“Institutional Racial Insensitivity”: John Derbyshire, National Review And Conservatives’ Race Problem
It has been a rough couple of days for our friends over at National Review. On Thursday their longtime contributor John Derbyshire published a racist screed on a Web site called Taki’s Magazine that has caused NRsome serious embarrassment. Ultimately enough of Derbyshire’s colleagues called for his head that he was fired. Conservatives may hope that by cutting Derbyshire loose they can avoid being associated with views such as his. But the truth is that their relationship with the racist right wing fringe is far deeper and more complex than any one writer.
Derbyshire’s piece referenced the widespread discussion, in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, of how black parents must tell their children that when they go out into the world they will face suspicions solely because of their race. “There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.”
Derbyshire went on to list a series of assertions about African-Americans. The least offensive were technically factual statements presented in a hostile manner and totally lacking in relevant context. For example, he wrote, “Of most importance to your personal safety are the very [emphasis his] different means for antisocial behavior [between whites and blacks], which you will see reflected in, for instance, school disciplinary measures, political corruption, and criminal convictions.” Of course, the fact that blacks might be over-represented in criminal convictions and school disciplinary measures because of racist assumptions and practices among the authorities, fed by pseudo-scientific claptrap such as Derbyshire’s column itself, does not occur to him. Derbyshire’s column also makes no mention of the historical and contemporary framework for modern race relations in the U.S. such as slavery, segregation and persistent structural economic inequality. And it only got worse from there.
If Derbyshire had stuck to merely implied rather than overt racism he would not have lost his job. As Elspeth Reeve noted in The Atlantic Wire, publications such as National Review have long relied upon writers like Derbyshire to cater to their readers’ baser instincts by putting an intellectually refined gloss on bigotry.
But Derbyshire went much further. He descended into purely imagined assertions of racial animosity. “A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us,” wrote Derbyshire. “A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event. They will do this out of racial solidarity, the natural willingness of most human beings to be led, and a vague feeling that whites have it coming.” He offers no basis for this except for a link to a decidedly non-viral short YouTube video of an obscure author expressing a desire to kill white people.
Derbyshire then went on to offer his children horrifyingly racist advice on how to avoid black people so as not to be a victim of violent crime. “Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks,” Derbyshire urges. “If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.” He also advocates racist voter behavior. “Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians. Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.” He continued on with sections on affirmative action and advice to make a few black friends to burnish your public image. The piece was odious, but so over the top that it was almost funny as a kind of self-parody.
Fellow writers at National Review who weighed in did so with appropriate chagrin. On Friday Josh Barro wrote a Web column for Forbes urging NR to dump Derbyshire so as to prevent their other writings on race from being tainted by guilt through association. Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted that they disapproved of his piece.
On Saturday NR editor Rich Lowry posted on their blog saying that Derbyshire had been relieved of his duties.
“Anyone who has read Derb in our pages knows he’s a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer…. Derb is also maddening, outrageous, cranky, and provocative. His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.”
Noticeably absent from Lowry’s statement was any mention of the word race, racism, or what exactly they found so distasteful about Derbyshire’s article. By calling Derbyshire “cranky and provocative” Lowry seems to imply that Derbyshire’s racism is merely an extreme manifestation of his avuncular crankiness. And he doesn’t venture to explain why Derbyshire was allowed to dance “around the line on these issues” until now.
Clearly, National Review and other conservatives hope that by cutting Derbyshire loose they can avoid accusations of institutional racial insensitivity and go back to whining that they are unfairly accused of racism. As political blogger Ben Smith tweeted, “Twitter [is] just overflowing with relief from conservatives eager to shrug off a kind of generational legacy on issues of race.”
Their eagerness is understandable. The conservative movement, and National Review, has a long history of accepting, and then occasionally expurgating, racist elements. NR itself famously editorialized against civil rights. The fathers of the modern conservative movement–Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan–opposed the Civil Rights Act.
Conservatives would like you to think that is all in the past and that today they stand for racial equality while liberals endorse preferences for racial minorities. In fact, conservatives have never fully accepted the civil rights revolution. Right now, for instance, they are attacking the Voting Rights Act in court and in National Review. According to a 1989 article in Spy magazine casual racism was frequently tossed around in NR’s office.
And it’s not as if Derbyshire has never endorsed bigotry before. Back in 2001 he wrote in National Review Online in favor of stereotyping: “the racial stereotypes that white Americans hold of black Americans are generally accurate; and where they are inaccurate, they always under-estimate [emphasis his] a negative characteristic.” He said it would be better if women did not vote. In 2003 he said in an interview, “I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one.” This is not the first time National Review has carried an offensive writer and only dumped him or her after an especially embarrassing episode. Ann Coulter spewed hateful invective for years, and she only left National Review after she wrote a column in 2001 calling for America to “we should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” And, it’s worth noting, she wasn’t even fired for that. Rather she got into an argument with her editors about whether they would publish a self-defense she wrote, and they let her go after she publicly complained they were “censoring” her.
