From Simple Justice: Talking about race

Over at SJ Scott writes a post entitled Why You Can’t Talk About Race (Or Anything Else). It is worth reading and I suggest that you do so. The essential thrust of Scott’s tough piece is this:

Stop the whining, the crying, the self-serving sensitivity and the narcissistic presumptiveness that you are entitled to decide the rules of life for others because they’re too feeble and delicate to speak for themselves. Show them the courtesy of being real people by treating them like real people.

We need to talk. If you can’t handle it, then move aside and let the grown-ups do it. And stay out of the way.

I agree entirely with what Scott wrote. But, I have an honest concern.

There are more than a few adult white people (like Scott) who see and will treat black people like real people. But, if we have a real conversation between grown-ups then black people need to approach the conversation in the same way.


Ultimately, we would get down to the issue of class and throwing away the lives of young black men in prison. What concerns me is that if we have that conversation the “real people” opposite must be willing to accept some horrible truths. I am not at all sure that the vast majority of “real” black people are ready to truly grapple with the truth as it regards class. But, then again, I am a racist old white man with a nasty history of sending legions of young black men to prison without so much as a blink.


27 responses

  1. SLS,

    I know! I really don’t want war. I truly want honest discussion. But, I fear you are right. Thanks for the warning.

    All the best.


  2. Judge:
    I got about a minute into the NYT film before throwing up my hands. Undeserved White guilt is nothing less than a weapon wielded by those with an agenda against willing victims. We’re better than that. Second, I read Scott Greenfield’s piece and I don’t think that he is a racist, anymore than most people are. He, and most of us, are tribalists, that is, we prefer people who look like us, talk like, us, act like us, etc. I prefer to think of that as human nature rather than racism (but try telling that to the NYT Editorial Board.) I have said this before on this blog and I will say it again: we can never deal effectively with racism as long as its more benign antecedent–tribalism–is allowed to exist. That is the conundrum. And I confess that I don’t have an answer to it.

  3. Robert,

    I very much agree that tribalism is at the core of our problem. In a sense, tribalism is just another way of saying racism.

    Our tribal instincts have been around in America for a very long time. Watch the movie, Gangs of New York, and put yourself back in time to the 1830s.

    But, there is at least a partial answer. When two tribes meet in good faith, and each states the truth as they know it, the chances for mutual understanding rise exponentially. The trick is to state the truth without also striking at the other side. It is a delicate dance that not many are able to master.

    All the best.


  4. Profiling for self-protection is part of the problem. I read an article where the author was willing to tell the truth about that and it was not well received..

  5. Judge, The hatred displayed in the Gangs on New York was still around NE when I was growing up so I do not have a lot of sympathy with this tribalism nonsense and you seem only to want to discuss the issues of your Red State tribe. Robert and the poor persecuted great white tribe is nuts.His reaction to the NYT is sick making, thank you Dorothy Parker, but this is not a fresh hell. I have two African American nieces and my Irish is up,ups.

  6. RGK,
    I posted that to hopefully deter people from writing what their instincts say instead of what their intellect says. It seems to have worked so far. I suppose it’s a “trigger warning”


  7. SLS Perhaps using the guy who got his head chopped off for honesty was not the best choice, but you know more than John Snow.

  8. I am positive that if I was honest with my thoughts regarding race I would be considered racist. For that reason I am terrified about talking about race.

    A friend of mine once told me that a comment is racist if ‘you have hatred in your heart’. That was a great relief, because I am not hateful. A few moments later in the conversation I told him ‘black people are dumber people’, and he told me ‘thats racist’. I felt very betrayed at that point, like the rug had been pulled out under me. Cant we believe people to be dumber (from whatever cause), without hating them?

    How is some one like me supposed to talk openly on the subject? I feel like the word ‘racist’ either means ‘racial proposition’, in which case racism is innocuous; or ‘racist’ is much like a growl from a dog, devoid of denotation and simply threatening.

  9. Fake Name, Given the number of dumb white people I have taught and the number of very smart blacks i doubt your sample. In any event what you call “racial propositions ” are at best statistical propositions applied in inappropriate contexts. That is not a bad instantiation of racism. Blacks maybe more prone to high blood pressure than white, that is hardly any reason for celebrating, i am white, when my numbers are high.

  10. repentinglawyer,

    You have me beat. I only have one African American niece.

    All the best.


    PS My sister adopted two half sisters who were the product of a white prostitute in Cleveland. Their birth mother was also a schizophrenic. The white child is a high functioning autistic who lives on a “farm” with other adults who suffer from that horrible problem. She also is very small and requires constant monitoring of the various glands that regulate such things. The black child is doing a great job trying to overcome a mental disability that causes her to lose control of her behavior. They are both dear human beings. My sister and her husband are saints (and I can use that term because both are practicing Catholics).

  11. Fake Name,

    Talk honestly and at least you will know you spoke the truth as you know it. But talk gently because words can and do hurt deeply. Listen intently because that is how you learn. That’s the best I can do.

    All the best.


