The High Price of Stale Grievances

That is the title of this essay by Columbia undergraduate Coleman Hughes. The piece is quite brilliant. More than that, Hughes must be one of America’s bravest young men.

Hughes’s subject is the double standard that is so often applied in favor of African-Americans. He begins with an anecdote about being selected to back the singer Rihanna on the MTV Video Music Awards. Several of his friends were chosen as well, but one of them, a “white Hispanic,” was then discharged because the “artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic.”

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.
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 describe less benign instances of what can fairly be described as black racism from writers Michael Eric Dyson and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who exemplify “the lower ethical standard to which black writers are held.” Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end with would-be intellectuals:

By itself, the fact that black progressives like Dyson and Coates play by a different set of rules would not amount to a great societal injustice. But the biases of the chattering classes don’t stay put; they seep out into the general populace, setting the boundaries of polite conversation, and coloring the political landscape in which laws are crafted.

Thus, we have institutional racism in our college admissions system. This is interesting:

When called upon to justify the fact that we make Asians work harder than whites and blacks to get into college, progressives appeal to principles like diversity and inclusion—goals which may indeed be defensible in some form. But there are good reasons to believe that these lofty principles are in fact anchored to an unthinking, reflexive bias towards blacks. In one study, participants were asked to decide between two similarly qualified hypothetical college applicants—a black student with a higher GPA, and a white student with a tougher course load. Participants chose the black applicant, citing the importance of GPA. But when researchers switched the resumes so that the white student had the higher GPA and the black student had the tougher course load, participants still chose the black applicant, this time citing the importance of taking tougher classes. In both cases, participants denied that race had anything to do with their decision.

An even cleverer study asked participants whether they would sacrifice an innocent person’s life to save the lives of one hundred. The innocent victim was either named “Tyrone Payton” (a stereotypically black name) or “Chip Ellsworth III” (a stereotypically white name.) Right-wing participants were equally likely to kill the innocent victim regardless of their perceived race. Left-wing participants, however, preferred sacrificing Chip over Tyrone. What’s more, left-wing participants were completely unaware of their pro-black bias.

More serious still is the subject of crime:

While mainstream media outlets know how to talk about anti-black racism, as of yet, most of them haven’t figured out how to talk about less comfortable race-related topics—topics that don’t gel nicely with the picture of modern-day blacks as helpless functions of history. Can we speak honestly, for instance, about the fact that blacks make up 14 percent of the population but commit 52 percent of the homicides? Or to state the problem in reverse, can we speak honestly about the fact that the same percentage of America’s murder victims are black?
At the turn of the 20th century, Italian-Americans committed crime at three times the rate of German-Americans. The issue was not danced around, to say the least. But the moment one makes this comparison, one runs into the brick wall of history. Italians, it will be argued, were not brutally enslaved and formally subjugated in America, nor were they trailing centuries of deadly stereotyping. Here again, I question not the truth, but the relevance of these appeals to history. Those who fall back on such appeals act as if they are content to live in a country where the state monopoly on violence—which has been a precondition for peace and prosperity in the developed world4—has yet to fully penetrate high-crime communities of color. They act as if they are content that homicide is the leading cause of death for black men and boys age 15-34—a fact which cannot remotely be said of any other ethnicity/age group in the country. They act as if they are content with this grim status quo, so long as we keep the abstract threat of white supremacy at bay. Of course, they are not actually happy with this status quo. But from the way in which they stonewall anyone who mentions these facts; from the way in which left-wing media choose to amplify inflated concerns about the police over under-reported concerns about crime, and from the way in which many on the Left replace honest disagreement on these topics with mind-reading accusations of racism, one could mistakenly get the impression that the Left is content to sacrifice thousands of underprivileged black men and boys per year on the altar of progressive sensibilities.

And, to sum up, this question:

Progressives ought not dodge the question: Why are blacks the only ethnic group routinely and openly encouraged to nurse stale grievances back to life?

There is more, all equally sensible. And this guy is an undergraduate! Someone, please get him a bodyguard.

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