RACE AND RACISM….I’ve mentioned on

RACE AND RACISM….I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions that I have very little use for John Derbyshire ? even if he does write about mathematics sometimes ? but in a soul-wrenching, bend-over-backwards effort to be fair, I want to excerpt the full quote of his that’s been making the rounds of the blogosphere lately:

All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level.

So yes, his statement is an unusually honest conservative affirmation of the fact that racists mostly support Republicans these days, but there is a context to it.

By the way, in this piece he also elaborates on an earlier statement of his that “I do have some opinions that aren’t very respectable ? on race, for example…” Here is his explanation:

The principal non-respectable ingredients of my views about this topic are my convictions that race is (a) real, and (b) important. It is a measure of the height to which the waters of hypocrisy have risen that these beliefs are, by themselves, sufficient to put me beyond the pale of polite discourse. That applies even here in the world of conservative punditry, where the ruling dogmas are: There is no such thing as race! and Well, even if there is such a thing, it’s not the least bit important! If you contradict these dogmas, even ? I think we are now close to the point at which that “even” can be replaced by “especially” ? in a roomful of conservatives, everyone gets really, really uncomfortable.

If anything, this surprises me more than the first statement. The idea that race is “socially constructed” and has no intrinsic meaning is something I associate with academic lefties, not with very many people from the real world. I’m rather surprised to hear that this contention is more widespread than I thought, even among conservatives.

I agree with Derbyshire here: race is real and it is important. It’s physically real for blacks because it’s the result of the all too physically real slave trade that brought them here over the course of two centuries and then caused the bloodiest war in American history. If that isn’t real, I don’t know what is.

Many conservatives (and even some liberals) like to claim that we should not have programs aimed at helping African-Americans. Rather, we should have programs aimed at helping anyone who’s poor and disadvantaged. Although there’s some justification for this, it turns out that being a poor black is not the same thing as being a poor white. One of these days I’ll work up the courage to write a piece about exactly what the difference is. But not today.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy points out that “socially constructed” doesn’t mean something isn’t real. Quite the contrary, and we all deal with socially constructed realities every day. Point taken, but in fact I don’t believe that race is socially constructed, at least not entirely. Like so many things, it’s a combination of social reality with a tangible, physical reality. More later.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription