An Honest Discussion About Race
It’s time I set down my thoughts on race in America. Let us have a brutally honest discussion about race. And I mean really honest – not just honest in a way that will make one side happy and the other side miserable. Of course I am a right-wing libertarian, and an enemy of left-wing egalitarianism and collectivism. But this does not mean I cannot point out the flaws and problems on “my” side, even as I critique people who I consider to be my enemies.
On one level, the debate about race is about statistics. Both sides load up their rhetorical machine guns with statistics and proceed to fire away indiscriminately at the other side. But statistics in isolation are meaningless. They only have value when they are relevantly applied.
Another problem with statistics is that it is virtually impossible to demonstrate causality in social science. At best we can demonstrate strong correlations between variables, say, income and education, or education and crime. A statistical relationship in isolation is almost as worthless as a single statistic in isolation.
What I have noticed about both camps, but especially among those on the left, is that they like statistics when they support a point they have already decided upon, and will denounce the other side as racist or hateful for even mentioning a statistic that runs contrary to their point. For example, the left likes to repeat the statistics about black men in prison vs. black men in college (this isn’t even true). That’s an important one for them, but the statistics that clearly demonstrate the disproportionate criminality of young black males is somehow a “racist fact”, a thing that is true but must not be mentioned (almost every website that analyzes the raw data is one that my opponents would not trust. You will have to do the work yourselves).
It is dishonest and reckless to imply, with the selective use of statistics either a) that blacks are unfairly over-represented in prison or b) that blacks are inherently criminal. Neither position is logically necessitated by the respective statistic upon which it is supposedly based. Other explanations exist, and we will explore them.
Some leftists are intellectually honest enough to acknowledge the truth. Yes, black males commit crimes at rates disproportionate to their share of the population. But the reason why they do it, according to the left, is rooted in the failing of society. Racism is to blame for black crime rates. It is a form of rebellion against white oppression or something along these lines. Few leftists will go here in public because the vast majority of normal, non-academic people believe in free will and moral responsibility.
What the statistics actually demonstrate is clear: in virtually every area of personal and social well-being, black Americans are behind everyone else. This is something we all generally agree to. The dispute is over why this is. White racists claim that it is solely the fault of blacks, or mostly their fault. Leftists claim that it is solely due to white racism, or at least primarily due to it. Both sides point to legitimate institutional issues that both benefit and harm black Americans.
It is simply insane to deny that there are institutions designed specifically to address the historical disadvantages inherited by black Americans due to slavery/segregation. To name only the two that stand out the most to the average person: Affirmative Action with racial quotas, and 15 trillion dollars in welfare spending over 50 years. Of course not all of that money went to blacks; tens of millions of whites and Hispanics also benefited from welfare. But there can be no denying that poor black Americans have received a great deal in the way of redistributed wealth. To speak as if the whole American establishment is categorically anti-black and actively oppressing blacks sounds insane to anyone who is aware of these facts. A “white supremacist” society does not spend trillions attempting to atone for past sins or sanction a system of racial quotas and preferences that systematically disadvantage whites. One could also point to the over-representation of blacks in the ranks of the federal government, the Black Congressional Caucus, or the black leadership of the federal government at this time – “institutionally” black Americans have a lot of representation, undercutting the ceaseless drumbeat on the left of “institutional racism.”
These facts do not nullify other relevant facts. There are also institutional practices and policies that do disadvantage blacks. Even those that have been formally abolished, such as segregation or redlining, continue to have effects today. The disgraceful War on Drugs disproportionately affects black Americans as well. Though I believe the idea that people languish in federal prisons for non-violent crimes has been greatly over-exaggerated even by my fellow libertarians, the criminalization of various substances does create a massive bureaucracy and a massive impetus for the state to become involved in the lives of mostly poor and non-white Americans. Even without a prison sentence for drugs, a person arrested for them is now in the system and on the radar of the state – a terrible place to be.
The only relevant question is what do we do now? This will sound hypocritical given the title of this essay, but we really need to stop having “conversations about race”, or at least we need to have a much different conversation. The current “conversation” that black radicals and white leftists want to have is aggressive, accusatory and confrontational. The very statement “Black Lives Matter” is an implication that whites don’t think black lives matter, and need to be reminded. This is not how you begin a conversation. It is how a narcissist might begin a lecture, a person who cares more about broadcasting their own feelings than they do about actually trying to change the viewpoint of others. This wins a handful of converts who were probably already inclined to agree – a great preaching to the choir. But if the answer to the historic dehumanization of blacks is a contemporary dehumanization of whites as indifferent and wicked racists, there will be no progress, only war.
Simply put: what the confrontationalists want is never going to happen. White people en masse are not going to begin hating their whiteness. They aren’t going to renounce their history and debase themselves the way that contemporary white leftists have. They are not going to admit that they are the unfair beneficiaries of an amorphous “privilege.” And they shouldn’t. For heaven’s sake, we are communicating on a platform that uses technology that was created upon the scientific achievements of Western civilization. It must be clearly understood that our history, like the histories of all peoples, is a scale of grey. Every regrettable episode in our history has its laudable and glorious counterpart. And the country that my WASP ancestors created has been attractive to tens of millions of non-white immigrants, including my Lebanese ancestors, for a reason. As a descendant of voluntary non-white immigrants to the United States, it would be madness for me to insist that this country is nothing but “white supremacy.” It has been especially unfair to blacks – and especially generous, compared to most other countries in the world, to many other non-white groups.
