Immune from Race-baiting?

A funny thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I discovered that I seem to have at least a limited degree of immunity from the routine charges of racism regularly aimed at conservatives.  It was readers who informed me of this miraculous healing.

Several readers asked me to comment further after the appearance of my article “Racism, Eric Holder, my Son and Me” in the February 23, 2009 edition of American Thinker.

One of these readers is a friend and a well-known screen writer. I asked him why in the world he thought I should write more on the issue and what he thought I had left out of the first piece.  Here was his response:

Keep punching -- you can tear down the schlockmeisters; you're immune from the "Scarlet Letter" -- R for racist -- if you play it right; meaning, don't let anger get the better of you; obviously, you are a good and loving person, and to be tarred, even obliquely, must be infuriating.

You ARE "allowed" to speak -- you've put your blood and soul into this, and how dare any racial prohibitionists say otherwise?
My initial thought when I read his admonition to keep writing on this subject was, “Why am I allowed to speak on race?” I am, after all, just another middle-aged conservative white male who hails from a rural state. Pretty much the textbook definition of a racist by the liberal left in America.

Yet that initial piece received mostly positive responses -- even by those on the left who posted in our comments section -- and the piece was widely distributed on the Internet.

Were my opinions tolerated simply because I was fortunate and blessed enough to have adopted and raised a black baby? What if my son had been Korean? Or Hispanic? Would the arguments in the article have been treated with the same deference?

My friend said I am “immune from the ’Scarlet Letter’” -- R for racist.”1   I wondered, “What sense does that make?” Who gave me immunity? Does every other white male in America (who hasn’t adopted a black child) have to keep his mouth shut when he thinks about speaking his mind on racism?

This is America, for heaven’s sake, who even has the right to “allow” me to speak about racism (without raising holy hell and calling me a member of the KKK)? And who has the right to stop anyone else from speaking? (Dittos on the KKK accusations.) In short why can’t we just talk, in a civil manner, about racism?

I believe that I am starting to figure out some answers. I wanted to share those thoughts with American Thinker’s readers in this follow-up article.

No one really knows what racism is or means in this country anymore. A remarkable documentary “A Conversation about Race” proves this point.   First time filmmaker, Craig Bodeker, interviews 25 Americans in his documentary. More than half are minority Americans -- almost half are black Americans.

The film delves deeply into racism in America and is well worth viewing. I was particularly interested in three questions posed by Bodeker to the interviewees:
1) Do you see racism in your daily life?
2) What is racism?
3) Can you share with the viewers some personal experience of racism?
The answer to the first question was a unanimous “Yes!” All of the respondents saw racism every day. It was all around them.

The answer to the second question was, or should be, a national embarrassment. Not one of the respondents could give a coherent answer (although there are some entertaining psychobabble attempts at a definition). People in America have no idea how to define “racism.” The word flits about like an evil spirit in our national vocabulary -- but none of us knows exactly what it means.

The responses to the third question, relating a real life example of racism, were even more discomforting. The interviewees had to dig deep. Most could not think of a single personal incident -- although they swore they saw racism every day in America.

One black man in the film replied,  “I get stares from white guys.” As if such stares only happen to African Americans. Another said, “People are overly friendly.” As if trying to be nice equals racism.

One white middle-aged male (clearly chock-full of white guilt) relived his personal encounter with racism:  Some forty years prior to the interview, as a child, he had to choose to drink at a public water fountain right after a black person had used it. The white man wore, like a medal of honor, his decision to take a sip.

“A Conversation about Race” is a fascinating look at the state of confusion about race in America. I highly recommend it.2

This state of confusion led me to this question: if racism is not rampant in this country, and if no one really knows what it is to begin with, then why do we hear constant accusations of racism? Especially against white people?

The arguments accusing a person of racism (like most arguments accusing one of homophobia) are what Ayn Rand called “arguments of intimidation”:
The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”
Here is an example from my own writing. I sometimes write about marriage and the family.  Because I support traditional marriage I am accused of being homophobic.

Since I am white and a heterosexual, I wear the “Scarlet Letter ‘H’” for “homophobe.” If I were a homosexual I would be immune from these arguments. (Unfortunately, I have not adopted any of my friends who are homosexual.)

In short, most charges of racism (or in some instances of homophobia) are not arguments at all.  They are ad hominem attacks on the writer or speaker to silence them by guilt or with fear.

We live in a culture where only certain classes are allowed to criticize certain other classes. Craig Bodeker sums up his documentary with this stinging and frightening précis:
The only positions made available [in American culture] to white people on the subject of our own race are indifference or supremacy.
Apparently, I am immune from the argument of intimidation that is almost always the basis for the accusation of racism. (I can’t be “evil, dishonest, heartless, insensitive, or ignorant” about race because I have raised a black son.) Perhaps that is why there were so very few outright criticisms of my initial piece on racism.

I caught two objections to my last article on racism: (1) I had not discussed “institutional racism;” and (2) someone wrote on a liberal website something like this: “I’ll bet his son has a different story to tell.”

My answer to the first criticism is, of course, that there is some residual institutional racism in America. For example, somewhere is America I am sure there are a few white cops who still harbor racist feelings.

But the real institutional racism in this country is against white people … not minorities. Everyone knows that there is institutionalized preference to choose specific minorities over other races. It is written into law. It is standard operating procedure at most colleges and businesses in this country.

So those on the left who try to use the “institutional racism” argument at least need to open their eyes and see which way that institutional racism is directed and who directs it.

As for my son’s personal experiences … I called him up and read the criticism to him. He started laughing. “It’s just like you wrote pops,” he said. “My wife and I never see racism. At least, I never see it. No one has called me a ‘nigger’ since the 6th grade.  And no one as ever turned me down for a job.”

“I know that son,” I replied. “But I need to be able to tell my readers why.”

He thought for a while before answering. “Well, I was raised in a white family. So I speak … I don’t know what you would call it … American English. I don’t talk like I am from the hood.  I am polite. And I dress reasonably enough.”

(We argued about his dress code for a few minutes. His informal, not work, attire looks “hip hop” to me. But I am a middle-aged white doting father -- so what do I know?)

“I think I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder,” he continued. “You know what I mean? I was taught to respect everybody when I was a kid. You taught me that. It works. I don’t have any problems. Sometimes I talk to my students on the phone and when they finally meet me they are like, ‘Hey man, I didn’t know you were black!’3

“You always taught us that skin color doesn’t matter,” he concluded. “I guess I just believed you.”

But skin color still does matter, way too much, in this country. It will continue to matter until we openly and honestly talk about it and actually see that it doesn’t. What this country needs is a conversation about race … that tells the truth.

Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His latest award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved . His memoir, Underground: Life and Survival in the Russian Black Market, has just been released.

1. The reference to “Scarlet Letter” comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel by that name.  The heroine in the book, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for “adulteress” after giving birth to an illegitimate child.
2. Also of interest the documentary, “A Man Named Pearl.”
3. My son works as a recruiter and a counselor at a major university.