You Can't Talk About That
[Note : After Hurricane Katrina, the London Spectator asked me to write an article about the event and its social consequences. I wrote a piece containing some mildly race-realist observations. The Spectator rejected it. I reworked it somewhat — the original piece has not survived in my files — and sent it in as a column to National Review Online. This piece was also spiked.
No hard feelings: every writer gets spiked some of the time. I was pleased with the reworked piece, though, because it said in a clear and concise form what I thought (and still think). It was also my only direct comment on the Katrina business, and a commentator ought to have something in his files for an event of that size. I therefore archived it anyway.]
I nearly fell out of my Barcalounger Sunday morning, watching The McLaughlin Group. The old Jesuit had Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, Tony Blankley, and Clarence Page (who is black) sitting around. They were talking about Hurricane Katrina, of course.
Suddenly McLaughlin turned to Page and said: "Why the correlation between black and poor?"
Good grief, I thought, you can't ask that. People get taken off the air for less.
Poor Clarence Page didn't know whether to spit or wind his watch. He mumbled something that wasn't even close to being an answer. McLaughlin, realizing his gaffe, quickly and deftly steered the talk to other topics. Everybody in the studio, and all of us out there in viewerland, started breathing again. You can't ask THAT. Nobody wants to hear about THAT.
At my neighbourhood block party that same afternoon, a white, liberal neighbour expressed the sense of national shame that we'd all felt at some point in Katrina Week.
"It was like some Third World country!" he said. "Like Somalia, or Haiti …"
The guy stopped dead in his tracks, suddenly aware of what he had implied, then desperately back-pedaled, trying to erase his thoughtcrime.
"I mean, you know, Third World. Like, um, Cambodia …" Those of us listening nodded in sympathy, silently thinking: Nice save there, guy.
All of us, and John McLaughlin, and very likely Clarence Page, too, all of us were still haunted by what we'd been watching on our TV screens through Katrina Week: the spectacle of several thousand black Americans openly, nakedly displaying their helpless, hopeless, clueless, angry dependency. It was there, it was real, though we're stuffing it down the memory hole now as fast as we can work our fingers. Come on, you saw it too. What did you think? What did you feel?
Speaking for myself, I felt pity, anger, and shame, in proportions roughly 3-2-1.
• Pity. It could hardly be plainer that nobody gives a damn about these poor black people, and nobody has any clue how to lift them up, least of all the people who bellyache endlessly about "racism" (see next point). The meritocracy vacuums up every clever, talented black kid it can find and puts him through college, after which he is welcomed joyfully into the Cognitive Elite. (Hey, look at us! No racism here!) The rest are packed off into welfare slums, or jails — anywhere really, so long as we don't have to think about them. Yale or jail.
• Anger. The whole thing woke my anger at liberals, big time. What lying, thieving hypocrites they are! All their vaunted "programs," all that money, all those decades of preaching to us — what has it accomplished? Black people don't actually occupy any space in a white liberal's mind at all. All their pretended concern is just intra-tribal moral posturing, liberal whites asserting their moral superiority over other whites. Horrible, horrible, people. Hey, Teddy, Hillary, Barbra: You have a few houses each — how about giving one or two of them over to a poor black family flooded out from New Orleans? Whaddya say? Hillary? Ted? Hello?
• Shame. Just like my neighbor. More so, if I may thus flatter myself, since I am a naturalized citizen. I chose this country. And because we can't stir ourselves to care about this, above the level of posturing and lip service and cooking up convoluted lies to tell ourselves, a bunch of crummy foreigners are laughing at us. The hell with them, except … we kind of deserve it, don't we?
The lying is the worst. Boy, how we lie to ourselves. What was that thing Orwell said in the Blitz, about how he didn't mind people flying over and dropping bombs on him half as much as he minded the lies they used to justify themselves?
Here's Theodore Dalrymple, in a recent interview:
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
Tell it, Preacher! That's us, that's the United States of America in this year of Our Lord 2005: a society of emasculated liars.
A few weeks ago my wife, but not I, attended a school district function here in Suffolk County, Long Island. It was some sort of awards ceremony for kids from all around our district.
Now, my wife, so far as she has any interest in politics at all, which is not very far, I'd have to classify as a Clinton Democrat. She is quite keen to be on board with the PC stuff. As a member of a racial minority herself, she has a vague idea it's "for" her.
Having been raised in China, though, she has never properly internalized PC in a sophisticated way, never really acquired the necessary reflex habit of not noticing those things we are not supposed to notice, never really mastered double-think. With the best will in the world, poor Rosie is just hopelessly off-message with PC — a thing that causes me much secret delight.
Well, she started telling me about this function, and she couldn't keep herself from laughing. First (she said) they did the academic awards. The kids were called up one by one, and three quarters of them were Chinese or Korean or had Russian names. (Which last means, in this context, they were Ashkenazi-Jewish.) Then they worked through lesser awards — drama club, stuff like that. Finally they got to all these caucus-race dummy awards for things like "putting forth effort" and "attendance." For those, the black and Hispanic kids came up.
Rosie: "I felt so uncomfortable. Just squirming in my seat. It was so obvious."
[I recall attending some similar function myself a year or so ago. After a whole string of four or five Asian kids one after the other, getting awards for academic excellence of various kinds, the emcee announced an award for a name something like Sean Macdonald. Thank goodness, I thought to myself, a white Gentile at last. Then little Sean emerged from the seating area: a one hundred percent grade-A pure-blood Chinese! Plainly he was one of the many children adopted from East Asia by American families.]
"Didn't other people notice this?" I asked. My wife said she thought some people had. People near her looked just as uncomfortable as she felt, and there was some smothered laughter.
We'd laughed ourselves at this vignette of life in modern America, husband and wife laughing together at one of our world's little absurdities.
Last week, watching those scenes from New Orleans, an American city, I recalled that incident, and our laughter. Somehow it didn't seem funny any more, though. Not funny at all.