Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST. Ron Rosenbaum's "In Praise of Liberal Guilt" at Slate has drawn some responses from conservatives who object, in varying degrees, to the notion that they should feel guilt about American racism.

The conversation is somewhat misguided. Whatever these worthies think about the effect of white guilt (or shame, or whatever they want to call it) on their own souls matters very little. Racism as a public issue is a different story.

Conservatives have built up a strong resistance to guilt trips of any kind over the years. They've learned to dismiss any gripe from anyone aggrieved (except their own constituent groups, of course) as politically correct nonsense. It's been useful for them in some ways, allowing them to project an air of certainty that is easily mistaken for strength, but in this instance it's getting to be a drawback. I never thought I'd say this, but Rod Dreher is actually onto something here:
That is, it's difficult to say, "Yes, conservatives were badly wrong on civil rights, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong today," because the left, in debate, tends to assume that the original sin of having been wrong in 1964 is ineradicable, and won't give any quarter. You can never win with liberals on racial questions, conservatives may figure, so it's better to adopt a defiant insouciance -- even if that attitude is not morally justified by the record.
I would add, though, that "you can never win with liberals" is unduly limited: when you take this sort of attitude, you can't win with a whole lot of people.

If you get around a little bit, you may have noticed that racism hasn't gotten any cooler over the years. Of course it persists -- strongly, in some pockets, and furtively in others under a variety of masks. But if you say outright crazy shit about black people, it doesn't play as widely as it might have in 1952.

We can argue about how much real progress this represents, but if you're the sort of conservative Dreher describes, it's pretty disastrous. If you regard the race card as a vampire regards garlic, it must be depressing to realize that Americans haven't lightened up about it. "Politically incorrect" phenomena such as "South Park" may sometimes buoy your spirits by convincing you that the heat's off, but then people get all bent out of shape about a radio joke, and your mood swing changes course.

You're left with bizarre fantasies in which Obama purposefully loses a state primary in order to slander its citizens as racists.

From this beaten-down perspective, with no hope of being recognized as the lovely race-neutral people they know themselves to be, conservatives looking at a Presidential contest with a black guy on the opposing ticket may worry that they'll have no choice but to energize whatever racist base is available to them. This the more tender-hearted among them must dread, because it may contribute to an unfortunate misperception of themselves. And it may explain why they think the tiresome topic of white guilt is worth discussing in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment