A Crisis Not To Be Wasted

It’s best to try to engage your opponents’ best arguments; that makes your own arguments stronger.

David Sirota’s Salon piece, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American“,  is not one of our opponents’ better arguments:

As we now move into the official Political Aftermath period of the Boston bombing — the period that will determine the long-term legislative fallout of the atrocity — the dynamics of privilege will undoubtedly influence the nation’s collective reaction to the attacks. That’s because privilege tends to determine: 1) which groups are — and are not — collectively denigrated or targeted for the unlawful actions of individuals; and 2) how big and politically game-changing the overall reaction ends up being.

According to Sirota, “white privilege” has prevented white males from coming under the sort of scrutiny that, say, Arabs have for ghastly crimes.

This has been most obvious in the context of recent mass shootings. In those awful episodes, a religious or ethnic minority group lacking such privilege would likely be collectively slandered and/or targeted with surveillance or profiling (or worse) if some of its individuals comprised most of the mass shooters. However, white male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated/targeted for those shootings — even though most come at the hands of white dudes. 

Likewise, in the context of terrorist attacks, such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as “lone wolf” threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.

Yeah, it could be the “white privilege”.

Or it could be the fact that nearly all of the Arab mass murderers – from Major Hassan up to the 9/11 hijackers – have actually been members of, or allegedly explicit sympathizers with, major extranational military/terror movements, while the white males have represented tiny fringes of tiny fringes of our society:

By contrast, even though America has seen a consistent barrage of attacks from domestic non-Islamic terrorists, the privilege and double standards baked into our national security ideologies means those attacks have resulted in no systemic action of the scope marshaled against foreign terrorists.

“Consistent barrage?”

The examples Sirota gives (drawn from the lefty idiotblog Crooks and Liars – the only blog in the world that can’t shake its head at what dolts the Daily Kos diary writers are) are largely lone crazies, many of them implicated in “white supremacy” by the thinnest of threads; some of them (John Patrick Bedell) are actually lefties; the article itself considered the Gabby Giffords shooting a “terror attack”.

And beyond that?

In fact, it has been quite the opposite — according to Darryl Johnson, the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, the conservative movement backlash to merely reporting the rising threat of such domestic terrorism resulted in DHS seriously curtailing its initiatives against that particular threat.

Sirota is apparently writing to an audience of the addled; DHS Secretary Napolitano’s “reporting” (along with her camp followers at the Southern Poverty Law Center) was less “reporting” than “releasing a list of groups that opposed the Democrats”.  The right was correct to mock both “efforts”.

Is there an element of “racism” in the way our society treats crime?  Sure – although the term might better be called “we-ism”.  Everyone in the world is a “we-ist”; they’re more tolerant of people who look, speak and act more like them, and less tolerant of those who don’t.  It’s true of everyone; middle-class black professionals are twitchy around urban Latinos; alpaca-clad Volvo-driving fashionably-gray NPR-listening upper-middle-class white liberals get nervous around leather-wearing Bud-drinking bikers.  Our society is still largely white, and the male half of that majority is, well, male; to the extent that the idea of a “white male majority” includes both David Sirota and, well, me, I guess you could say “we” are more forgiving of people like “us”, whoever they are.

So you could chalk this up to “white privilege”.

Or maybe to the fact that so many Arabs who’ve attacked us have expressed sympathy with the goals of the groups that attacked us in 9/11 (notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of American Arabs are no less American than anyone in Bemidji), while the vast majority of “white terror” suspects have indeed been lone wolves (I mean, if you’re going by evidence rather than Sirota’s fervent, nearly evidence-free wish that it were otherwise) might have something to do with it.

Cracker Like Me

The folks at the U of M-Duluth might be glad the whole “flood” thing happened.  It’ll draw attention away from their latest squandering of taxpayer money – to draw attention to white privilege:

The University of Minnesota – Duluth (UMD) is now sponsoring an ad-campaign designed to achieve “racial justice” by raising awareness of “white privilege.”

The project disseminates its message, that “society was setup for us [whites]” and as such is “unfair,” through an aggressive campaign of online videos, billboards, and lectures. The ads feature a number of Caucasians confessing their guilt for the supposed “privilege” that comes along with their fair features.

