Friday, October 22, 2010

A Liberal Double Standard On Racially Charged Speech?

Radley Balko of Reason makes a very fair point re: response to the firing of NPR Juan Williams over comments he made about overcoming his personal fear of Muslims. Why is it that progressives feel it's okay to describe black people using language that, were it to come from a conservative, would (rightly) be decried as racist? I don't care what you think of Juan Williams' political views (and he doesn't seem like a staunch conservative to me), but referring to him using a racially loaded term like "lawn jockey" as Balloon Juice did is completely unacceptable.

The African-American community is not monolithic. It's composed of individuals, complicated human beings with their own opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints, just like any other demographic is. Some blacks, such as Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and (debatably) Williams, hold conservative views. So what? They're entitled to do so. It's a free country. For other blacks to accuse them of selling out their race for opposing racial profiling laws or affirmative action or what have you is one thing. I don't agree with it, but I can understand where the impulse comes from. But for white liberals to do it strikes me as rather presumptuous, even when they're not using language that ought to have died out along with minstrel shows. When they do use such language, it's not just presumptuous, it's offensive. Like most people I know, I often think that political correctness is too frequently taken to ridiculous extremes. But certain formulations should be out of bounds in enlightened discourse. Declaring that any black that thinks like the stereotypical rich white guy is either a self-interested race traitor or a useful idiot is one of them. If white liberals such as the editor of Balloon Juice really believe in racial equality (and they should), they ought to just accept that such a person is merely an individual who disagrees with them politically and happens to have dark skin.

I don't think white progressives who talk like this are necessarily bigots, nor that most of them are cynical enough to deliberately exploit racial prejudice among either whites or blacks (Bill Clinton, with his comment on Barack Obama's "shucking and jiving" during the 2008 Democratic primaries, is one notable exception). But, for people who pride themselves on being racially enlightened, they come off as remarkably insensitve and simplistic in their thinking about racial issues. The black community does not belong to one party or ideology or the other. Many if not most may be liberals and vote Democratic, but that doesn't entitle Democrats/liberals to declare those who aren't and don't off the reservation. If there's going to be such a thing as an internal political debate among African-Americans, it should be left to them, and not subject to the self-important bleatings of white interlopers, conservative or otherwise.

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