Nor is Derbyshire the only person in the conservative media sphere holding views such as his. Taki Theodoracopulos, the editor of the magazine that published his rant, is the co-founder, with Pat Buchanan, of The American Conservative. Taki himself has written for National Review. Taki’s Magazine also features the work of Steve Sailer, whom Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting refers to as “a well-known promoter of racist and anti-immigrant theories.”
The conservative media has generally responded to Martin’s death by unfairly assaulting his character. Rush Limbaugh, the most popular conservative talk radio host, regularly makes racially inflammatory and insensitive remarks. Fox News also has a long history of what Media Matters terms “racially divisive coverage.”
In February I saw Derbyshire speak on a panel on “the failure of multiculturalism” at the massive Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. His co-panelists included Peter Brimelow, editor of the notoriously xenophobic Web site VDARE and author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, a book devoted to lamenting the influx of non-white immigrants. Issues of Chronicles magazine, a far right publication, were handed out at the panel and they featured a back page column by Taki filled with racist, homophobic fear mongering.
At the CPAC panel Brimelow, who has written for National Review, mentioned that NR had “purged” people like him. Derbyshire’s firing isn’t the first time NR has had to distance itself from an embarrassing bigot. Unless they, and the conservative movement, change their substantive views on civil rights and racial equality, it probably won’t be the last.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, April 7, 2012
On Friday, National Review writer and conservative crazy person John Derbyshire wrote an unambiguously racist piece for a conservative web site that was, well, unambiguously racist. Not a close call, that one.
In response, National Review has fired him. You can read editor Rich Lowry’s statement here, or I’ll save you a link and just provide the probably-more-accurate version:
“My friends, we at National Review are no strangers to racism. I mean, holy crap, have you seen some of the stuff we’ve published?Let’s not forget that this entire magazine was founded so that segregationists would have somewhere to go to feel intellectually superior about their racism, and I think we’ve tried to maintain that philosophy ever since.The one and only essential rule we require of our authors, however, is that they maintain a small bit of plausible deniability. You don’t come right out and say white supremacist things, you simply suggest them, then act outraged when someone picks up on the obvious implications. All of conservatism relies on this distancing between our “suggested” policies and their obviously ridiculous or racist real world results. By breaking that implicit rule, however, Mr. Derbyshire has damaged our future abilities to claim we don’t actually mean it when we suggest obviously racist things.
We are therefore letting Mr. Derbyshire go, so that we can maintain the genteel, did-we-really-mean-that-or-not veneer of our crazy racist founders. We wish him well, and hope to see him say he is sorry, be quickly forgiven and then nobly redeemed in the eyes of the movement, hopefully by next Tuesday or Wednesday, and are at least satisfied that for the rest of his life he will be able to wear this episode as a badge of how very downtrodden racist assholes are in this nation, probably because ethnic people and liberals are meanies and/or fascists. Thank you.”
Did I get it right? Meh, who cares.
By: Hunter for Daily Kos, April 7, 2012
Is it useful to object when Rush Limbaugh says something particularly odious on the radio, where he is one of the most successful and influential broadcasters alive? Or does reacting to his screeds have the perverse effect of empowering him? In the past, I’ve ignored him at times, but more often I’ve spoken up. I’ve drawn attention to Limbaugh’s shameful habit of falsely accusing people of racism, the way he compromises his craft to ingratiate himself to powerful Republicans, and his habit of deliberately inflaming the racial anxieties of his audience by lying to them.
Today the Internet is once again asking itself, “Has Rush Limbaugh finally gone too far?” It’s a reaction to a statement he made about the Lord’s Resistance Army, “a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.” President Obama has sent American troops to help stop the outlaws. It’s perfectly defensible to wonder, as I do, whether we ought to be intervening militarily in yet another country. (I’d say no.) But that wasn’t Limbaugh’s controversial objection. Consistent with the item on his website, “Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians,” Limbaugh told his substantial audience that the president is sending 100 American troops “to wipe out Christians.”
Predictably, the Obama-is-killing-Christians-on-behalf-of-Muslims meme began to spread among rank-and-file conservatives, until Erick Erickson, the Red State founder, found himself forced to respond:
It is ridiculous that I’m even having to write about this, but I am. In the past 72 hours, I have gotten lots of emails from lots of people who should know better asking me if I’ve heard about Barack Obama sending American troops to Africa to go after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The people hearing the name assume it is a Christian group fighting radical Islamists in the Sudan or some such. It is no such thing.
What Limbaugh said is odious, irresponsible, offensive — but what are you going to do? The man has long since proved that he has no shame. I’ve corresponded with people who’ve been persuaded, by past posts I’ve written, to stop listening to his show, but they’re an unrepresentative few. Are a miniscule number of converts enough to justify talking about his oeuvre?
Perhaps not, unless there is a larger point to be made than the old news that he says indefensible things. In that spirit, I’d like to conclude this post by remarking on Limbaugh’s corrupting influence. We’ve witnessed more than enough controversies like this, where no one is willing to defend the talk radio host’s words, to know his public character and effect on political discourse. We’re not talking about a couple slip ups for which he’s apologized and should be forgiven. The man willfully traffics in odious commentary and has for years and years.
Shame on him, but that isn’t where it ends. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush ought to be embarrassed that they invited Limbaugh to the White House. The Claremont Institute, whose work I often respect, ought to be mortified that they sullied their Statesmanship Award by bestowing it upon Limbaugh. Shame on National Review for celebrating one of conservatism’s most controversial figures in a symposium that didn’t even acknowledge his many critics on the right. In it Heather Higgins remarked on “Rush’s long track record of accurate predictions and analyses,” Kathryn Jean Lopez commented on his “graciousness and humility,” Mary Matalin said “he epitomizes what we all aspire to be, both as citizens and individuals,” Andrew McCarthy claims his message is “always” delivered with “optimism, civility, and good humor,” and Jay Nordlinger asserted that “he is almost the antithesis of the modern American, in that he doesn’t whine.” Every last claim is too absurd to satire, let alone defend.
Shame on The Heritage Foundation for sponsoring Limbaugh’s radio show, and on the Media Research Center and Human Events for honoring Limbaugh’s excellence … and the list goes on, including the millions of people who support his radio show because they agree with Limbaugh’s ideology, even though they’d be outraged if a liberal trafficked in similarly poisonous rhetoric.
Many conservatives complain, with good reason, when they’re caricatured as racially insensitive purveyors of white anxiety politics who traffic in absurd, paranoid attacks on their political opponents. Yet many of the most prominent brands in the conservative movement elevate a man guilty of those exact things as a “statesman” whose civility and humility ought to inspire us! In doing so, they’ve created a monster, one who knows that so long as his ratings stay high, he can say literally anything and be feted as an intellectual and moral role model. So the outrages arrive at predictable intervals. And Americans hear about them and think badly of the right. Movement conservatives, if you seek integrity in American life, if you seek civility, if you seek converts, tear down this man’s lies! He hasn’t any integrity or self respect left to lose. But you do.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, October 18, 2011
I’m one of many observers who’s made a fuss about Rick Perry’s hostility towards science, so let’s take a moment to consider Kevin Williamson’s argument that the issue is largely irrelevant. The National Review piece touches on a variety of points, but here’s the crux of the position:
Why would anybody ask a politician about his views on a scientific question? Nobody ever asks what Sarah Palin thinks about dark matter, or what John Boehner thinks about quantum entanglement. (For that matter, I’ve never heard Keith Ellison pressed for his views on evolution.)
There are lots of good reasons not to wonder what Rick Perry thinks about scientific questions, foremost amongst them that there are probably fewer than 10,000 people in the United States whose views on disputed questions regarding evolution are worth consulting, and they are not politicians; they are scientists. In reality, of course, the progressive types who want to know politicians’ views on evolution are not asking a scientific question; they are asking a religious and political question, demanding a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview.
At a certain level, I can appreciate why this may seem compelling. The president, no matter who he or she is, has an enormous amount of responsibilities, but writing public school science curricula isn’t on the list.
But I think this misses the point. Put it this way: what are a president’s principal tasks in office? Aside from setting agendas, giving speeches, attending countless meetings, ceremonial responsibilities, fundraising, etc., a president is tasked with making a lot of decisions. Invariably, they’re tough calls — they have to be, since easier decisions are made elsewhere in the executive branch bureaucracy.
In order to make these tough calls, a president will be presented with a fair amount of information. If we’ve elected a capable person, he or she will evaluate that information well, exercise good judgment, and make a wise choice.
What does this have to do with science? Everything. Rick Perry is aware of the scientific consensus on modern biology, but he rejects it. He realizes what climate scientists have concluded about global warming, but he rejects them, too. What this tell us is that Perry, whatever his strengths may be, isn’t especially good at evaluating evidence. On the contrary, by choosing to believe nonsense after being confronted with reality, he’s apparently lousy at it.
And since most of what a president does all day is evaluate evidence and (hopefully) reach sensible conclusions, Perry’s hostility towards reason and facts offers a hint about what kind of leader he’d be if elected.
Consider another example. Perry was fielding questions from a Texas journalist who asked why Texas has abstinence-only education, despite the fact that the state has the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country. Perry replied, “Abstinence works.” The journalist, perhaps wondering if Perry misunderstood the question, tried again, saying abstinence-only “doesn’t seem to be working.” The governor replied, “It — it works.”
This isn’t akin to flubbing a pop quiz on the basics of modern science. I don’t much care if a political figure has never seen a periodic table or struggles to understand how tides work. The point here is that Rick Perry seems unable to think empirically and weigh the value of evidence before reaching a conclusion.
Are these qualities relevant to a presidential candidate? I believe they are.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, August 23, 2011