The Most Mis-Used Word in the English Language: Racism

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I’m offering my thoughts on the most mis-used word in the English language.

What does racism mean? To some it’s a condition that all “white” people possess and exhibit even when they’re being nice to someone who’s “black.” To others it can be attributed to anyone who opposes certain policies, including reparation for slavery and freeing all black prisoners.

Ironically, people who pay attention to other people’s skin pigmentation don’t consider themselves racists while using that term to denigrate people who don’t pay any attention to pigmentation. Thus, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don’t consider themselves racists although their views of other people are based on their “race,” while conservatives, who believe all people should be treated equally without regard to race, are considered racists because they won’t give minorities special treatment.

To label someone a racist is currently a convenient way of trying to shut that person up, to deny his or her right to an opinion. It’s a form of political blackmail. Either agree with me, the person who accuses others of being racists is saying, or I’ll call you a racist.

I worry for young people who don’t have the strength and knowledge to fight back against such tactics—high school and college students who are coerced into staying quiet or supporting policies that when exposed to the light of day are built on lies. Take for example the BDS movement.

Groups on college campuses that support a boycott of Israel, claiming it to be an apartheid state based on absolutely not one iota of truth, compel students, including some who are Jewish, to support their cause for fear of being called racists. These groups also threaten violence by implication. It takes great courage, especially when college administrators often keep their heads in the sand, to stand up to these tactics.

Another example is the charge that anyone who opposes granting citizenship to illegal immigrants is a racist. Why? Because most illegals are “minorities”––i.e., from non-European countries. The implication of the charge is that there could not be non-racist based reasons for opposing that policy. Of course, that’s absurd, but again, I worry that too many people cower in the face of such charges instead of standing their ground.

Dr. King’s words will be used today to justify a variety of contradictory positions. I won’t commit that form of larceny. Instead, I’m appealing to people to stop calling other people, including Donald Trump, racists, and when someone uses the term in an inappropriate manner—i.e., to deny others the right to speak—that you speak up––just as if someone used the ‘n’ word or some other slur. Speak up. Tell the speaker you’re not going to cave in to that charge, that racism won’t die until people stop calling each other by that term.

Happy MLK, Jr. Day to one and all.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.

Bigotry in the name of Fighting Racism

A letter to the (Albany, NY) Times Union printed August 27 typifies how any excess in the name of fighting racism has become acceptable in today’s America.

Tony Emanatian of Watervliet, NY wrote “We all knew President Donald Trump was a racist before he decided to run for president,” basing his conviction on Trump’s being “the leader of the birther movement.”

He goes on to charge “every politician or voter who supports Trump is by extension also a racist.” (my emphasis)

Ignoring the faulty logic of both assertions, that the Times Union would print such a letter without an accompanying editorial comment distancing themselves from Mr. Emanatian’s accusations is testimony to how far the mainstream media has departed from the once recognized standard of ethical journalism.

As a former editor, I would have printed Mr. Emanatian’s letter, but used to occasion to point out the danger of his faulty logic––not just in the fact that he smears 60 million plus people who voted for the President last November, but the implications of the letter in today’s climate¬¬: to wit, if everyone who supports the President is a racist, doesn’t that justify firing Trump supporters from their jobs or as the CEO of Camping World said not serving customers who are Trump supporters? Doesn’t such bigotry in the minds of the antifa supporters justify preventing speakers they consider facist from speaking on college campuses? Doesn’t it justify destroying the property of companies they consider not demonstrating sufficient opposition to the President?

The sad consequence of this letter’s bigotry is that it undermines real efforts to fight racism by making the term meaningless since it now can be applied to anyone you don’t like whether their words or actions justify that label or not.

I don’t dispute Mr. Emanatian’s right to hold and express such distorted views, but for any newspaper to print such a letter without distancing itself from those views is an invitation to additional attacks on rational discourse both verbal and physical. For shame.

NPR’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Monday August 7 saw the firing by Google of a senior engineer for positions articulated in a memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” By Wednesday, NPR echoed in full throat. Ben Johnson called James Damore’s memo a ‘misogynist manifesto’ while guest Nicole Sanchez attacked Google for only having only 30 percent women in their workforce.

Sanchez, CEO and founder of a diversity consulting company, attacked Google for failing to put as much effort into solving its employee mix as solving technical problems. Ironically, policies advocated by people like Sanchez can be responsible for businesses violating Federal Discrimination Laws by creating hiring and promotion practices based on race and gender rather than job appropriate criteria.

Sanchez also claimed Damore’s memo presented factually incorrect statements about gender differences, but Damore admitted bias was a factor in the numerical disparity along with biological differences. Was Sanchez claiming there’s scientific evidence that biology plays no role in gender disparity in human social institutions?

Unreported by NPR was the fact that Damore was objecting to unrecorded meetings during which Google executives encouraged employees to discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring and promotion practices. Meetings at Google are usually recorded, except for “diversity” sessions, which suggests the higher-ups know they are asking employees to violate the law.

NPR’s coverage of Damore’s firing is an example of the kind of unrealized bias Damore was protesting at Google. Did anyone at NPR bother to read Damore’s memo? If so, why didn’t they tell listeners what it contained instead of summarizing it like Ben Johnson did inaccurately reporting that Damore claimed “women weren’t cut out to be engineers.”

Damore’s memo was aimed primarily at practices that repress discussion of biases that he believes could harm Google in the long run. Here’s how he began his memo:

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.”

What Damore criticized at Google was the lack of discussion of moral biases. “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” After laying out his primary concern, he examined the possible “non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech” and offered “non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.”

Damore criticized Google’s discriminatory approach to achieving greater gender and racial diversity, which he argued is based on “false assumptions” that can “actually increase race and gender tension.”

In an essay published Friday August 11 in the Wall Street Journal, Damore re-enforced his position that his primary objective in writing the memo was to advance discussion, not to argue that women don’t belong in tech. Ironically, his memo met no opposition until it went viral outside the company. That resulted in attacks on Damore from the diversity community which resulted in Google’s CEO firing Damore for advancing “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

In the end, James Damore hoped his memo would help create a culture at Google that treats people as individuals rather than members of their group. Sadly, that seems further from happening today than it did a week ago with the help of biased coverage from NPR and other media outlets.

Letter to the (Albany) Times Union re: the Paris Accord

The following letter appeared (slightly edited) in the Albany Times Union Thursday, June 15.

The Times Union ignores reality in its response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (“Mr. Trump Defies Reality,” 6/2/2017).

Instead of accepting the president’s rationale as stated in his press conference, the TU makes up its own motive: climate denial. Instead of trying to refute the president’s arguments that the Paris Accord would be harmful to the American economy costing us tens of thousands of jobs and increasing energy costs to the average householder by thousands of dollars annually, the TU is worried that our withdrawal will hurt our image and “good name,” lead scientists to leave the country, and harm our economic competitiveness.

The TU ignores the reality that the U.S. is the world leader in environmental stewardship and that our businesses are committed to the best practices to reduce pollution and conserve energy and resources.

The President’s withdrawing from Paris was not accompanied by a plan to change any of that. To the contrary. What led Mr. Trump to withdraw was that Paris would be bad for the U.S. Not only does it fail to accomplish the goal of reducing green-house gases significantly but it allows polluters like China and India to keep polluting while forcing the U.S. to pay.

Like NATO, where the member nations assume the U.S.––like Daddy Warbucks––is ready to finance their every request, Paris was written on the assumption that the U.S. needs to be punished for being the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation. The reality is it’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate and show us their commitment to the environment. We’re already doing our share.

Sympathy for the Devils Within: A Review of Viet Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides in the war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.

Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodian) on their own people.

The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone who had not been on their side during the war as well as those who had been on their side for the wrong reason.

It is easy to see in retrospect how the anti-American left could ally itself with the North Vietnamese ignoring their commitment to the same totalitarian ideology that had led to the deaths of millions of Russians and Chinese citizens under Stalin and Mao.

The victorious Vietnamese employed torture methods invented by the Russian and Chinese Communists including re-education techniques where confession is offered as the means to salvation. Smartly, Nguyen employs confession as the format for this novel having his protagonist be made to write a confession to rehabilitate himself for having succumbed to Western ways during his exile in the U.S. The entire novel is that confession.

