The Racial Double Standard

Coleman Hughes, a black student at Columbia, goes there. His essay begins like this:

In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage.

But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at the time—and maybe it wasn’t. Is it unethical for an artist to curate the racial composition of a racially-themed performance? Perhaps; perhaps not. My personal bias leads me to favor artistic freedom, but as a society, we have yet to answer this question definitively.

One thing, however, is clear. If the races were reversed—if a black musician had been fired in order to achieve an all-white aesthetic—it would have made front page headlines. It would have been seen as an unambiguous moral infraction. The usual suspects would be outraged, calling for this event to be viewed in the context of the long history of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and their reaction would widely be seen as justified. Public-shaming would be in order and heartfelt apologies would be made. MTV might even enact anti-bias trainings as a corrective.

Though the question seems naïve to some, it is in fact perfectly valid to ask why black people can get away with behavior that white people can’t. The progressive response to this question invariably contains some reference to history: blacks were taken from their homeland in chains, forced to work as chattel for 250 years, and then subjected to redlining, segregation, and lynchings for another century. In the face of such a brutal past, many would argue, it is simply ignorant to complain about what modern-day blacks can get away with.

Yet there we were—young black men born decades after anything that could rightly be called ‘oppression’ had ended—benefitting from a social license bequeathed to us by a history that we have only experienced through textbooks and folklore. And my white Hispanic friend (who could have had a tougher life than all of us, for all I know) paid the price. The underlying logic of using the past to justify racial double-standards in the present is rarely interrogated. What do slavery and Jim Crow have to do with modern-day blacks, who experienced neither? Do all black people have P.T.S.D from racism, as the Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist Donald Glover recently claimed? Is ancestral suffering actually transmitted to descendants? If so, how? What exactly are historical ‘ties’ made of?

Hughes goes on to lament the double standard the public applies to famous black writers. For example:

The celebrated journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates provides another example of the lower ethical standard to which black writers are held. In his #1 New York Times bestseller, Between the World and Me, Coates explained that the policemen and firemen who died on 9/11 “were not human to me,” but “menaces of nature.”1 This, it turned out, was because a friend of Coates had been killed by a black cop a few months earlier. In his recent essay collection, he doubled down on this pitiless sentiment: “When 9/11 happened, I wanted nothing to do with any kind of patriotism, with the broad national ceremony of mourning. I had no sympathy for the firefighters, and something bordering on hatred for the police officers who had died.”2 Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss—a young Jewish woman—was recently raked over the coals for tweeting, “Immigrants: They get the job done,” in praise of the Olympic ice-skater Mirai Nagasu, a second-generation Japanese-American. Accused of ‘othering’ an American citizen, Weiss came under so much fire that The Atlantic ran twoseparate pieces defending her. That The Atlantic saw it necessary to vigorously defend Weiss, but hasn’t had to lift a finger to defend Coates, whom they employ, evidences the racial double-standard at play. From a white writer, an innocuous tweet provokes histrionic invective. From a black writer, repeated expressions of unapologetic contempt for public servants who died trying to save the lives of others on September 11 are met with fawningpraise from leftwing periodicals, plus a National Book Award and a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

Hughes says this double standard is common in society:

But we make an exception for blacks. Indeed, what George Orwell wrote in 1945seems more apt today: “Almost any English intellectual would be scandalised by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it.” Only a black intellectual, for instance, could write an op-ed arguing that black children should not befriend white children because “[h]istory has provided little reason for people of color to trust white people,” and get it published in the New York Times in 2017. An identical piece with the races reversed would rightly be relegated to fringe white supremacist forums. In defense of such racist drivel, it won’t suffice to repeat the platitude that ‘black people can’t be racist,’ as if redefining a word changes the ethical status of the thing that the word signifies. Progressives ought not dodge the question: Why are blacks the only ethnic group routinely and openly encouraged to nurse stale grievances back to life?

Read the whole thing. It’s very, very brave. Hughes is a black undergraduate at an Ivy League university, yet he has no been afraid to say what has been unsayable. That man has guts.

By the way, his essay is not merely an exercise in whataboutism. He addresses real philosophical and moral concerns in it. He focuses on blacks, but as a general matter, if you read the mainstream press, you’ll find there’s a tendency to treat gays and other minority groups favored by liberals with kid gloves — as if they were symbols, not real people, with the same virtues and vices that everybody else has. For example, in a previous job, I observed that some liberals in the newsroom viewed local Muslims through the lens of the culture war between liberals and conservatives, and did not want to hold them to the same standard with regard to extremist rhetoric, apparently because doing so might encourage conservatives in their own biases.

