Bob Herbert wrote a barnburner (!) of a column about the Skip Gates fiasco which makes two primary claims about racism in America. The first contention is that there are still hugely disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system depending on your color and the second is that we’re never going to have this conversation because people would rather talk about almost anything else on the face of the planet.
People like overlooking racism because its entire point is to skew the functional working of various systems towards majority actors in a way that becomes enshrined and intertwined with the system. People don’t like facing racism because it’s like looking at a giant leak in a dam – chances are the only way to fix it is to do a massive amount of work that will take time, money and the dam builders admitting that they fucked up. What inevitably ends up happening is that you have someone running to say that the real problem with the dam is the water, or the weather, or the fact that dam-demagogues (damagogues?) are just trying to overstate the issue, coupled with someone from the tiny hamlet about to be crushed by the oncoming tidal wave declaring that their lawn is parched, just parched, and the water will help them.
Filling in the first role is Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin. Bob Herbert made the following contention:
Black people need to roar out their anger at such treatment, lift up their voices and demand change. Anyone counseling a less militant approach is counseling self-defeat. As of mid-2008, there were 4,777 black men imprisoned in America for every 100,000 black men in the population. By comparison, there were only 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white men.
While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.
Rubin responds with:
Bob Herbert is convinced minorities are the victims of a disproportionate number of police stops. But wait – they commit a disproportionate number of crimes, as his own statistics show. (As of mid-2008, there were 4,777 black men imprisoned in America for every 100,000 black men in the population. By comparison, there were only 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white men.) Unless one is to believe there is an undetected crime wave of white criminals (or wrongfully convicted blacks), it seems there isn’t anything terribly awry here.
What really helps our dialogue on race is when someone says “there’s an undetected/unpunished crime wave of white criminals and wrongly convicted blacks” and then someone else comes along and says, “I wish someone had said exactly that, but nobody did, so I hope Melissa wins Next Food Network Star”.
I’ve done some court watching this summer, and the one thing I’ve noticed above all else is the degree to which black people get pulled over…and pulled over…and pulled over. I think the main reason NASCAR isn’t that popular among black people is that we’re not used to seeing anyone drive that long without being stopped and asked what we’re doing in the area. Now, even if black people and white people commit crimes at similar rates, there are a lot more opportunities for black people to be caught, because we’re on the side of the road having plain sight searches done on us at a far greater rate (something which, of course, is justified by the far higher rates of black convictions which are in no way connected to this phenomenon because hey look New Jack City?).
Then, of course, we have John McWhorter, who comes along and says that even though there’s a clearly disparate impact on minorities in the War on Drugs, the main solution is to stop talking about it, end the War on Drugs, and then enter into a land where we no longer have the “victim-focused teachings” of such terrible race baiters as Bob Herbert. His point, even thought he admits that there’s a racial disparity, is that our policies are simply punishing the types of crimes that black people like to commit, which makes perfect sense – I’ll tell you why just as soon as I go to the store and pick up some brown paper bags. I just feel this innate need to hand shit off to people on the streets, you know?
Now, a rational person might ask why the War on Drugs seems to have spurred such a violent and destructive phenomenon disproportionately focused on poor black urban communities, but that would involve being “victim-focused” (i.e., believing that racism exists), which should be done away with at all costs. I also highly recommend that when your genitals start burning after a one-night stand, you should stalk your former partner rather than go to the doctor, because otherwise you’re just too victim-focused.