Nguyen deserves praise for the lack of heroes in his story––especially not his bastard protagonist who is both a captain in the South Vietnamese army and an agent of the Viet Cong, and who commits multiple crimes, including murder, out of this divided loyalty. No one is clean perhaps with the exception of the protagonist’s mother who was forcibly impregnated by a French priest and then abandoned to a slow death of poverty and neglect.

Nguyen holds the French and United States responsible for their part in the war’s horrors, but doesn’t absolve the Vietnamese people on both sides, for each played a part in the war, victimizing their own as the price for the victory that one side failed to achieve and the other converted into a kind of defeat.

For Americans, The Sympathizer reminds us the ideals of our founding are not sufficient to protect us against the arrogance that led us to think no price was too high to prevent Vietnam from falling to the Communists. Unfortunately, we continue to pay that price, often misjudging where our national interest lies. There is no more evident an example of this failure than Barack Obama’s ignoring the Iranian government’s murderous ideology out of some misguided desire to make amends for America’s past sins.

Yes, Communism had to be opposed and American aid for people suffering under Communism or on the verge of falling under Communism’s iron yoke at times required a military response, but we misjudged Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese and drove them into the Communist camp, as we did in Cuba with Fidel Castro, both of whom admired America’s revolutionary commitment to individual freedom. The consequence of our arrogance was both became totalitarians who oppressed their own people, deciding their ideological goals justified any and all means of achieving those goals.

Americans should also read The Sympathizer because we have failed to recognize the price the boat people paid for their freedom, coming to the United States where they were expected to forget the U.S. role in the devastation of their country––the napalm bombings, wiping out villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong agents, the manipulation of the South Vietnam government and more, as Nguyen so skillfully portrays in this novel.

The Sympathizer is above all a brilliantly written story about a man we sympathize with while not absolving him of his crimes, but it can also be read as a form of national therapy. Nguyen offers a lens through which we can examine ourselves and perhaps recognize in ourselves a tendency to betray and murder our own, for who can say for certain they would not have acted like his main character in similar circumstances.

How Liberalism Divides America: A Review of Shelby Steele’s Shame

Shelby Steele, Shame, How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, Basic Books, 2015

Don’t be misled by this small book’s subtitle, or even the title for that matter. Neither reflects Shelby Steele’s thesis that post 1960s Liberalism is built on a house of lies that has relegated many blacks and other minorities to positions “of inferiors and dependents.” (179)

Shame reveals among other things why eight years after the election of the first African-American president, issues around race still divide our country. Steele also explains why Liberalism seems to be more about absolving whites and government from America’s past than helping minorities overcome that past and why conservative commentators are not taken at face value.

To understand Steele’s thesis one needs to start with slavery because slavery was not just an evil in and of itself, it was a black mark against the foundational principle of American exceptionalism––the core principle embodied in the Declaration and the Constitution that freedom of the individual is the ideal foundation of a just society. Although some did oppose slavery from the start, it took half a century before it was abolished. Unfortunately, slavery was replaced by another pernicious social institution––Jim Crow, which was based on theories of African-American inferiority. Segregation and its rational survived until the 1960s when the struggle for equality became the central issue of the day and the necessity of extending the promise of freedom to all brought about a massive social upheaval.

Shelby Steele’s contribution to what happened next reflects his experience growing up in an era where America sought to show the world it had broken with its past by instituting a variety of programs designed to remedy that past, including the War on Poverty, affirmative action, racial preferences in hiring, lowered welfare standards, et al. The short-term impact of these programs was to give blacks an opportunity to join the mainstream of American society, but there was an unintended longer-term consequence that both handcuffed blacks and gave rise to the distorted political culture we call Liberalism.

Steele illustrates how blacks have been hampered by these post-Civil Rights policies by citing the case of Clarence Thomas who found getting into Yale Law School undermined people’s willingness to give him credit for his accomplishments. People assumed Thomas only got into Yale because he was black and that his high grades at Yale were not deserved. This “catch 22” still hampers blacks today. One wonders if Barack Obama feared he was only elected president because of his race, and not his qualifications or platform? Does that explain the aloof manner by which he conducted himself as president?

