Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Glenn Beck's Race Problem

Since the very first time I saw him, I've always been keenly aware that Glenn Beck is a nut. So the following will not break any shattering new paradigms in that regard. But Steve Benen's analysis on why Beck justifies having so few Black friends is worth saving, simply because it shows the severe infirmities of a "color-blind" outlook at remedying racism. Here's Beck (talking with conservative Black author Shelby Steele):
"You know, I -- Shelby, I don't know if anybody else in the audience -- oh, this is just going to be a blog nightmare over the next few days -- but let me just be honest and play my cards face up on the table.

"I was thinking about this just last week. I don't have a lot of African-American friends, and I think part of it is because I'm afraid that I would be in an open conversation, and I would say something that somebody would take wrong, and then it would be a nightmare."

There are obvious things to say about this comment (starting with the fact that Beck seems utterly oblivious to the possibility that he might learn something from his would-be Black friends offense about race), but I want to bracket them for now. I just want to note that Beck, if pressed, probably would not admit that this is a racist action on his part. He's not not friends with Blacks because they're Black, he's not friends because he doesn't want to hang with people who will make him feel uncomfortable (which just happens to track being Black). Obviously, this is quite transparent to the folks observing at home. But it does show the infinite malleability of "color-blindness" to justify nearly any racial inequity (and it's been serving in that capacity since Jim Crow).

Is Beck's instinct shared by many White Americans, who also seem unreasonably skittish about interacting with Blacks because they're afraid they'll screw up and get tarred with the label, "racist"? Yes, I believe it is, and I believe it is something that needs to be addressed seriously and remedied (rather than simply chided from afar). But that won't happen as long as we delude ourselves into thinking that it is "color-blind" thinking on the part of White Americans. It isn't, and it can't be treated that way.


Anonymous said...

David, there's something to what you're saying here but I don't think your interpretation is correct.

As you describe it, Beck's fear hardly fits the definition of traditional racism.

To me it seems more like awareness and fear of the quite real "reverse" racism that is expressed by Blacks in the form of over-sensitivity to issues only marginally or completely unrelated to race.

To the extent that other Whites agree I think you would have to admit that this is a legitimate part of the equation.

David Schraub said...

That only works, Marc, if I'm inclined to believe that--for any given Beck comment--an offended Black response is more likely the result of "reverse racism" or "over-sensitivity" then it is to the comment really being offensive. Since I think the latter is more likely than the former by several orders of magnitude, the fault lies on Beck.

Put simply, if the majority of the Black community says "act X is racist," we don't have to automatically agree with them--but we do have to consider their point seriously. The contemporary move of dismissing every Black complaint about White racism as a victimology statement is not serious consideration. And ultimately, it is that rhetorical move--"the race card card"--that is the primary inhibitor of frank conversations about race today--conversations which, yes, will make White people uncomfortable, but only because they'll have to come to terms with the fact that many Black people think that some of their behaviors, actions, and words are expressions of racism.

Anonymous said...


I have heard some wierd extensions of the concept of "reverse racism,"
(which is, I think, an oxymoron)but this takes the cake. "Over-sensitivity to issues only marginally or completely unrelated to race" strikes me, in itself, as being unrelated to race or racism. If you want to argue oversensitivity, I can see that. Tagging it racist, "reverse"
or otherwise, does not advance this discussion. Indeed, I think it
makes you guilty of the same fault you see in others--poisoning the well rather than addressing the substantive issue.