No people should be asked as a precondition for progress that they spit upon their ancestors. I won’t spit upon my WASP ancestors, even the Confederate ones. I will take my ball and go home, and our “conversation” will end. My unwillingness to reject and denounce white Western civilization, however, does not mean that I am not interested in improving the situation of black Americans. What I would prefer to discuss are positive and constructive solutions. I know it is fashionable now on the left to insist that the “oppressor” never has a right to set the terms of the discussion (though I am only half “oppressor”, so maybe I get to be half-heard). But if only the “oppressed” can set the terms, it still isn’t a discussion – it is a lecture, often a boring, pretensions, insulting, unbearable one. A real “conversation” means the rights and humanity of both sides are acknowledged and allowed to be expressed. This practice of labeling one person in the alleged “conversation” an “oppressor” and thereby denying his right to be heard is not only profoundly unjust, but counterproductive and guaranteed to entrench, rather than to dissipate hatred. The “honest conversation” will only take place when these aggressive and dehumanizing practices end.
Following that must be an assumption of good will until the contrary is explicitly demonstrated. The confrontationalists assume bad will at the outset much of the time. Even if the assumption isn’t there from the beginning, a slip of the tongue, an invocation of an argument or a statistic that is incorrect or inconvenient, and bad will is immediately presumed. It would be utopian of me to believe that this combative tendency could be completely eliminated, but it must at least be called attention to. A conversation that presumes good will is hard; I will confess to having a very hard time presuming the good will of many Social Justice Warriors, especially those who are themselves white and privileged college students, but I’m willing to try with anyone who is also willing to do the same for me.
For the libertarians at least, I can also say this: we honestly and sincerely believe that a laissez-faire society is the best antidote to racism and sexism, such that they really and actually exist and cause problems in people’s lives. My outrage with the SJW-left isn’t rooted in a hatred of blacks or women, but rather in a hatred of radical egalitarianism and collectivism. At every turn, it was the state with violent compulsion that enforced racist and sexist laws. Meanwhile, all over the globe, the unleashing of market forces has also led to demands for liberalization of rigid traditional cultures. When people get a taste of wealth and liberty, they eventually want more.
That is the dispute that many of us on the right, conservative and libertarian, have with the identity politics of the left today. These politics are tied up with socialism, historically and rhetorically. Having spent years on the socialist left in a former life, I am not simply engaging in hyperbole. Scratch any of these SJWs, and you will find beneath it all a belief that capitalism must be overthrown as well, in conjunction with or usually as a precondition to ending all of these other problems. I don’t know if the connection is made as strongly today as it was 10 years ago when I was among leftists, but it didn’t disappear over night. So strong is the belief that only some sort of socialist regime can permanently end racism and sexism that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned. It is implied in the demands of these groups, when they bother to make them. It is also implied in the totalitarianish regimes they establish on college campuses. In order to bring about equality, some groups must be punished, their wealth confiscated and redistributed, so that other groups may prosper.
It is with this zero-sum argument that we so strongly disagree. Many of us on the right believe that wealth (and liberty, too) is not a zero-sum game; wealth is created. All of us can prosper and enjoy basic rights and liberties together, not only some at the expense of others. That it happened otherwise at various junctures in history is most unfortunate, but the revolutions in technology over the past 200 years have made that sort of exploitation pointless. Billions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the past century. Much of the racial inequality that remains in America is the result of institutions and systems that have either collapsed, their toxic rubble still contaminating the country, or that are outdated and on the verge of collapse. We can and should clean up the mess, but only as partners.
As a half-white libertarian, then, my tentative solution is to first of all, support Rand Paul [update: in light of Rand’s foreign policy betrayal, I will say that these ideas ought to be supported, but the man himself – nah]. He has called for the development of free-enterprise zones in blighted cities such as Detroit. These will create thousands of jobs and the economic base needed to rebuild these areas. He has called for an end to the War on Drugs and for a de-militariazation of the police. Hard leftists cannot support free-enterprise zones, as their success would make socialism unnecessary; people who prioritize the plight of black America can support them, however.
Secondly, white libertarians and conservatives must become aggressive in their defense of black conservatives and libertarians. To an extent this has already happened, and the work can be carried forward. The “Uncle Toming” of blacks on the right is a terrible disgrace, as evil and wicked as anything done by white racist groups, and should be aggressively denounced. The phrase “Uncle Tom” should be as culturally proscribed as the word “nigger”, because it more or less has the same intention and effect: to keep a black person silent and “in their place.”
Third, our solutions must focus on the three F’s: faith, family and freedom. Faith and family are the support networks that lessen that crippling and infantile dependence upon the state. Again it is not only blacks in crisis here, but certain family problems are over-represented in black communities, such as illegitimacy. It is the family that is the bulwark first against poverty and then against dependence upon the government. The church is also an important secondary network in this regard. Finally, yes, freedom – lower taxes, fewer regulations, fewer laws, not for the benefit of Wall Street, but for the benefit of people in black communities who would like to start businesses without having to face a mountain of absurd bureaucratic obstacles and get right about the business of acquiring capital, hiring workers, and serving consumers.
In other words, stop complaining and do something. Do something that everyone, white and black, can work together on. Drop unreasonable demands and expectations, even if it means, at least in your own mind, that you are swallowing a bit of pride and taking one for the team. Actual, measurable, real progress, or ongoing bitterness and hostility; you can have one, but you can’t have both.