on an institution that ended in the 1860s. Morally, the evil of slavery was purged by the immense loss of life and wealth of the Civil War." Oz has spoken: It's over; all you black people born into the Jim Crow South or a northern ghetto without silver bootstraps to help hoist yourself into Yale. You should pipe down and keep plowing ahead. Never mind that places like the Mississippi Delta and the Cleveland inner city are disasters, thanks to the legacy of slavery.

African Americans deserve their day in court; everyone else gets one. A jury of Americans should decide if black communities deserve economic assistance from corporations that got rich by owning, selling or trading their ancestors. We all might learn something useful about race, culture and freedom in the process.

2. David Horowitz. The anti-reparations media trollop --the "liberal media" have covered his views 700-plus times in the past year --draws coos of affection from the Review. "David Horowitz has, as usual, been doing noble work, stirring up a fuss, teaching hard truths." Yes, and erroneously claiming that being shouted down by the opposition is a violation of his free-speech rights. (101 reminder: Only "the state" can squelch our speech. Shouting is also a form of speech.) In November in Chapel Hill, N.C., Horowitz called war critics "disgraceful and despicable," and said of anti-war academics, "In their hearts, they were jumping up and down when they blew up the World Trade Center." The Review praises him for "teach[ing] the Republican party bad manners." I'll give them that. Otherwise, I'm glad Horowitz is prancing around acting a fool. When most of the country wakes up from its war stupor, he'll be one of the first faces of conservatism they'll see. And it won't be pretty.

3. Racial Profiling. The Review believes a report by New Jersey state attorney general David Samson --ordered by former Gov. Christie Whitman --disputes what it calls "alleged 'racial profiling'" (note quote-mark placement). Samson's report indicates that blacks are more prone to speed on the turnpike than whites. (One might ask what they might be speeding away from, being that New Jersey has admitted that its officers racially profile after Jersey troopers shot four minority men in 1998.) The Review ridicules the NAACP's refutation of the "well, they tend to speed more" excuse --akin to the "well, they commit crimes more" myth --but fails to mention that Samson himself said the report does not refute the confession of wrongdoing. "We are long past the time when New Jersey admitted racial profiling was a reality on the turnpike," Samson told the New York Times.

4. "Racial Privacy." Affirmative action opponent Ward Connerly recently introduced a proposition in California to, er, help protect the privacy of non-white individuals by prohibiting the collection of most race-related statistics. Connerly, the Review says, "wants his state's voters to strike another blow for colorblindness." That is, by prohibiting agencies from tracking whether or not people of color are catching up economically and educationally with people without color. (Consider "colorblindness": The lack of color is considered "white," right?) Clarence Page wrote in April that the initiative "is ironic since, if race were a matter you could keep to yourself, we would not have the problem of racial discrimination. Connerly's initiative seems to be aimed at fighting 'race' without fighting racism." Page finds it "bemusing" that "Connerly and others would want to eliminate the very tool that has helped us measure the progress we have made." The reason is obvious: Connerly wouldn't be so keen on the idea if the data backed up the right's claim that racial equality has been achieved, so he wants to remove any "scientific data" --Bush's favorite type --that prove race does matter. Can you picture anyone race seems to matter more to than Connerly?

5. "The Fightin' Whites." The Review chided the University of Northern Colorado intramural basketball team, "made up mainly of Indians and Hispanic players," that "took up irony as their weapon." The players renamed their team "The Fightin' Whites" and printed jerseys with a white guy saying, "Every thang's gonna be all white." The Review giggled that some locals "have expressed vigorous approval that at last white men are getting some recognition" by buying up the shirts. OK, I realize I may not share the "sheer intellectual superiority" of the Conservative Party of Yale, thank the Lord (as acclaimed in a different, surprisingly non-racial blurb) but I have two thoughts on this. One: It's telling that some whites might be too "colorblind" to recognize their own racism against Native Americans. Graydon Carter said irony was dead, but this is pathetic. Second: I would buy one of those shirts to support a rather brilliant act of populist satire. (Why are extras up for sale, by the way?)

6. Oscars Too Black. "This year's Oscars were the most racialized ever," the Review whined, saying Halle Berry "gave an unhinged speech that was less an expression of gratitude than a cry of racial 'identity politics.'" Imagine these dudes' reaction when non-white people have achieved true equality, meaning that they have equal access to jobs, film and otherwise, and they're then judged on their merits, instead of eliminated based on their race. Many Academy Awards shows might look this way. Guess those will be "racialized," too? Can we apply the same logic to overwhelmingly white award shows? No, that would be considered race talk, right? Racial politics are so confusing.

The Review also complained that everyone honoring Sidney Poitier was black but complimented him on thanking white people, too. (Now, who's bean-counting?) I guess they missed Berry's thanks to Warren Beatty --but he did play a rapper of sorts in the film he cast Berry in, so that might have palled his whiteness. The Review's Oscar rant ended by repeating Denzel Washington's suggestion of when the media might start writing about blacks' achievement without mentioning race. "How about now?" he asked. The Review added, "Yes, how about it?" (You first; no, you first.)

The simple truth is that until paranoid white folks get past their racial obsession, and thus allow true equality to evolve, we've got to keep talking up a storm.

Donna Ladd ( writes from Jackson, Miss. E-mail:

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