One of the most important reasons not to tell ourselves pretty lies about unpleasant realities is so that we do not hand evil people the power of being the only ones who are willing to speak the truth.
In my last post, I gave my readers an intelligence test based on John Derbyshire’s deliberately provocative article about The Talk: Nonblack version. I am pleased to report that more commenters passed the test than I expected, engaging and critiquing Derbyshire’s survival advice rationally rather than foaming at the mouth in fits of political correctness. This shows that my readers are brighter and saner than Derbyshire’s former employers at National Review Online – but I already knew that.
In the debate that followed, only a small number of exceptionally stupid people averred that I am or might be a racist myself. A rather larger number accused of me of holding to a standard for “racism” and “racist thinking” that is too narrow, because I reject ever describing as “racist” people who speak beliefs that are factually justified – even if those beliefs are negative about specific racial groups and even if they are expressed with intent to provoke. I hold that truth should be considered a sufficient defense against charges of racism just as it is against slander and libel.
But because Derbyshire pointed at unpleasant statistics about criminality, violence and IQ, and described the logical consequences of those statistics in unsparing detail, many commenters were willing to condemn him as a racist even though they conceded that his fact base is largely sound and there is no evidence that his errors (if any) are dishonest. I even had one person defend this expansive definition of “racist” on the grounds that this is how almost everyone understands the word.
I am writing to argue that such a loose definition of “racist” is a dangerous mistake.
Imagine that you live in a universe X where the following claim is true: “Black people, at roughly 12% of the U.S. population, commit over 50% of the U.S.’s. violent crime – and when you stratify by socioeconomic level they still have dramatically higher levels of crime, delinquency, and other measures of social deviance.”, but this fact is suppressed from public discourse and unmentionable. It will not matter to the rest of my argument whether that claim describes our universe.
Now suppose you have spent all your life in universe X being told that black people are just like you, and no more likely to be criminals than anyone else. Until one day an actual racist, a bigot, a person who has a fixated hate of black people, says to you “They’re lying, and I can prove it. Look at this abstract from the Uniform Crime Reports!”
And you see the evidence, and absorb it. The first question you’re going to ask, if you have even one brain cell working, is “What else have the ‘anti-racists’ and the diversity enthusiasts been lying to me about?” And the bigot will have answers, many of which are fantasy and bullshit and bizarre distortions of history. But even his fantasy and bullshit will be credible to you, because he began by showing you a truth that nobody else was willing to speak.
Nobody sane wants to hand power and credibility to neo-Nazis or the Christian Identity movement or Confederate revanchists or any of the other tiny clusters of bigoted wack jobs at the fringes of American politics. But that is exactly what we do every time we tell pretty lies about race. It is exactly what we do every time we use “racist” as a verbal cudgel against people who deviate in the slightest from politically-correct thinking. And it is exactly what we do when we honk endlessly about the need for a “national conversation about race”, then run the likes of John Derbyshire out of town on a rail for speaking honestly.
To avoid putting bigots and racists on the right and truthful side of the argument, we need a strict definition of “racist” claims as those which (a) prejudice individual judgment of individuals, and (b) are based on false generalizations. We cannot allow true generalizations to be considered racist. If we do that, either (a) we can no longer condemn racism as such, or (b) we get stuck in a situation where we’re not allowed to notice that white men can’t jump and black men can’t swim, wondering why our our sports teams aren’t “balanced”, and falsely ascribing to bigotry what arises from natural differences in distributions of ability. And the poison spreads.
Only the haters and creeps and race-hustlers of all colors win under either of those outcomes. So please do not give evil people the gift of being sloppy in your thinking and your language.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whether you actually do live in Universe X? Do some googling. Be prepared not to like what you find.