*The racial events of the last two months have refocused the nation’s attention on race, particularly what seems to be the duality in the application of laws to black and white. Race continues to be the third rail of American culture, electrocuting anything and everything it touches, or who touches it. Race critiquing is not for the faint at heart. Or the faint minded. The “racist” jacket is ready to be dropped on anybody who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or anything too readily compliant.
This week, The National Review fired national columnist, John Derbyshire, for offering his personal assessment of how white people should act and respond to the presence of black people around them. It was supposed to be a satiric critique in response to the national discourse around how black parents should talk to their children about race. So he thought he would publish the conversation that non-blacks should have with their children on the cautions of dealing with black people. It looked like a page straight out a Social Darwinism book, full of astigmatisms and general assertions—framed as facts but devoid of evidences beyond his personal experiences. The National Review, a respected periodical among conservatives, was flooded with calls and emails about the piece, entitled, “The Talk: Non-black Version,” published on their webzine, Taki Magazine. The total commentary can be found, in all of its offensive infamy, at www.takimag.com/the_talk_nonblack_john_derbyshire. Turns out, Derbyshire likes to offer his racial pseudo-science and has done so numerous times, going back to 2003 (see www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/04_06_2012_Why_John_Derbyshire_hasn’t_been_fired).
Derbyshire, who once referred to himself as a “tolerant racist,” believes whites are endangered whenever blacks are around and believes they should take precautions beyond what they normally would if they were around others not as threatening. Did he say something he shouldn’t have? Probably. Did he share something others whites haven’t thought about at one time or another? Probably not. Did he break a rule of Racism 101, “Thou Shalt Not Talk About What Racists Think Or Do? Definitely. Derbyshire didn’t say anything too shocking, that we hadn’t heard before. But the fact that he said it upsets those who use such a mindset as forms of social control and superiority rhetoric. I wrote a few weeks ago that Negrophobia is back … but it took a real Negrophobe to frame the conversation in a way that we now know how bad things are.
There is always a cavalier-ness to race realities in America. We, as a society, refuse to confront the uneasiness that exists throughout the society, regardless if its blacks, whites, Asians or Latinos. We know and understand that white people always watch black people, and with a higher scrutiny than most. We understand that fear and distrust is an aspect of America’s racial tensions, and without understanding, trust comes about in baby steps … decades in human years. Derbyshire’s comments don’t reflect the totality of the progress that has been made, but definitely reflects a vestige of thought that has survived slavery and segregation. People hate it when we go all the back like that, but—in truth—the perpetuation of racism goes all the way back like that. It’s a history black people can’t forget because some whites like Derbyshire won’t let them forget. It’s a history black people should never let white people forget. Racism is a shared history that white people, black people, Asians or Latinos shouldn’t be allowed to forget either. Commentaries like Derbyshire’s helps remind us all how twisted racism is in the minds of those who frame its reality. The National Review chose not to play the game that was once played with race baiting and subliminal social construction.
Yeah, white people do watch black people, and black people watch white people … Martin Luther King, Jr. said it in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” in how black people always had to be on “tiptoe stance” not knowing what was going to happen next. It was like that in slavery. It was like that during segregation, and it’s like that today. We all have to watch ourselves around each other. And we all had to talk to our children about each other, not warn our kids but to help them understand other people for who they are and who they can be for the better, not the worse…or not what racists like Derbyshire say they are in their twisted perspective of the world.
In this time of high racial tensions, we can watch white people watch black people watch them, to see if justice prevails when it should. And we can use it as a teaching moment for the betterment of society. Let’s watch and see if they tell their children when justice doesn’t prevail, why? Then we’ll all know what we’ all about.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.