Recent firings won't erase National Review's race problems

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The killing of Trayvon Martin and the national outcry from supporters for the arrest of shooter George Zimmerman has led to a resurgence of the “culture wars”.

On one side are the “conservatives” who rallied behind Zimmerman and defended him from attacks that he might have racial biases. On the other are “liberals” who seek justice for Martin a young black man whose killer, until yesterday, remained free.

The dialogue shift from justice for Trayvon toward a conversation about race and the “threatening” nature of black males made its way to right wing sites and in the writings of contributors to the National Review website. In screeds about race relations in America, these older white conservative gentlemen exposed themselves as men whose viewpoints reflect certain racial prejudices.

A National Review online contributor, John Derbyshire recently wrote a ridiculously offensive column (for the little-known Taki magazine) where he explained the advice he gave to his own children entitled, “The Talk: The Nonblack Version.” He claimed it was a response to the idea that black parents have conversations with their children about confrontations with police and perceived suspicions by whites about their criminality.

Derbyshire wrote, ”[t]here is a talk that non-black Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen.” He then went into a list of extremely offensive statements and generalizations about the criminality of black people.

For example, Derbyshire wrote he teaches his kids to, “Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to [them] personally, to stay out of heavily black neighborhoods, to not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks, and to not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.”

Derbyshire also teaches his children to “not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians,” which is amusing considering that America’s current commander and chief is black.

Derbyshire has subsequently been fired by the National Review. Also, Robert Weissberg, another online contributor for the magazine, was fired this week for speeches he has made about the future of white nationalism.

Apparently, the National Review thinks they might have a race problem and is cleaning house. But the recent firings don’t really get to the heart of the matter.

The National Review has had a history of problematic views on race and race relations. Their problem with offensive viewpoints on race, brought to the forefront by recent events, did not begin with one Derbyshire column about the Trayvon Martin case and it likely won’t end there.

As Joan Walsh points out in her column at Salon, the National Review’s founder William F. Buckley, “defended segregation and white supremacy in the South (though he later apologized), while in the North, he played a leading role in making the issue of rising crime both racial and political — with arguments and tactics still being used in the Trayvon Martin case today.”

The argument being that middle class whites should be in fear of black men and that it’s not poverty and inequality that is to blame for criminality. “Social forces didn’t ‘make Negro crime any less criminal.’ [Buckley] declared flatly: ‘I believe that young thugs are young thugs, irrespective of race, color or creed.’

Perhaps the writers at the Review today are able to make arguments about race more eloquently than Buckley or even Derbyshire, but the principle from which that viewpoint is developed is the same. Deny structural impact and any relationship between people of color and crime and criticize anyone willing to point it out.

National Review online contributor Dennis Prager has argued that the United States is the “least racist country” in the world. Prager writes, “the left-wing drumbeat about America as racist is a combination of politics and black memory.”

“Black memory,” Prager writes, is the fact that, “most blacks either cannot or refuse to believe that the vast majority of whites are no longer racists. Most Americans were hopeful that the election of a black president — thereby making America the first white society in history to choose a black leader — would finally put to rest the myth of a racist America.” Apparently, racism would go away if black people simply woke up to the reality that everything is equal in America.

It’s impossible to know what is in the hearts of the writers at the National Review. What we do know is what is in their writing. There is not a lot of space between what Derbyshire wrote in an overtly racist column about the lower level of intelligence of black people and mainstream conservative opposition to affirmative action.

Racism is not a fiction. It’s a structural issue of inequality that still effects people of color in a myriad of ways.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell