Sunday, April 8, 2012

Walter Williams doesn't understand rhetorical questions, apparently.

Or, more specifically, he doesn't seem to understand that some issues are so complicated that they can't be boiled down to an easy yes or no. Take, for example, his recent article on the subject of racial profiling - a hot-button subject of late, due to the Martin shooting. Speaking of, here's Walter's take on the subject!

"Right now, there isn't enough known about the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black, by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old part-Hispanic, during his neighborhood watch tour in an Orlando, Fla., suburb. If evidence emerges that Zimmerman's actions were not justified, he should be prosecuted and punished; however, there's a larger issue that few people understand or have the courage to acknowledge, namely that black and young has become synonymous with crime and, hence, suspicion. To make that connection does not make one a racist. Let's look at it."

Yes, Walter, let's. Note how Walter opens with a completely disingenuous call to 'let the facts come out before judging'. How do we know it's completely disingenuous? The rest of the article is about how it's completely fine to assume that all young black men are criminals. By that logic (Walter's logic), Zimmerman had every right to assume the kid had criminal intent, and that good-faith assumption is apparently all that's required to get away with murder in many U.S. states. I exaggerate, of course - but only about the laws in question, not Walter's opinion of young black men.

He has an awfully high opinion of himself though, doesn't he? Look at the way he frames his article as if he's the lone bold figure speaking truth to power - as if there isn't an entire television network, hundreds of radio hosts, and literally thousands of print and online columnists all rushing to defend racial profiling. Yes, Walter, in the conflict between a self-deputized law enforcement groupie and the unarmed teenager he shot, you're far from the only person to line up behind the guy who brought the gun to the not-a-fight.

Then the article continues by offering a few examples of people who are either in favour of racial profiling, or troubled by their own history of using it.

"Twelve years ago, a black Washington, D.C., commissioner warned cabbies, most of whom were black, against picking up dangerous-looking passengers. She described "dangerous-looking" as a "young black guy ... with shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants, unlaced tennis shoes." She also warned cabbies to stay away from low-income black neighborhoods. Did that make the D.C. commissioner a racist?"

Not entirely - she wasn't describing racial profiling, but rather behavioural profiling, telling cabbies to avoid people who wore the traditional clothes of criminality in that area. The only reason she was talking about black people was because Washington DC is a majority-black city, which means that by extension the poorest and most criminal sections are going to be black. I'm sure if she was a Laredo, TX commissioner she'd have warned about gang-affiliated Latino youths. Perhaps you can attribute a little racism to her statement, but honestly, who can blame cabbies for whatever prejudices they hold? They do the most dangerous job in America - let's cut the guys some slack, huh?

"The Rev. Jesse Jackson once remarked, "There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- (and) then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Does that make the reverend a racist?"

Yes, it does. And he knows it - that's why it was a painful thing for him to think. This is a man who's spent his whole life trying to better the condition of black people in America, and even he's not free from the effects of the stereotyping that his peer group suffers. Everyone has racist thoughts from time to time, Walter - look at you, like ten percent of your articles about your own racist beliefs. But that kind of incidental racism isn't the only defining characteristic that we use to judge people. While Jesse was thinking that, he was a racist, which he acknowledges, and laments. What does it say about you that you're unable to admit your own racism when you believe all the time the things that only cross the Reverend's mind when his brain is awash with fear-based endorphins?

"The former Charleston, S.C., black chief of police, Reuben Greenberg, said the problem facing black America is not racial profiling. He said, "The greatest problem in the black community is the tolerance for high levels of criminality." Former Los Angeles black police Chief Bernard Parks, defending racial profiling, said: "It's not the fault of the police when they stop minority males or put them in jail. It's the fault of the minority males for committing the crime. In my mind, it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for criminal activity, they're going to look at the kind of people who are listed on crime reports." Are former police Chiefs Greenberg and Parks racist?"

Oh my god, yes. They're really, really racist. I'm not going to get into the long tirade here about how police use harassment of black youth to marginalize an entire race of people, essentially keeping Jim Crow going by using minor charges to deprive black males of their civil rights, let's suffice to say that the majority of those arrests the cops are talking about are drug-related, and many of them being simple possession. Hey, Walter, is it racism that the per capita drug use among black and white youth is essentially the same, but black men are five times more likely to get charged for drug possession than their white counterparts? Or is it racist that people holding the kinds of drugs preferred in black communities can be charged with 'intent to distribute' for carrying one-tenth the amount of white-identified drugs it would take to warrant the same charge? Spoiler Alert: The answer to both those questions is 'yes'.

"According to the Uniform Crime Report for 2009, among people 18 or younger, blacks were charged with 58 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, 67 percent of robberies, 42 percent of aggravated assaults and 43 percent of auto thefts. As for murder, more than 90 percent of the time, their victims were black. These statistics, showing a strong interconnection among race, youth and crime, are a far better explanation for racial profiling and suspicion than simple racism."

Was anyone arguing this point? Walter is now using evidence that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. When a black person is murdered in a black neighbourhood the cops look for a black suspect. This doesn't even count as racial profiling, let alone racism. All people tend to commit crimes within their own social group - that's just a basic fact, and has nothing to do with Walter's overall point (that his racist beliefs are true, so stop making him feel bad about himself). Notice that Walter goes out of his way to leave out 'poverty' from the intersection of elements that lead to crime. In Walter's head the statistics seem to prove that young black men are inherently criminal. I'm sure he imagines that even if they all had ample money and employment opportunities they'd still be out prowling the streets in their hoodies, looking for purses to snatch.

"Black Americans have spoken out against racial profiling by police. They've been insulted by store personnel who might give them extra scrutiny. There's the insult of the sound of a car door being locked when a black approaches. It's insulting to have taxi drivers pass up a black person and pick up white people down the street. In a similar vein, I'm sure that a law-abiding Muslim is insulted when given extra scrutiny at airports or listening to Fox News reporter Juan Williams, who was fired by National Public Radio in 2010 for publicly saying that he gets nervous when he sees people on a plane with clothing that identifies them as Muslim. Blacks and Muslims who face the insults of being profiled might direct their anger toward those who've made blacks and crime synonymous and terrorism and Muslims synonymous."

What? Seriously, let's pause for a second and just consider what Walter Williams just actually said. Allow me to precis it if you were too distracted by vomiting when getting near the end. "You don't have a right to complain about being discriminated against because someone who shares your skin colour did a bad thing once." How could someone write this in this day and age? How could someone else agree to print it? How did Walter's word processor allow him to type it? At some point shouldn't Clippy have popped up with a helpful "Hey, it looks like you're writing a racist screed! Do you want me to wipe your hard drive and then buy you a bus ticket to 1954 Alabama?"

More to the point, that last sentence proves that Walter is completely cut-off from anyone outside of his tiny little circle of right-wing extremists. He can't imagine that any black people, Muslims, or liberals exist beyond the straw-man constructions that exist inside his head. Can he really believe that those people are (even passively) accepting of terrorism and street crime? Does he really think that by standing up to the FBI's attempts to frame random brown people for acts of terrorism the Muslim community is acting in favour of terrorists? Can Walter really be this hateful and out of touch?

"For most blacks to own up to the high crime rate among blacks is a source of considerable discomfort. Beyond that, it creates suspicions and resentment, which are destructive of good race relations, and it's devastating to the black community, which is its primary victim."

This is the end of Walter's article, and it serves as a microcosm of the whole thing - in that it makes absolutely no sense. What is he basing this 'discomfort' statement on? When you're talking about 'most' blacks it seems like you'd want to have some basis for your huge sweeping generalizations. Then there's the second statement, which is just maddeningly unclear. What creates 'suspicions and resentment' - the crime rate? Owning up to it? The rest of the sentence suggests that you're talking about the crime rate, but that almost seems to horrible to contemplate - by saying that it's 'destructive of good race relations' it almost seems like you're implying that black people don't deserve to be taken seriously by any other race until they get their act together in re: their pervasive criminality. I don't know why I'm pretending to be shocked that this is your conclusion - after all, how could a Walter Williams article all about how racial profiling isn't actually racism end other than with the statement that it's hunky-dory to marginalize an entire race of people based on the actions of the worst of them?

Oh, and Walter, for the record, Blacks and Muslims actually have "direct(ed) their anger toward those who've made blacks and crime synonymous and terrorism and Muslims synonymous."

They're directing it exactly where you instructed them to: at you, and all your cohorts in the right-wing media.


  1. It's actually amusing that you seem to think you're smarter than Williams. Why don't you write this ridiculous response to him directly? He actually responds to emails. Your writing this from the biased viewpoint of the left-wing mainstream media. It's always easier being politically correct, which you seem to have down.

  2. First off, thanks for commenting - always great to see someone inspired by my writing.

    Secondly, I didn't know Walt interacts with his fans like that! You should totally tell him about this article, I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it!

    And finally, no, I don't think that Walter Williams is necessarily stupid, he could just as easily be willfully intellectually dishonest. It's just that while all of the points I make about his terrible writing are true, these are largely comedic responses to his essays (hence the shout-out to Clippy!), and it's more fun to call people ignorant than it is to call them liars.