In Which Jonah Goldberg Demonstrates the Right’s Constitutional Inability to Understand How Racism Works

From Goldberg’s latest, and utterly baffling, column in the L.A. Times:

Martin’s tragic death is a statistical outlier. More whites are killed by blacks than blacks killed by whites (or “white Hispanics”). And far, far more blacks are killed by other blacks. Indeed, if we’re going to use the prism of race to analyze murder rates, then the real epidemic is that of black murderers. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute notes that recent data show black males age 14 to 24 commit homicides at a rate nearly 10 times higher than that of young white and Latino males combined.

And yet, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow says “the burden of black boys in America” is fear of racist assaults. MSNBC has handed over vast swaths of airtime to its in-house huckster, Sharpton.

No doubt, white — and “white Hispanic” — prejudice is a problem for young black men, but the notion that it is the singular or chief “burden of black boys in America” is nonsense.

Just from a common-sense understanding of human nature, this strikes me as deeply weird. If you take a minority population in any society, enslave it for a few centuries, oppress and segregate it for another century, then provide it legal rights but otherwise provide little-to-no help, the structural distortions of that history will continue: The minority population will be concentrated geographically in highly impoverished areas, and systematically cut off from economic, educational, political and civic opportunity. As a result, its social fabric will almost certainly disintegrate to a catastrophic degree. This will involve large amounts of crime, much of it violent. Most of the victims of that crime will be other members of this minority population, simply because they’re the most convenient and immediate targets.

Since the minority population’s violent crime trends are the result of its systemic oppression, it makes perfect sense that other populations within society will not be committing crimes at the same rate. So inevitably, more violent crime will be committed by members of the minority population against members of other populations than vice-versa. At the same time, that minority population will be particularly vulnerable to prejudice and stereotyped assumptions, in turn making it unusually vulnerable to aggression, injustice and assaults based on those prejudices and assumptions. Which is a separate phenomenon entirely from good old-fashioned violent crime driven by economic and social breakdown. These assaults could occur at the hands of fellow citizens, at the hands of society’s law enforcement personnel, or even those of society’s self-appointed law enforcers — as in the case of George Zimmerman.

Finally, it’s not inevitable by any stretch that this prejudice and injustice will come exclusively from society’s most privileged population. It could come from a third population, neither as bad or as well off as the other two. Or even from certain members of the minority population itself. None of this is inconsistent with the overall view that within this society the minority population is the victim of large-scale institutional prejudice and disenfranchisement, or that primary moral culpability for that state of affairs lies with the society’s privileged population. And that’s true even if the current living members of the privileged population did not participate in the establishment or outright physical enforcement of slavery, segregation, etc. Because this stuff takes on a structural life of its own, participation with privilege, oppression and prejudice is primarily a sin of omission rather than commission.

In other words, none of what Goldberg lays out above about black murder rates is logically inconsistent with Charles Blow’s contention that racist assaults are the burden of young black men — or that the problem with the system as a whole is a “white thing.” That George Zimmerman is Hispanic does not mean the series of events that lead to him shooting Trayvon Martin was not influenced by anti-black racism. None of the myriad dismal stats on how African-Americans are doing in terms of economicsinstitutional powerpolitical powerhealtheducationand on and on are contradicted by declaring, “But we have a black president now!” And it’s perfectly reasonable for African-American public figures to see Martin’s killing as systemically linked to racist assaults against black Americans, and to an overall fabric of ongoing oppression.


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