John Derbyshire and the Wise Latina
“Judge Sotomayor was raised in public housing? So was I. Her mother was a nurse working late shifts? So was mine. When did white working poor people disappear off the face of the earth? Where are the eager listeners to their “compelling stories”?”
John “Derb” Derbyshire pendulates between very sensible and very silly. His defense of evolution and attacks against the ID nonsense in Ben Stein’s Expelled mockumentary (wait – that was a real documentary?) were typical Sensible Derbyshire. Likewise, his recent assault on talk radio’s wrecking of the Right was brilliant and timely.
But there is also the silly Derbyshire. The man is undoubtedly as sharp as they come, but he manages, nonetheless, to say some pretty stupid things. I won’t necessarily hold his opinions against him – it’s his prerogative to be “a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one” as he once put it (and later clarified). I, of course, disagree with him – especially on his points on homosexuality which I do not view as a “net negative” on society.
His racism is indeed a little more nuanced, and he’s absolutely correct to assert that we are all, to some degree, racist – if, at times, unintentionally so. I live in the borderlands of two very different cultures, separated by tradition, race, and a few hundred years of war and genocide. I would be lying if I told you that racial tensions here weren’t extraordinarily high. During high school and college and beyond, race has played an often unpleasant role in our lives.
This is natural when cultures collide, and in any case, the fact remains that race will often trigger some quality of the unknown in people, which can lead to fear and apprehension, and we work to overcome and better understand that in ourselves.
One way to find empathy is to put ourselves in others’ proverbial shoes (to perhaps test out their bootstraps…). Derbyshire, however, is not really interested in this. To him, it is enough to be “mildly racist” like the rest of humankind and leave it at that – or to worry that someday such sentiment will be made illegal (a fear I share though not to the same degree). However, I believe one can desire both cultural understanding and protections of free speech. The two hardly seem mutually exclusive.
Beyond that, his theory that genetics actually determine our success in school (and explain why black students are statistically worse in school) is patently absurd. It is as hackish a use of science as Stein’s paean to Intelligent Design.
Derbyshire’s little screed against Sotomayor is not wholly off target, though. Her now infamous “wise Latina” remark was, to put it bluntly, a stupid thing to say. In context it makes sense, and it doesn’t quite mean what it does taken out of context, but nevertheless a smart, well-educated person should know how to better phrase such a sentiment. If this was the crux of Derb’s racial concern, I’d have little more to say.
But that’s not what Derb’s worried about. He’s “annoyed by the unspoken implication in a lot of commentary that anyone not a member of a Protected Minority must have grown up in a twelve-bedroom lakeside mansion and been chauffeured off to prep school with a silver spoon in his mouth.”
What he doesn’t mention is that he’s operating under false assumptions. So far as I know, very few people believe that somehow all white people are rich. Those that do are on the fringes. I know of nobody that holds this view – only of people, like Derbyshire, who worry that everyone else does. Indeed, I know many fairly poor white people myself, many of whom share a dislike of rich people that transcends race.
What I’m annoyed with is the assumption on the Right that minorities somehow have it easier than whites due to affirmative action laws and college quota requirements. In limited cases and specific scenarios that’s true. More often than not, it’s purely absurd. We were treated to the same silliness regarding President Obama’s campaign – that somehow his being black and named Barack Hussein Obama actually bolstered his candidacy. (This, of course, is made evident by the many other black presidents who came before him, as well as the popularity of the name Hussein in modern America.)
So, are there problems with affirmative action? Sure. Likewise, are there sometimes too many assumptions that simply because one is a minority one must have had a tough life? Of course. (I’m reminded of The Office, and Michael Scott’s interactions with Stanley who he assumes due to his skin color must be from “the hood” despite numerous protestations to the contrary.)
But in the end this is all beside the point. Nobody is saying that white people don’t have remarkable life stories. Good lord, most of our classics were written by white males about white males and their remarkable life stories. Most of our histories tell similar tales. Much of our pop culture does as well. What’s more important is that it is not in fact easy to pull oneself up by the bootstraps in this day and age. This may be the land of opportunity, but that opportunity does not exist equally for everyone. We are dealt a hand. How we play it makes a difference, but not nearly the sort of difference that the original hand makes. It doesn’t matter if Sotomayor is white or black or Latina. She came from humble beginnings and did great things.
So, back to Derb’s question:
“When did white working poor people disappear off the face of the earth? Where are the eager listeners to their “compelling stories”?”
First, they didn’t. Nobody ever said they did. You are listening to your own propaganda.
Second, the “eager listeners” are all around you. Pick up a damn book or turn on the TV sometime. Read a bloody newspaper.
Oh, and speaking of newspapers – how about go read the Wall Street Journal, which has some pretty good advice for conservatives today.