That’s right, UMD.  I’m “sorry” my anscestors were born in an ethnic group native to nations that subscribed to a worldview that exalted the individual and found no moral conundrum with the creation of individual wealth (outside of royalty).  I’m sorry – no scare quotes – that other societies on this planet didn’t have such a philosophy, and thus failed to thrive, and either exploited their own people or were unable to protect their people from being shanghaied and sold into slavery by their neighbors.

Beyond that?  Sorry that my culture fought the bloodiest war in its history to resolve – partially and imperfectly – the issue.

Sorry that, notwithstanding that racism is one of the maze of “We-isms” that every single human being on earth, from David Duke to Nina Totenberg, has, and that my culture has done more than any other significant cutlure on earth to try to overcome that natural human trait.

Please forgive me, asshole.

Campus Reform asks you…:

Call the school and voice your opinion at (218) 726-7106 or send an e-mail to chan@d.umn.edu. Tell them Campus Reform sent you.

The self-titled Un-Fair Campaign, is sponsored and supported by the University of Minnesota – Duluth, along with several liberal organizations including the NAACP, YWCA, and The League of Woman Voters.

And this is your tax dollar at work.

And it’s part of an ongoing pattern at UMD:

Documents obtained exclusively by Campus Reform this week, through a public records request, however, show that students on campus have expressed outrage over the administration’s support of the racially-charged campaign.

One student, whose identity was redacted in the documents released by UMD, e-mailed Chancellor Black expressing his discontent, writing that the Un-fair campaign “is in fact UNFAIR.”

The student proceeded to write: “It may be drawing awareness to factors that we might otherwise not pay attention to, but it’s creating a gap between people. It’s only making people more racist on both sides.”

Campus Reform contacted the school seeking further comment, but was unable to reach a spokesperson for comment by the time of publication.

Perhaps one white Duluthian had the right idea:

Berlin, the Lake Superior Zoo's polar bear, freed by the flood, but not for long enough to escape the madhouse that is Duluth.

Since The Subject Is Education

Ken Burns has a new documentary series, about Prohibition.

Lori Sturdevant shows her ability to tease the wrong lesson out of history – or, more accurately, the lesson she wants her less-informed readers to find:

[The series] doesn’t pound on the lessons for today that spring from the nation’s disastrous ban on the sale and purchase of alcohol between 1920 and 1933. It did not need to.

The roots of Prohibition the series identified are still visible. Moralists still try to tell other people how to conduct private lives.

And other “moralists” respond to conflict by trying to get big government to impose utopia on the “enemy”.

“There’s a chance the children of immigrants – or gun-clinging Jeebus freaks – might believe things that are inconvenient to those who control society; let’s centralize and standardize education under the government!”

“Guns scare us aren’t how civilized people settle their problems; let’s ban them from the highest level possible!”

“We don’t like too much (of our opponents’) money in politics; let’s create federal laws to make sure elections are unpolluted by (our opponents’) money!”

In small towns — the “real America,” in Sarah Palin’s parlance — many people still look askance at urban habits. Americans of longer standing still wish immigrants would change their ways.

And the fact that all people are “we-ists” mean that it will ever be thus; that people, including urban people, will intrinsically trust people who are more like them, and be less sympathetic to people less like them.

Prohibition’s message for 2011 in Minnesota and the rest of the nation seems to be a warning: Allow these roots to sprout and grow, and the consequences could well be unpredictable and undesirable.

And the other, bigger, real-er lesson?  The “we-ist” with the printing press gets to decide which ‘we-ists” get called ‘good” and “noble” and “upstanding”, and which don’t.

Well, they did, anyway.


Reason #258 To Defund MPR: Keri Miller

While driving between meetings yesterday, I listened to the first part of Keri Miller’s interview with Juan Williams.

Williams, of course, was the commentator who split his time between Fox News and National Public Radio – even serving as a talk show host on NPR on occasion – before being fired for admitting on the O’Reilly show to sharing many Americans’ nervousness about obvious Muslims on aircraft after 9/11 (while stressing – and the media reports, especially NPR’s, always left this part out – that it’d be wrong to base policy on the sort of stereotypes he was admitting to).

I’m going to paraphrase the part I heard.  Feel free to validate it at the show link.

MILLER:  So why did you revert to stereotype?  Do you think that elevates the conversation?

WILLIAMS: Because we can’t have an honest conversation as a nation until we admit to the fact that this is how we feel.

MILLER:  So why did you revert to stereotype?  Do you think that elevates the conversation?

WILLIAMS: Now, let’s be honest – there was more than “reverting to stereotype”.  I urged people to remember that’s now how we set policy in this country.

