On Quin Hillyer’s Nuanced And Thought-Provoking Treatise On Race
Lord help me, I’m going to write about race s’more.
All right — so what we’ve got this time is the American Spectator‘s Quin Hillyer and a post of his that’s absolutely brimming with righteous indignation. What’s got Hillyer writing with so much high dudgeon is the news from Alabama of a white man named Matthew Owens being beaten, nearly to death, allegedly by a group of black men who were armed with all manner of violent implements; and one of whom, according to the victim’s sister, said, “That’s for Trayvon!” during his retreat. Vile stuff, no doubt, if true. Hillyer also gets pretty worked-up over what he sees as insufficient coverage of this story by the mainstream media. (For what it’s worth, if not for memeorandum, this story would indeed have likely passed by without my noticing. Whether that’s because it’s a trumped-up nontroversy of the rightwing blogosphere or because of anti-white media bias is your call.)
So Hillyer’s got a bone to pick. Not so much with the alleged assailants, however, but rather with, in order: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Eric Holder, and President Obama. In between the railing, he inches towards a broader critique of liberal racial politics, as well as the response voiced by many to the Trayvon Martin killing. But you’ve got to tease these points out, buried as they are in all of the rage-induced spittle:
C’mon, Mr. Sharpton: Come show that you aren’t a vicious thug with compassion only for black people. Come on down and have a press conference demanding justice for Matthew Owens.
For that matter, where is our post-racial president? The least he could do is invite Joe Biden down to Mobile with him to bring a beer to Mr. Owens if Mr. Owens recovers from his beating. Or do white victims not matter in Barack Obama’s world? …
What this is, is a sickness of the first order. Come on down MSNBC. Come on down, ABC. Come on down, Washington Post. Come on down, New York Times. Cover this story. Demand justice. Ask what’s wrong with black America that it could countenance such vicious, racist criminality.
Wait — what’s that you say? You say it’s not fair to blame all of “black America” for the actions of two dozen men?
Gee, maybe you have a point there. Maybe these were 20 criminals who ought to spend 20 years apiece in jail, but who are no more indicative of the rest of their nation or culture than… well, than “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman is for non-black America, or than Jared Lee Loughner, a disturbed lefto-anarchist, is for conservative America or Tea Partiers.
Let’s start small and respond first to the specific attacks on high-profile black individuals. Then we can get to what’s wrong with Hillyer’s understanding of racial politics in general.
Regarding Al Sharpton: not exactly my favorite guy. Definitely consider him a demagogue and shameless self-promoter. In the context of a story in which an alleged mob has nearly killed a defenseless innocent, however, I’m not sure I’d reserve the “thug” epithet for an old man who yells at (mostly other old) people through their televisions.
Turning to the President, I’m not sure why so many on the Right have decided that the so-called beer summit from earlier in Obama’s term — an attempt to patch things up between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the white cop who arrested him for breaking and entering into his own home — was such a monumental failure of leadership. But this has been a tenet of faith for these folks for quite some time; and I’d be lying if I said I actually cared much to find out. In any event, the point of the beer bro date was to reconcile bickering parties; unless Hillyer wants Obama to sit all of the alleged assailants around Owens’ hospital bed with beers in hand, it’s not clear to me what the point of the reference is — other than to raise a content-free shibboleth and wave it around until his audience is sufficiently incensed.
Now we can get to the bigger criticism, that the mainstream media has been inconsistent in its response to the Owens and Martin affairs, respectively. Hillyer’s implication is that, post-Trayvon, the media engaged in a long discussion over what was wrong with white America. I agree that that would be a pretty stupid thing to do; but that’s not how I recall the past few months. Rather than talk in useless generalities about “white America,” my recollection is that the Martin killing inspired a conversation over the wisdom of stand-your-ground laws and the broader problem of a systemic bias in the US justice system against people of color. As Ed Kilgore noted, hardcore conservatives like Hillyer tend to be incapable or unwilling of speaking about race in America in systemic terms on all manner of issues; thus, it’s no surprise that he’s opting here for a maudlin and feelings-focused claim of victimization rather than acknowledging the more sophisticated, systemic critique.
And then we have the last paragraph, which isn’t especially important to Hillyer’s point (charitably described), but is included because I think it’s revealing. For one thing, the only people I’ve noticed take such great umbrage to the “white Hispanic” description of Zimmerman happen, by and large, to be the kind of folks liable to call Ben Jealous a racist. I’m sure plenty don’t fit this description, but allow me to trade generalizations with Hillyer here just a bit. Anyway, the sneering response to “white Hispanic” is curious; it’s almost as if its critics consider it a contradiction-in-terms. Unspoken is the assumption that “white” was tacked-on to “Hispanic” in order to make this a racial issue because, I guess, it otherwise would not have been.
Is it worth pointing out that anti-black racism is not the sole property of white people — and that it’s just as pernicious when its authors are themselves of color, too? Again: your call.
(Photo from http://quinhillyer.com/)