What’s the Difference Between Richard Cohen and John Derbyshire?
Readers here probably remember the column John Derbyshire wrote over at NRO last year that resulted in Derbyshire’s exile and NRO editor Rich Lowry’s apology.
The column was a letter to Derbyshire’s children, warning them that black people are dangerous and should be avoided, except — and this is actually from the column — that you should keep one black person around as a friend so that you can point to him or her if people call you a racist. It was one of those rare instances where pretty much everyone — black, white, liberal, conservative, cat-person, dog-person — was able to come together and declare with harmonious concord, “What a racist piece of crap that guy is.”
A lot of people gave Lowry grief for having kept Derbyshire on for so long; after all, it wasn’t like that last-straw column was the first outrageously racist thing the guy had ever written. And though I believe that particular criticism of Lowry is well deserved, credit where credit’s due: Lowry did eventually sever ties with Derbyshire, and he did so in a very public and transparent manner. That’s a far cry better than what the supposedly liberal Washington Post has done with its regular columnist, Richard Cohen. And if there’s an argument to be made that Derbyshire is more embarrassing than Cohen, I’m not seeing it.
Last week, Cohen raised eyebrows when he curiously declared that after having seen the movie Twelve Years a Slave, he had finally realized that America’s system of enslaving Africans was wrong. Prior to the movie, Cohen says that he believed what he had been taught growing up, that “many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe.”
Normally, such a statement might be seen as something of a turning point towards wisdom. Sure, it was more than a little weird that it took a movie in the fall of 2013 to make a white columnist for one of the country’s most prominent newspapers revisit a long-held belief that slavery was mostly benign. But at least he was making progress, right? Wisdom might have taken it’s own sweet time to arrive at Cohen’s door, but it had arrived, hadn’t it?
Apparently, not so much.
Yesterday Cohen wrote a column on Chris Christie’s reelection and Presidential ambitions. The advice he gives Christie — to avoid following Romney’s path and ingratiating himself to the far right fringe — is thoughtful, measured and on the money, which only makes his sideways tangent into the ickiness of bi-racial couples all the more bizarre:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all. [Emphasis mine.]
I included the entire paragraph so that it could be taken in context, but I want to emphasize that line I highlighted so much I’m going to restate it here:
People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.
That’s not “a wee bit” racist, it’s not “debatably” racist, and it’s not a “well, you really need to consider its context” kind of racist. It’s pretty much the very definition of patently offensive racism.
Just as Lowry had no excuse for being unaware of Derbyshire’s true stripes, the Post should have had no illusions about Cohen. In his early days at the Post Cohen wrote an argument that shop owners should be allowed to refuse to let black in their stores, because blacks are inherently dangerous. More recently when discussing the Treyvon Martin shooting, Cohen argued that George Zimmerman was right to be suspicious of a black person walking down the street because “a disproportionate amount of crimes are committed by black males.” To make sure there was no misunderstanding of his meaning, Cohen added that Martin was “understandably suspected because he was black.”[Again, emphasis mine.] It’s one thing to argue that George Zimmerman was not guilty of murder, or that race was not a motivating factor in Martin’s death. It’s quite another to praise Zimmerman’s actions as a “quest of heroism” because Martin was black, as Cohen did.
To date, the Washington Post seems fine to live with the page hits and ad sales that Cohen’s offensive ranting garners. As regular readers know, I’m pretty quick to criticize conservative media outlets for race baiting when it suits their needs. And because of that, I feel like this needs to be said:
The official score of properly dealing with offensive racists on your masthead is as follows…
The Notoriously Conservative National Review: 1
The Notoriously Liberal Washington Post: 0
Here’s to hoping the Post pulls its head out and ties the score soon.