MILLER:  So why did you revert to stereotype?  Do you think that elevates the conversation?

WILLIAMS: In and of itself, I don’t. But it’s an honest part of the conversation; if political correctness forces us to stifle acknowledging it, it’ll leak out in other ways.

MILLER:  So why did you revert to stereotype?  Do you think that elevates the conversation?

WILLIAMS: Um…hello?

Miller’s point seemed to be not so much that humans must conquer stereotype; it’s that having them, or at least admitting it, is itself a base, evil thing.

I’d love to propose an experiment.

Some evening when Ms. Miller is making her way from The Loft and one of her “Talking Volumes” programs to a brie and chablis tasting party in Kenwood, she should run across a group of thirtysomething white males in full biker gear, smack across her path.  Let’s measure her heart rate.  See if she is indulging in any stereotypes.

In the interest of science, naturally.

UPDATE:  Over on Twitter, “NarnFan” wrote the summary for this piece that I wasn’t caffeinated enough to hatch myself:

To the extent we can’t hold a complected thought about this stuff, we are screwed manifold ways.

People can yell “racist” at one another ’til they’re blue in the face; the fact is, it’s human nature to be “we-ist”.  People are always most comfortable around people most like themselves; Keri Miller would no doubt be no more comfortable and relaxed among, say, white rednecks than would Cornell West.

Especially if there’s a “history”; Armenians might be forgiven for being leery of Turks; European Jews of a certain age might keep Russians, Poles or “Aryans” under close watch; blacks of any socioeconomic class in Los Angeles might be forgiven for being wary of tattooed, teenage and twentysomething Latinos.

Americans were attacked, and 3,000 of us murdered in cold blood, by people who caught us at our most vulnerable – stripped of weapons, jammed like cattle into aluminum tubes.  Not every Muslim attacked us – and I’ll strenuously exclaim that many Muslims serve this country with great honor, including the Pakistani-American who was reported to have gone on the Bin Laden raid.

To say “you are a bad person” for acknowledging the real human need to see to one’s own self-preservation, itself, retards the conversation that Ms. Miller said she was trying to “advance”.

A Day In The Life Of Every Uppity Conservative

ME:  Hi!

REPRESENTATIVE GROUP OF LIBERALS (RGOL):  Conservatism is fundamentally racist!

ME: Um – beg your pardon?

“RGOL”:  Racism oozes from every pore of conservatism!

ME:  OK, that’s what we call “bigotry” where I come from, but what the hell, I love a good ad-hominem argument.  Do tell!

“RGOL”:  Nixon’s “southern strategy” brought all the racists to the GOP!

ME: Er, let’s get back to “the south” in a bit here.  You did read my post last week about Jacob Weisberg’s article in that noted racist conservative hangout Slate, that noted there are distinct differences between Northeastern, Southern and Western conservatism, right?  How Northeastern conservatism is largely comfortable with big government but with an emphasis on making big government more fiscally sane – think Mitt Romney – and race is largely a non-entity, and in fact part of the roots of Northeastern conservatism are at least partly in the abolition movement?  And how Western conservatism, the conservatism of Goldwater and Reagan, is fundamentally libertarian, which means racism is anathema, since libertarian government is utterly color blind, and all real racism – the racism that makes people unequal before the law – is entirely a function of excessive and illegitimate government power, right?  Which leaves southern conservatism, which certainly had racists among its adherents, but whose fundamental “racism” is at least partly a matter of framing by, well liberals?

“RGOL”:  Of course we did.  Now – look at this list of southern conservatives and the racist things they’ve said…

ME: OK, you’re more or less dodging the point here.  Can individuals be racist?  Certainly.  I mean, every human in the world is a “we-ist”, more comfortable around and attuned to people like their own community, and less to to people less like them in ways that are manifested as everything from pointed humor to muted suspicion to blind hatred.

“RGOL”:  Right.  Like conservatism!

ME:  Well, no.  Liberals too.  I mean, mention, say, a white fundamentalist from Mississippi who resurfaces driveways for a living…

“RGOL”:  Hah!  Dumb redneck wingnut!

ME:  …or an NRA member…

“RGOL”:  Bigger gun clinging snake-handling cousin-kissing Jeeeeeebus freak hahahahahahahaha!