Another personal example: last year, I wrote several posts about Tommy Curry, a radical black nationalist who teaches philosophy at Texas A&M (see here and here). In his written work and spoken advocacy, Curry advocates what can only be described as anti-white hatred. Don’t take my word for it; go read the blogs I wrote, which quote generously from, and link to, Curry’s own work. A white man who spoke the same way about any racial minority would never have been hired by a university — A&M hired him knowing exactly what they were getting, because he had published — and would never be retained by one after his racism became known. I linked in one of the blogs to a podcast (subtitled, “White People Are The Problem”) on which Curry was a regular guest; on that particular episode, this philosophy professor argued that white people cannot be reasonable, because they are white.

Imagine being a white student in that man’s class.

But there is a different standard for bigots from the left. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a long piece about the fallout from my blogs, and positioned it as Curry having suffered because he wanted to “force a conversation about race and violence” — a conversation that people didn’t want to hear. The writer — no doubt reflecting the biases of his own professional class — could not seem to grasp why people would be really offended by the unapologetic racism of Tommy Curry’s writing and speaking. This is precisely the double standard that Coleman Hughes decries. It is lucrative for radicals like Curry, Coates, and others, but a just society should hold us all to the same standard of discourse and morality. This is one aspect of the Enlightenment that I am eager to defend. It’s not only morally right, but practically, observing it it is the only way we will be able to keep the peace in a pluralistic country.

I found Hughes’s essay via Prufrock, a free daily digest that comes to you in e-mail, to which you can and should subscribe by clicking here. 

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The Petty Barbecue Tyrant: A Story Of Our Time

Did you see the video of the white woman in Oakland who called the cops on some black people who were cooking in a public park with a charcoal grill? My view is this: unless they’ve set up the grill in your house or in the ICU, you leave people with charcoal grills alone, because they are contributing to the sum total of human happiness. Meats grilled over a charcoal fire are one of life’s great pleasures. It takes an especially petty busybody to call the police on people who set up their charcoal grill in a public park. The woman, who is white, said that the black people were setting up their charcoal grill in an area reserved for gas grills, and that if they didn’t move, she was going to call the police.

They refused. She called the police. A friend of the black party video’d her on the phone with the cops, and called her racist. When the cops arrived, they didn’t arrest anybody, but they did determine that the busybody was, um, correct. So reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

That Chronicle report was the only neutral report I could find about this incident. The whole thing has blown up bigtime as an example of white racism. The reports on it have focused heavily on the fact that the busybody was white, and how this is obviously an example of anti-black racism.

Again: I believe the white woman may have been technically correct, but was morally wrong, and besides which, she’s a pill. But look: if you watch the 24-minute video until towards the end (say, starting at the 22 minute point), a different picture starts to emerge. Michelle Snider, the white woman taking the video of the anti-grilling white woman chases her with the camera, and harasses her to the point of tears. I went from disliking the barbecue griper as a pain in the butt to feeling very sorry for her, because she was bullied by Snider.

Neither the barbecue griper nor Snider comes off well in this video. At all. Two things come to mind:

1. Why the assumption that calling the cops on black people barbecuing is by definition an act of racism?
2. Even if so, why does that give one of the supposed victims (the woman with the camera) the right to harass the busybody by chasing her through the area?

Maybe the Barbecue Griper is a racist. But we have no reason to assume that. Maybe she’s just a petty person who sees a violation of the law — the grillers were in violation of the law — and went all nanny state. There’s a certain type of person who feels compelled to police public order to a ridiculous degree. Most of us, whatever our race, have had run-ins with that sort. They’re annoying as can be, but that’s just how some people are. It’s especially annoying when they happen to be right about the law.

Still, most of us learn how to get along together. Here’s a story: We lived in an apartment complex not too long ago. There were three young unmarried guys living in the flat above ours. They would get loud on the weekend. We decided that being good neighbors meant that we should put up with the banging and hooting until 10pm, but not after that, because that was bedtime. The first few occasions we went up to ask them to knock it off, they were nice about it. But then they got obnoxious, usually after they had been drinking. Finally one night, after multiple attempts to ask them to stop, we had to call the apartment security people. We didn’t want to be those neighbors, but they left us no choice.

The difference is that those bad neighbors were causing actual harm, yelling and banging on the floor and playing loud music until late in the night. The people grilling in the park were not harming Barbecue Griper one bit. Still, had the jerks upstairs been three young black guys, not white guys, I wonder if I would have said anything to them at all, for fear of them turning it into a racial confrontation. If I had called apartment security on them, like I eventually did with the white guys, after they ignored our repeated requests to stop banging on the floor, etc., would they have confronted me in the parking lot with a smartphone camera, calling me a racist, and distributing it to social media, and turning me into a racist pariah? (That griping white woman’s life must be miserable today, now that she’s become a meme.)

