The Rules Are Changing for Talking about Race

(See also: Racism and the PC Inquisition)

Attorney General Eric Holder should have been more careful about what to ask for.  When he first took office, he called for a national dialogue on race, calling us "a nation of cowards" for not facing the subject honestly.

It may be that he's getting what he asked for, but it is not taking the direction he expected.  There's perhaps a little too much courage and honesty going on for his tastes.

Until very recently, white people in the public eye carefully avoided any comments that fell outside narrow politically correct boundaries; to do so was to volunteer to be the defendant in a media show trial, with a loss of reputation and career the likely result.  Even Bill Cosby, who had achieved a universal father-figure status among African-Americans and was arguably the nation's most popular black person, had his ears pinned back with a firestorm of criticism in 2004 when he suggested that problems in the black community originated in that community rather than with white racism.

But the Trayvon Martin case seems to have lifted the lid off the forbidden box, and, despite attempts to put the lid back on, politically incorrect spirits are escaping into the mainstream.  Subsequent events show that a real dialogue may be taking place -- with conservatives hitting back instead of submitting to expectations of ideological perp walks and mea culpas.

Martin's death at the hands of community watch captain George Zimmerman was at first depicted in the national media as a classic case of violent white racism.  Yet as more facts trickled out, that depiction became increasingly dubious.  Furthermore, the media, politicians, and racial activists behaved so unethically, and their rhetoric was so over the top (Al Sharpton said the Republicans were calling for "a war on blacks" and that it was time to "fire back"), that it provoked an unexpected reaction; rather than the usual intimidated assent and backpedaling the country was used to in such cases, some whites became emboldened.  They pointed out the fallacies in the case against Zimmerman and raised some disturbing facts, such as U.S. government statistics that show a black person is 39 times more likely to assault a white person than vice-versa.

One was conservative writer John Derbyshire, who wrote a column for the online publication Taki's Magazine that summed up safety advice he had given his teenage sons over the years concerning blacks.  These lessons included telling his sons to avoid black neighborhoods, to leave events where blacks were in the majority, and that a small but significant percentage of the black population hated whites enough to do them harm without cause.

For that, Derbyshire had his decades-long relationship as a columnist with the conservative National Review ended.  

Several weeks ago, another such "firing" occurred, with Naomi Schaefer Riley sent packing from her role as blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education for daring to insinuate that a selection of black studies dissertations with cringe-inducing titles, such as "'So I Could Be Easeful': Black Women's Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth," might be "a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap."

Unlike Derbyshire, Riley was not banished to non-personhood in established conservative circles.  Instead, she fired back from the op-ed pages of her previous employer, the Wall Street Journal, doubling down on her assertion that black studies departments were too politicized from their inception to be objectively academic.

Then, on Tuesday, May 15, the noted black economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell wrote an article entitled "A Censored Race War" for the very same National Review that bounced Derbyshire, becoming the highest-profile figure to describe in detail a phenomenon that has been occurring with increasing frequency for years: gang beatings of random whites (and occasionally Asians) by blacks, sometimes in organized "flash mobs."

These beatings are sometimes reported in local media, sometimes not; Sowell led his article with a case in Norfolk, Virginia, in which two newspaper reporters were viciously beaten by a mob numbering as many as 100 people (with perhaps as many as 30 taking turns working them over).  The victims' own employers, the Virginian-Pilot, did not report on the incident for over a week, and then did so only when a national outcry forced their hand.

The Norfolk incident and others have made the local news, and have even made it onto some national outlets such as Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor -- but as isolated events.  Only a few brave conservative writers have taken on discussing them as part of a patterned national development.  Yet there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such incidents over the last decade, raising the possibility that some element within the African-American community is conducting a campaign of violent intimidation against whites that is only a few degrees short of the white lynch mobs during the Jim Crow era.

At least, nobody as prominent dared to put the pieces together about the racial gang beatings until the courageous Dr. Sowell wrote his National Review piece.  Perhaps this is a sign of how far the pendulum has swung: Sowell, perhaps by virtue of his race, was able to state what white writers could not.  Indeed, his column citing the many cases of unprovoked violence by black mobs against whites provides justification for people to give Derbyshire-like warnings to their children, in the very publication that chased Derbyshire for doing so.

Sowell's, Riley's, and Derbyshire's refusal to submit to the politically correct line -- and Sowell's and Riley's ability to put their opinions on the matter into top national publications -- is hardly what Holder had in mind when he raised the issue of race relations in America.  Most likely, more critics of the politically correct status quo will speak out as time goes on.  Perhaps the attorney general would now prefer that we had remained a nation of cowards.