ME: ….right, or Sarah Palin…

“RGOL”:  Hahahahaha!  She went to community college!  Trig is Bristol’s baby!  She can’t even write and has fake boobs and slept with her deputy mayor and …

ME:  …or the Japanese…

“RGOL”:  Er…what?

ME:  Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the godfather of the modern nannystate, did not only order the most singularly racist government action in the past 100 years – the mass internment of American citizens of Japanese descent – but did it after two terms in which he supported California’s deeply racist anti-Japanese immigration laws.

“RGOL”: …

ME: OK, fine, it was seventy years ago.  Still, your entire case that “conservatism oozes racism”  seems to be based on 1) a bunch of anecdotal stories of Republicans who said racist things 2) a bunch of memes from Media Matters and the like, that largely yank statements by the likes of Rush Limbaugh so far out of context you’re getting into borderline defamation, and 3) framing conservative issues as fundamentally racist.

To which I reply 1) Why does Robert Byrd never make it into those lists, 2) Gosh, a liberal flak group waterboarding context, notify the media, and 3) when your entire argument is designed to try to misleadingly frame your opponent as something evil – and we all agree that racism is a bad thing, right? – then you are committing a crime against truth!

“RGOL”:  What are you talking about?

ME: For example, every time a conservative talks about strengthening the Tenth Amendment, some idiot lefty will come back with “That sounds like “states rights”, which was once used to defend slavery.

“RGOL”:  Right!   Conservatism supports slavery!

ME:  {{facepalm}} No.  No, we are pretty much the opposite extreme; we are the party of individual self-determination.  And, by the way, it is a fact that Jim Crow after 1900 was largely a government initiative that overrode the free market; that in most southern states, the business community – which are stereotypically conservative, right?…

“RGOL”:  Bosses!  Bosses!

ME: …right.  They largely opposed Jim Crow, since Jim Crow took anywhere from 10 to 50% out of their markets!

“RGOL”:  But the southerners were racists!  And Nixon brought them into the GOP!

ME:  Well, no and yes and no.  The “Southern Strategy” sought votes from southerners who were upset over a variety of things – federal intrusions into property rights and free association as a matter of principle, the size and growth of government, and the federalization of an awful lot of things that had always been left to the states.  And yes, there were no doubt some among ’em that were upset that the Feds poked their nose into race relations – because a racist citizen’s vote counts just as much as yours does.  Which galls the crap out of me when I see some of those anti-semitic filth at left-leaning demonstrations, by the way – but I digress.  The framing of all southern conservatives’ flight to the GOP as race-related has become part of the conventional wisdom, to the extent that all defenses of the thesis become tautological.  Just watch:  “The southern strategy was not primarily about race”.

“RGOL”:  But the southern strategy was racist because it brought racist southerners into the party…

ME:  Thanks.  I rest my case.

“RGOL”:  …um…

ME:  Move along.

“RGOL”:  Yeah?  Well…what about Arizona?

ME:  Jeez.  More framing.  The Arizona law – which most Americans support, in its final form – is about securing our borders.  That is one of the missions of government, no?

“RGOL”:  But it’s racist!

ME:   Huh?  Let me ask you something; if Minnesota were awash in Canadians sneaking across the border, and illegal Canadian immigration were forcing down American wages, and if in coming here they rejected American culture and upheld Canadian culture with their back-bacon and hockey-worship and mass drunkenness, and if the Canadian Army were charging across the border to help out Canadian drug smugglers and killing people on our side of the border, that “illegal” Gordon Fitzpatrick wouldn’t replace the “illegal” Juan Jimenez as the boogeyman du jour?

“RGOL”:  But that’s just dumb.

ME:  What if our hypothetical Gordon Fitzpatrick was pro-charter schools and anti-card-check?

“RGOL”:  Then he’d be racist and he’d hate children…

ME:  Er, yeah.  Look – do our laws mean anything, or do they not? Are we a sovereign nation, or are we not?

“RGOL”:  Er…huh?

ME:  …

“RGOL”: You are obviously a racist.

ME:  Riiiiight.

Maybe My Parents Will Return My Calls Now

I’ve got a bit of a first to report.

We’ll get back to that in a moment, here.

Jake Mohan has a piece in the Utne Reader about conservatives bicyclists…

…which was a concept that took a bit for Mr. Mohan to wrap his brain around:

But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?

On the Internet, of course.

“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”

And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy.