Who wants that? I notice that the many places on the Internet celebrating the public shaming of the white woman never stop to ask whether or not this is proportionate to her offense. They’ve taken a petty tyrant and, through social media amplification, made her into a monster. At the beginning of the video, I did not expect to get to the end pitying the woman, who ought to have left the grillers alone. But it’s easy to imagine yourself tormented by a harridan like Michelle Snider, the woman with the camera phone — and knowing what came next for her (national infamy, thanks to social media), it’s pretty horrifying.

If you read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s big book, you’ll recall an incident in which he was riding an escalator in a Manhattan movie theater with his little boy, and an elderly white woman gave the kid a shove, telling him to move along. TNC — who is quite tall — went ballistic on the old lady, and was so threatening that someone else in the crowd said he was going to call the police. What’s so bizarre about the incident was that Coates frames it entirely as an example of white racism threatening blacks, and believes that his reaction was entirely appropriate.  Here’s the passage from the book:

You were almost five years old. The theater was crowded, and when we came out we rode a set of escalators down to the ground floor. As we came off, you were moving at the dawdling speed of a small child. A white woman pushed you and said, “Come on!” Many things now happened at once. There was the reaction of any parent when a stranger lays a hand on the body of his or her child. And there was my own insecurity in my ability to protect your black body. And more: There was my sense that this woman was pulling rank. I knew, for instance, that she would not have pushed a black child out on my part of Flatbush, because she would be afraid there and would sense, if not know, that there would be a penalty for such an action. But I was not out on my part of Flatbush. And I was not in West Baltimore. And I was far from the Mecca. I forgot all of that. I was only aware that someone had invoked their right over the body of my son. I turned and spoke to this woman, and my words were hot with all of the moment and all of my history. She shrunk back, shocked. A white man standing nearby spoke up in her defense. I experienced this as his attempt to rescue the damsel from the beast. He had made no such attempt on behalf of my son. And he was now supported by other white people in the assembling crowd. The man came closer. He grew louder. I pushed him away. He said, “I could have you arrested!” I did not care. I told him this, and the desire to do much more was hot in my throat.

In my review of the book, I commented on this passage:

TNC says that the only thing that stopped him from getting violent was knowing that his little boy was watching him. He says he tells this story out of shame that his actions that day put his child in danger of watching the NYPD “cuff, club, tase, and break” his father.

This is such a revealing anecdote. Living in New York means having to deal with crotchety, pushy old people. We lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for five years. This was a fact of daily life. It is not at all shocking that a pushy old lady on the Upper West Side overstepped her bounds with a child. The woman was wrong to do so, but Ta-Nehisi Coates made her bear the weight of 400 years of white supremacy, or at least the anger of a grown man who had been raised in the ghetto. No wonder she shrunk back, shocked. And if I saw a young man speaking with hot anger to an old lady in a public place, I would likely step forward to defend her too. But TNC interprets that as a white man exercising racial solidarity, and choosing the old woman over his son. Maybe the white man did not see what the old lady had done to TNC’s son. TNC does not tell us. TNC concedes that he reacted with rage, and that he shoved the white man back. In what world is this an acceptable response to a minor incident? For TNC, the penny-ante rudeness of an old woman in the lobby of a Manhattan movie theater is the showdown at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He connects that grumpy woman’s action to Jim Crow and slavery.

More darkly, TNC openly fantasizes about how the old woman’s pushiness would have been kept in check had she been in a black neighborhood, because of fear. Well. For one thing, does TNC imagine that white children in New York are immune from the rudeness of crotchety old folks? Does he think that the worldview Eddie Murphy parodied in this 1984 short film on SNL is real? And what would he have seen done to the old white lady had she laid her hands on his son in Flatbush, knowing as we do that he has a tendency to see those he associates with the white world and its institutions as inhuman?

The old white lady on the escalator was a scapegoat. So too is the busybody white woman in the Oakland park. I thought the black community’s response to this — lots of families coming to that same park with their charcoal grills for a massive party — was inspired. More grilled meats for more people! But it’s hard to see this whole thing as anything but a defeat for civility, all the way around. Escalating every unpleasant run-in between blacks and whites — ordinary things that happen as people rub up against each other with sharp edges — into a civil rights showdown is a good way to keep people fearful and suspicious of each other across racial lines.

UPDATE: I should have emphasized more strongly that Michelle Snider, with her camera and access to social media, is also a tyrant. The unnamed white woman who tried to ruin a barbecue is guilty of only that: trying to ruin a barbecue. Vengeful Michelle Snider may have all but ruined a life.

UPDATE.2: Reader Done writes:

[Note to Rod: This is gonna be a rant, so feel free to edit or even toss. I’ll understand.]

Ok, I’ve read most of the comments. Clearly, none of you live in Oakland. If you did, I’m certain your reactions to this incident would be different – if you were sane, that is. I know because I lived there for over 20 years, including near Lake Merritt – the location of this incident.

