Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 5, 2003
POLITICS: Evidence of Bias
Another item from last week that I meant to comment on at the time -- an entry from CalPundit, linking to South Knox Bubba, on the charge that a corporation fought efforts to rename the street its headquarters is on after Martin Luther King. Kevin Drum's sarcastic comment:
STILL SOME WORK TO DO....Racism? A thing of the past. And everybody loves Martin Luther King these days, right?
Apparently not quite everybody.
This is a typical entry in left/liberal bloggers' campaign to keep alive the charge of racism (although in fairness to Kevin Drum, he at least has had a healthy skepticism about racial preferences). But it's one heck of a weak example; if you scan the comments at the two sites, you'll see among other things that this happened in 1981.
But there's a larger point at work: if stuff like this is your Smoking Gun proving the continuing existence of Racism in America -- given that it happened 22 years ago, there are other not-entirely-racist reasons why one might do this, and that nobody was personally affected by this decision -- it might well be that you are grasping at straws. I don't think that anybody really believes that racism is dead and gone; stories like the now-infamous whites-only prom in a small town in rural Georgia are reminders that it is not. But it's a totally false choice to make one side bear the burden of proving that it is. The fact is, it is the Left that makes the argument for governmental and private initiatives, including but not limited to racial preferences, that are designed to fight racism. Nearly everyone agrees that these initiatives would be stupid, unfair or a waste of taxpayer money if there is not a significant amount of racism to combat in the particular case of each such initiative. And yet, the evidence that racism exists in the US today in sufficiently extensive scale and effect to justify the measures being proposed is almost always laughably thin, based on fairly isolated anecdotes, based on bald assertions that it is racist to even question the evidence of racism, or extrapolated from statistical differences in the situation of groups without any consideration of possible alternative factors. But the party proposing a government solution to a problem always has the burden of explaining why the problem is so big that we can't fight it any other way. (The lack of proportion and reliance on faulty statistics and overblown anecdotes to justify government programs is hardly limited to race -- the same tactics are too common in debates about the environment, for example.)
In other words, saying that racism exists is like saying that a disease exists, people have it and people are dying of it. Well, OK: but before you propose to do something about that, it makes sense to question how many people have the disease, and what proportion of them are actually dying of it. Otherwise, you may wind up using a hammer to swat a fly.