My parents will be happy to know that I, their conservative Republican black-sheep son, has done the improbable; gotten written up in the Utne, that palimpsest of upper-midwest Liberalism:

Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle [Well – among a few other things – Ed.]. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”

Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”

Mohan and I had quite an exchange; read it at your leisure.  The piece covers a lot of ground – most notably, the non-biking conservatives:

Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son’s baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn’t give a rip.”

I defended Kersten on that one, of course; I’ve attacked the arrogance of “Critical Mass” in the past.

Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads…

…and Lewis is wrong, and I have the property tax statements to prove it.  It’s not our fault that some previous legislature, in its infinite wisdom, chose to tie the state road budget to gasoline taxes which we bikers, largely, don’t use.

We disagree.  That’s nothing new; indeed, it’s stock in trade for conservatives, who do disagree on a lot of things, and still share a party pretty civilly.

Mohan’s conclusion:

Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual.

And that, to me, is the important part, not only of Mohan’s piece but a much larger lesson indeed.

Most of the “isms” that have made the past hundred-odd years such a miserable time in the history of the human race – racism, collectivism, Naziism, whatever – trace back to the big one, “We-ism“.  The best way to defend your group’s we-ism is to convince each other that those who are not part of “we” are less intelligent, less coherent, less human than “we” are.

The first step to true hatred is in finding a way to seeing your opponent as something – a set of cliches, stereotypes, abstract evils – other than human.

(Via this guy)

George W. Bush Hates White People

Bob Collins at NewsCut commented on a letter to the editor in the Strib that aroused his ire. Collins’ comments – or, should I say, his sources – are a bit troubling as well.


Are Midwesterners simply better than people in other parts of the country? Do we work harder? Are we less reliant on others for help when we need it? Are our values more aligned with the American ethic?

Being a good conservative, I tend to think more in terms of individuals than of groups, classes or communities. And while like a lot of Midwesterners I have had in my life a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the nation’s media’s big-city-centeredness, I have stopped believing that nobility and ignobility are regional, class or community virtues. New Yorkers on 9/11, for example, behaved like…well, humans.

And Midwesterners are perfectly capable of ignoble behavior under stress.

But we’ll come back to that.

Today’s Star Tribune “letter of the day” seems to think so. Writer Jeffrey Seyfert of Farmington compares Hurricane Katrina in 2004 with the flooding in Iowa and sections of Minnesota last week.

There is historic flooding involving five Midwestern states; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. Where are the news anchors reporting from the bridges asking where is the federal government and when are they coming to the rescue, as they did back during Hurricane Katrina?

The reason you don’t see them is it doesn’t fit the template. It doesn’t fit the template that the federal government is supposed to be omnipresent in our lives and that self-reliance and self-responsibility are mere clichés of days long ago.

The difference is our fellow Midwesterners are picking themselves off the ground, brushing themselves off, and getting to work. Their first instinct is not to blame government; their first instinct is to help each other out and try to put their lives back together.

The letter ignores that, naturally, there’ll be plenty of federal help in the recovery (and I don’t doubt for a minute that the Strib letters editor knew that when they picked the letter over many no-doubt more reasonable-sounding ones for publication).

But there is a communitarian streak in small-town America; borne from isolation and impoverished German and Scandinavian ancestry, on the good side it does mean that these small, integral communities, mostly with roots going back generations, are able to pull together in a crisis pretty seamlessly. (On the flip side, it means they’re pretty suffocating, hidebound places to live, which is why a lot of people – like me – leave ’em).

Just as there is a communitarian streak in small towns in the deep south, whatever their ethnicity. Traditions of community and family bring people together when there’s a problem.

And what does more than anything else in this country to destroy family and disrupt community?

We’ll come back to that.

Syefert’s letter could be dismissed if it weren’t for the fact it’s part of a growing chorus in the Midwest: black people got help in 2004, and the mostly white Midwesterns can’t catch a break.

I will speak at the risk of being accused of projecting my beliefs into a letter written by someone I don’t know (and as we’ll see shortly, I’m not the only one projecting, here); I think it’s fair to say that Midwesterners aren’t saying “black people got help” so much as “the media and punditry racialized New Orleans to create national hysteria over the disaster, turning it into a fundamentally racial issue, partly for political gain, partly to shame the nation into paying to rebuild the place. On the other hand, the coverage of the floods in the Midwest is, well, just another day’s news”.