First, let’s dispense with the notion that this was a racially motivated incident between a white woman and some black folks. This lady is NOT white. Repeat after me: This lady is NOT white. It is clear to me from her facial features and body type that her racial and ethnic background is mixed – possibly white and Pacific Islander – which would not be uncommon in the Bay Area. When you live in a racially and ethnically diverse area for a long time, you begin to detect and distinguish ethnic and racial differences (and any combinations thereof) that often go unnoticed by people who have not been exposed to such racial and ethnic diversity. Plus, she’s not old. She’s in her 30s. As if that even matters – yeesh!

Second, I’m gonna play the sex card here – even though I don’t normally do this but whoa, the comments here are pretty, well, sexist. Nosy? Busybody? Killjoy? Petty? Grouchy? Old? Oh sure, she’s a regular Mrs. Kravitz (Google the reference if you don’t get it)! Yeah, I’m fairly certain most of you wouldn’t have used those words to describe her if she were man. Why don’t you just toss in “frigid” for good measure. Just saying…

Next. Let me explain to everyone how things work in Oakland – they don’t. Nobody and I mean nobody respects common courtesy and the rule of law, not to mention bothers to comport themselves appropriately in public spaces. The area around Lake Merritt is in complete chaos. All. The. Time. Why was this “petty” “nosy” “busybody” so-called “white” woman calling the police over such a seemingly innocuous incident as people wanting to barbecue using charcoal? Um, maybe because the City of Oakland is located in a severe, high fire danger area and it’s against the law! Oakland Hills fire of 1991 anyone? Google images. I survived it.

And why does a citizen have to report someone breaking the law? Because people regularly, openly and brazenly break the law in Oakland and asking them “nicely” to desist DOES NOT WORK. And what does the Oakland PD do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s why she was waiting over 2 hours for the police to respond. I’m surprised they came at all! My car was stolen and did the police come when I reported it? No. A woman was being attacked in front of my house and her attacker was also threatening me and it took the Oakland PD over 45 minutes to respond as I begged the 911 operator for help. On a separate occasion, I awoke one morning to find a man lying face down in my front yard. I thought he was dead. I called Oakland PD. They told me to take his pulse (!) to see if he was alive and that they’d come when they could – priorities you know! They arrived about 40 minutes later. He was still alive, but who knows what would have happened if it took them another 40 minutes. Another time, I came home early and interrupted some miscreants burgling my neighbor’s house and they threatened to kill me. Oakland PD did respond to that – I guess because I was almost killed. Oh there’s more: My other neighbor was carjacked with her baby in the car. Another elderly neighbor was robbed at gunpoint. My co-worker was also mugged – in broad daylight by three young thugs not more than two blocks from Lake Merritt, the location of the barbecue incident and did the police come? No. Did anyone intervene and help my co-worker? No. Oakland, especially the area around Lake Merritt, is in a state of complete lawlessness. And no one cares. In fact, the lawlessness is celebrated as a kind of teenage, immature, passive aggressive rebelliousness. You can’t tell me what to do! Especially if you’re white – because that’s, you know, intrinsically racist. Their sad battle cry…..

What I see from this video is a relatively reserved woman reporting illegal behavior and being absolutely HARANGUED by the woman filming the incident who assumed (1) that the first woman was white and (2) that she was motivated by racial animus and not genuine concern for safety and the rule of law. O. M. G. Are you kidding me? The woman who filmed the incident and browbeat the other woman to tears should be ashamed of herself. I think her behavior even meets the requirements of menacing. But this is where we are now. Everything’s a racial incident which is then quickly followed by SJW virtue signaling. PC BS run amok. And now this poor woman is being viciously attacked on social media. Have you seen the memes? They’re brutal. She’s bullied and dehumanized in a thousand different ways as only the merciless internet can do. And why? Because everyone’s decided she’s an entitled white busybody b*@%h. And what’s Oakland’s response? Classic identity politics. Protests and parties in support of the supposed aggrieved folks who, btw, were actually breaking the law. And that’s exactly why I left Oakland. It’s hell on earth. God help us because as the saying goes, so goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. Civility and decency are dead in Oakland. They’re dead in California and they’re soon to be dead in the entire United States.

Postscript: Since I have many friends who still live in Oakland, I just recently returned from a visit. While there, a young Latino man was murdered in cold blood in broad daylight on my friends’ street while we were all home. The shots just missed his pregnant sister. I couldn’t look outside but my friend did – she saw the body in the street. And guess where this happened? Just a few blocks from Lake Merritt – the site of this infamous barbecue incident.

Keep it up Oakland! Pretty soon, there won’t be one decent, law abiding citizen left because lawlessness and incivility are rewarded and responsible citizenship is vilified.

Any Oakland or former Oakland readers want to challenge this?

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