The flip side of the post 1960s liberal equation is that many whites feel they must continually prove they are not racists by asserting that America is a racist society despite the fact blacks today are “far more likely to receive racial preferences than to suffer racial discrimination.” (17)

The 1960s gave rise to the notion that America was inherently evil as evidenced by its treatment of women, blacks and other minorities, by its disregard for the environment and by its willingness to interfere in third world liberation struggles––the war in Vietnam being the primary example. The remedy was affirmative action on all those issues and in the process discrediting of the notion that a commitment to the freedom of the individual was sufficient. In Steele’s terms, America embarked on a new mission “to establish ‘The Good’ . . . on par with freedom.” The Good requires equal results be guaranteed not just equal opportunity. The purpose of The Good, he writes, “became absolution for the American people and the government, and not actual reform for minorities.” (128)

The Good was a relativistic solution––a commitment to results over process and it required people to dissociate themselves from America’s past. Liberal public policies and programs were promoted as evidence of rejection of America’s evil past and refusal to endorse such programs was seen as lingering affiliation with that past. Belief in America as a city on a hill, as a beacon of freedom for the oppressed peoples of the world, as an exceptional nation was rejected. “American exceptionalism and white supremacy [became] virtually interchangeable.” (164)

Liberalism underscored its commitment to The Good attacking traditional American culture and invading the political arena. To post 1960 liberals the drive for political power was seen as “nothing less than a moral and cultural imperative.” (156)

In order to maintain their political and cultural dominance, liberals have become committed to what Steele calls the ‘poetic truth’ of American society, a false vision that is necessary to support their ideological position. The chickens of that falsity, embodied in academia, big government and groups such as black lives matter, came home to roost in November, 2016 when sixty plus million people rejected the liberal candidate.

Criticism of liberal programs by whites can be dismissed as evidence of a person’s association with pre-1960s America, but it’s harder to make that label stick when the critics are black. Labeling people like Clarence Thomas, Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Dr. Ben Carson, and Shelby Steele ‘uncle toms’ only demonstrates how unglued liberals become when confronted with facts that fly in the face of their make believe world.

Sadly books like Shame rarely get the visibility they deserve. I found no reviews in the New York Times or the Washington Post, despite the fact that Steele is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution and author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book The Content of Our Character (1990).
Shame has only 49 reviews on Amazon and a 4.3 rating while Ta-Hehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me has 3,157 reviews and a 4.6 rating. Coates has received numerous awards for his writing, including a MacArthur “genius grant,” but Coates’ thesis that racism survives because whites are attached to the benefits of being white is a perfect example of what Steele unclothes––a false narrative that is accepted because it re-inforces the story that America is as tainted today as it was in the time of slavery. Coates views “whiteness” as inevitable and permanent but fails to recognize that the price of conflating slavery and segregation, discrimination and unintended bias is that blacks will never be free! That’s where Steele parts company with Coates.

Steele gives us a window into his evolution from a sixties radical to a twenty-first century conservative. The turning point came in 1970 when he and his wife spent several weeks in Africa where he discovered that the revolution the Black Panthers and others were championing was a false and bankrupt dream. His experience reminds me of the degeneration of the civil rights movement in Albany, New York around the same time. I had been involved in the optimistic years before King’s assassination, which understandably caused many to become bitter and the rhetoric of revolution to gain currency. When the Black Panthers came to Albany, however, they sent a heroin dealer as their representative. Apparently at that point anyone willing to spout their revolutionary rhetoric was acceptable.

While post 1960s liberalism has been losing currency at the polls, it still dominates our culture, the entertainment industry, and the news media. Conservatives who reject the relativism of Liberalism, who stand behind the founders’ original insights, have an opportunity to turn the tide. Steele urges conservatives to be sensitive to the “psychological and cultural damage done to minorities by American hypocrisy,” by showing how the original dream of equality for all and a commitment to freedom, is still America’s essential truth. The time to win that war is now.