Let’s not forget that Katrina was racialized by Al Sharpton, by Kanye West, by Ray “Chocolate City” Nagin. The media took up the story to use as a cudgel against the Administration (after carefully scrubbing out Nagin and Kathleen Blanco’s incompetence, and the fact that FEMA has been a disaster waiting to happen since the seventies).

I think there’s a certain amount of wishing, on the part of people who haven’t had their hip waders off in a week and are sore from sandbagging, for just a little hysteria sending goodwill their way.

Speaking of projection, Collins cites a ChiTrib article. I’m going to emphasize one passage for us to come back to later:

Today, the Chicago Tribune profiled the growing sentiment in the Heartland:

“Where is all the fundraising that Katrina victims had?” Ben Creelman asked, a disgusted tone seeping into his voice. “Is it because we’re not from the Deep South? Is it because we’re from the Midwest?”

Creelman didn’t put it in so many words, but his message was clear. The poor, mostly African American residents of New Orleans’ 9th Ward inspired a charitable outpouring not seen since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The flooded farms of the central Midwest, meanwhile, just can’t catch a break.

It gets worse. One man, sandbagging in Columbus Junction, Iowa said “even the Hispanics” were sandbagging, while pointing out that African Americans weren’t.

So – based on statements by two people in a Midwestern disaster area, the writer detects a “growing trend?”

I’ll allow that this might be writer David Greising’s first trip outside Chicago, but I’ve got two bits of news for him:

  1. Redneck insularity exists
  2. It – and its analogues – exist everywhere. Some call it racism; I call it “we-ism“.

I suggest – strongly – that it’s no more a “Growing Trend” than tribalism and ethnic insularity, both of which trace back to times when humans travelled in packs of hunter-gatherers and fought other packs for prime berry patches.

I might also suggest that, as Katrina was an excuse to find racism inherent at all levels of the system, that David Greising is looking for that seemy, David-Lynch-y underbelly to the Midwest that just about everyone in the media seems to think is lying in wait out there.

As for the government’s response, one difference in the Midwest is that there was one. At least $2 billion in federal aid is expected in the flooded area. Gov. Pawlenty toured Mower, Houston and Freeborn counties last week, declared it a disaster area, and triggered a review for FEMA help.
President Bush toured the area last week and promised plenty of federal help.

True enough.

But let’s get back to the notion of communitarianism, of multigenerational communities (rural, urban, or suburban for that matter) that just get up and do things when they need to be done. While the govenrment is going to help the farmers in the Midwest just as (Greising’s claims notwithstanding) they did in New Orleans, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look into the role of generations of government programs breaking down those very traits.

Thousands of acres of farmland has been lost to crops this year, and disaster payments to farmers will help cushion some of the blow.

Of course, the people of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois showed a resiliency in their crisis. Their recovery, however, was a team effort.

As most things are.

But to take the word of two tired, angry sandbaggers and a letter writer in the Strib as signs of a trend is…

…well, one of those parlor games journalists at all levels play.

I merely suggest there’s a lot less there than meets Bob Collins’ and David Greising’s eyes.

“A Dialog About Race”

Jason Lewis had/has a liner in his promo reel. It goes a little something like…:

“Let’s have an intelligent conversation; Jason will talk, you listen”.

That’s what I think about when I hear most people who are calling for a “dialog about race” in this county.


I don’t know that that word means what they think it means.


I don’t go to Jeff Fecke to take the cultural barometer of this nation. I go to Jeff Fecke for howlingly overwrought conclusions; I go looking for checks that his logic and knowledge can’t cash.

And he wrote a doozy the other day:

In general, if you ever find yourself saying, “I’m not a racist,” you’re a racist.

I rubbed my eyes, thinking perhaps it was the fatigue playing tricks on my eyes.

Alas, no:

The same holds true for a variety of hatreds, of course. “I’m not a sexist” is evidence one is sexist; “I’m not homophobic” proof that one hates gays. Those people who truly have no internalized misogyny, racism, or homophobia are few and far between, and those most likely to be good allies to those groups are also the most likely to be aware of their own shortcomings.

Apparently I’m a purple female rhinoceros who walks along the ceiling, having dislaimed each of those as well as affirming the power of gravity.

It’s easy to bag on Jeff Fecke for these kinds of “conclusions” – and it deserves bagging; it’s a simplistic, hamfisted answer to a very complex question. The problem is, this is a symptom (albeit a not-very-challenging one) of something that plagues nearly every attempt to have a “dialog” across ideological lines with the left, whether the issue is man-made global warming, gender, or race.