  12. As I pointed out on SJ, it’s sometimes better not to force people to confront these hard truths.

    As you yourself point out there are valid reasons to suspect that things like race are valid predictors of recidivism (even after other economic and background factors are taken into account). However, it’s not necessarily in societies interest to acknowledge this fact. Even if true it would make people with that racial background feel they had a disadvantage and provide too ready an excuse to the majority to explain away real instances of racism using this fact.

    This is even more clear cut in the case of gender and women in STEM fields. The band-aid of “We are pursuing programs to interest more women in STEM fields,” is fairly innocuous. Even if everyone was willing to accept hard truths forcing a discussion would require people either roll out evidence that part of the difference (relative to a background environment roughly resembling ours…ie within the range of plausible changes) is innate or deny that fact and demand extreme interventions to fix the discrimination which must be causing the inequality. Yet, even if true acknowledging an innate factor would have the effect of causing the very discouragement that one is concerned about. There is substantial evidence that telling people their gender (or race or other component of their identity) tends to do worse in a given area actually makes them do worse.

    Society is built on a web of polite fictions and, as the new atheists continually bump into, things don’t always go well when you force people to confront that fact.

  13. You do not have to be a Catholic to be a saint, you have but to see Christ in all others even if what you see is common humanity for He is the template of humanity. Remembering how far we fall from the template is also part of the deal. Your reminders are most helpful.

  14. Peter,

    You are a wise and thoughtful man. Thank you for the reorientation. I find it most helpful. The old maxim followed by physicians–first do no harm–is applicable here, perhaps. All the best.


  15. repentinglawyer,

    Thanks for the reminder about saints. I truly wish I could see Christ in the way you describe. Perhaps one day I will. All the best.


  16. Well, color me confused. I was unable to play the video on Scott’s site, but I got the idea from his writing and yours that it showed a number of mostly young white people who were unable to talk about race because of personal discomfort, or because of political correctness. Still, Scott’s view seemed to be quite one sided, as though what is preventing us from having a frank discussion of racism in the US is the squeamishness of some young white people. What about the pundits who claim that we live in a post-racial society and attempt to short circuit an honest discussion of racism that way? In any event, we can have that discussion despite the fact that some people on the one hand cannot take part in it, and on the other hand will not take part in it.

    I thought about responding about the importance of history in any discussion of race or class in America. (Thanks, Judge, for bringing up class.) But before replying I tried to see the video again, and located it on the NYTimes site, where I could play it. Boy, was I surprised! Yes, it had some overly sensitive young white people in it, but most of the people actually talked about racism. Maybe Scott missed that, because he said, “These nice, sensitive white folks are deeply concerned about their feelings.” Sorry, sports fans, but real adults talk about their feelings. Yes, they do. And for a frank and honest discussion about racism, that’s a good place to start. Why? First, because it is less likely to get into a flame war as people express and defend strongly held and emotionally charged opinions and attack those of others. Those kinds of discussions have not gotten us very far, have they? Second, because change, like charity, begins at home. Was it political arguments that led Governor George Wallace, once a symbol of racist bigotry, to repent, or was it frankly and honestly facing himself?

    Judge, for a good adult discussion of race may I recommend, if you do not already read him, Ta-Nehisi Coates?

    Happy Independence Day!

  17. Roadrunner,

    “So, this is why you never criticize your colleagues.”

    Either you have never read this blog consistently or you are a wacko who thinks the federal judiciary is filled with crooks. Either way, you are full of shit.

    All the best.


  18. @Fake Name

    Your friend was wrong. Comments and actions can be racist, even when the speaker or actor harbors no hatred.

    Your friend was also wrong to call your comment racist, given what he had said about racist comments. Didn’t he know you well enough to know that you harbored no hatred? I hope that you called him on his remark.

    How can someone with your beliefs speak openly about racism with those who disagree with you? It is difficult, and a lot of the onus is on those who do not listen to you and jump to conclusions and put you down. We need to be more tolerant of each other.

  19. Your comment was certainly bigoted and it’s also ignorant. The thing about ignorance is that it can be cured by making the choice to find the truth.

  20. Judge, I love your blog but sometimes you leave me scratching my head.

    You think we haven’t been talking about race? The way i see it we’ve been talking about race for dunno,, maybe160 years, maybe 200 years. That seems to me to be basic history. I can’t believe you haven’t been paying attention.

    We can’t talk about race now because 1, if you do it at the University of California (and probably a lot of other places) it’s a microaggression–if you don’t believe me just ask Eugene Volokh; 2, if you do it at SUNY Buffalo Law School and say something the faculty doesn’t like, they’ll report you to the State Bar; 3, if you say something someone doesn’t like and have a contract with the City of New York, they’ll review your contract; 4, most of us don’t have PhD’s in genetics and without that kind of a background you can’t talk intelligently about race, and 5 even if you had a PhD in genetics, the baristas at Starbucks don’t want to talk about race anymore.

  21. Thomas Jefferson I believe said it plainly:
    “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government”.

    So the tribal thing is correct in my book. It is not who you know, but who knows you.

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