They frame the argument to not merely favor their side, but to paint disagreement as base, benighted and depraved.

Which makes for a fun rhetorical game (Fecke was reportedly a college-level debater, so one might suspect that’s the goal), but – and I say this as someone who’s been cut down to size for substituting “rhetorical games” for “communication” enough times to know better – it makes for lousy dialog, if indeed “dialog” is what you want.

And of course, “dialog” is not what most of the parties to this “discussion” want. They want it no more than Jason Lewis wants an even conversation – and at least Lewis’ liner is funny.

There’s nothing funny about the way the “dialog on race” is being framed.  No “dialog” exists while one side assumes the other is depraved until proven depraved.

I’m going to start out with a very broad statement: “Isms” are part of the human condition. All people are conditioned to favor people who are like them, and to suspect people who are different from them, whether tangibly (skin color, language, accent, smell, dress) or subtly (class, education, geography). Many white people get uneasy around many black people, sure, but that’s an easy one. Middle-class white people get uneasy around mullet-headed bikers; New Yorkers sneer down their noses at Arklahoma accents; light-skinned blacks disdain darker blacks (or so said Spike Lee); farmers roll their eyes at people in suits and ties and clipped city accents and manners.

This is true across every culture on this planet.

In many of those cultures, that suspicion is codified in the language. In many languages, the word for “Human” varies, depending on how closely-related or situated the subject is to the speaker; for “humans” whose tribe is closer to that of the speaker, it’s a fairly benign or amiable term; the farther afield the subject, the less-benign and more derogatory the term will get.

To say “everyone’s a racist” is itself simplistic; it would be fairer and more accurate to say “we are all we-ists”; all of us, black or female or suburban or mentally ill or urban or atheist, are more comfortable around people who are like us.  And every single one of us practices “profiling”, whether you’re a black couple “profiling” some agressive drunk rednecks, or a Xhosa turning on a Bantu in anger, or Molly Priesmeyer “profiling” white males, or even the stereotypical white middle-class guy sizing up…anyone else.

What matters, of course, is how we deal with this bit of human programming.

So far, so good?


Let’s take a moment and launch a pre-emptive strike on a liberal cliche or two. I’ll ask my conservative homies to indulge what might sound to some of them (mistakenly) like heresy.

The effects of racism didn’t end in 1865 – or 1964, for that matter.

And I’m not just talking about the racism of low expectations that is inherent in the welfare system to which so many Americans have been induced to addiction, a system that’s perpetuated any number of “isms” by making something that is completely counterintuitive to most humans – subsidizing poverty, in order to make misery and disenfranchisement a viable lifestyle. By subsidizing poverty to enable people to say in it for generation after generation, racism and classism and dozens of other corrosive “isms” are given an environment to see to their own permanence.

But most of us – the conservatives, at least – know about both of those already. But that’s a post-1964 mistake.

There’s one bit of racism that’s gone back 400 years, and is alive and well today – the devaluation of the black male. Black males – fathers – were sold off pretty much at will, as befitted what what considered property at the time. They were shipped around like cattle, worked to death, killed without the benefit of legal protection – it’s not a new story to anyone, is it? African-American society built on the matriarchal nature of many African societies, and became even more so; fathers were a transient thing.

During the Jim Crow years, of course, black men could be discriminated against, attacked, lynched with impunity. Worst of all,  we really haven’t learned much since the end of Jim Crow. Black men, to the welfare system, are pretty much expendable; “families” without fathers get better benefits. Add to that an educational system that systematically fails blacks, a welfare system more concerned with its own self-perpetuation than in helping people find the self-respect (as opposed to “self-esteem”) that it takes to break the cycle, and an urban popular culture that plays into the nihilistic devaluation of the African-American male…

…between all that, America doesn’t need to “invent HIV”, as Jeremiah Wright famously claimed, to screw up African-Americans. 

So we’ve established in advance; racism exists, and it’s a pretty normal, albeit lamentable, human condition.


So you want a dialog about race?

OK. So in the next installment, let’s talk. Or at least I’ll give you, the audience, my monologue. You can respond any way you’d like.

Oh, yeah – Fecke’s wrong. If you say you’re not a racist, it means you’re not. Or you are. Or somewhere in between – somewhere in that immense continuum between “hating people who are different than you” and “not really recognizing differences at all”. All generalizations are false.

Except that one.