Posted on March 20, 2009

Barnes and (Ig)Noble White Supremacy

Christopher, Parrhesia, March 19, 2009


{snip} After quickly ascertaining that Barnes and Noble did not, in fact, carry Michael Eric Dyson’s work (a feat that I wholly anticipated) I spent a few moments perfunctorily scanning book titles belonging to the Ethnic Studies section, a genre whose scope is quite large and entails sub-genres. I was both chagrined and intrigued to find that nearly all of the titles under the Urban Studies/Criminology typological system addressed issues of criminal activity perpetrated by African Americans and Latinos to the exclusion of any other ethnic faction.

Perhaps even more grievous than this conspicuous partisan imbalance in racial representation is the fact that this section was prodigiously stocked with twelve copies (more copies than any other publication in this genre) of Jared Taylor’s book entitled Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America. Ever heard of it? Paved with Good Intentions was published in the late 1990’s by Mr. Jared Taylor, a self-identified White Nationalist/Supremacist and “racial realist.” After the release of Taylor’s seminal piece, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, exalted Taylor, writing, ” [he] is a man of immense ability and the courage commensurate and necessary for telling the long-suppressed truths of race” ( Let us also for the moment consider the banality of bigotry that punctuates Mr. Taylor’s reflection on Hurricane Katrina and FEMA’s lack of preparation and response. Mr. Taylor states “when blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western Civilization–any kind of civilization–disappears. And in a crisis, civilization disappears overnight” ( I won’t any longer belabor my appraisal of Mr. Taylor’s character, although suffice it to say that as an anti-racist white ally the very last book I wanted to encounter before my six hour flight was Paved with Good Intentions by Jared Taylor.

Before leaving Barnes and Noble I hastily grabbed an edition from the shelf and located a sales associate. As I approached her I politely asked, “How often would you say that people purchase this book?” She took a closer look at the title and casually responded, “I’m not exactly sure but I bet that we sell at least three or four a week.” Appalled, but not surprised, I thanked the kind women for her time, returned the book to its shelf, and agitatedly left the store. The sales associate with whom I spoke confirmed the accuracy of my presentiment–people are still buying this book with regularity nearly a decade after its initial publication . . . they’re still masticating Mr. Taylor’s rhetorical filth. If you are unfamiliar with Taylor’s racist text I will begin by framing two of his most foundational assumptions and will then offer a penetrating riposte for the purpose of countervailing the inimical ideologies, pernicious pathologies, and specious statistics spewing from Paved with Good Intentions.

When it comes to manufacturing fabrications of the most duplicitous degree, few can compete with white supremacists like Mr. Taylor. Paved with Good Intentions is likely one of the most popular pieces of contemporary racist propaganda, and because it relies on “official government data,” it comes across as temperate, intelligent social science, (Taylor graduated from Yale in 1973) rather than as an abridgment of rhetorical garbage and twisted claims sponsored by spurious figures that it happens to be. Taylor’s racist assertions are for too copious in number to address here fully, and so I will identify two of his most iniquitous claims and debunk them below. I hope you have your doggy bags . .

Claim #1: Blacks are much more dangerous than whites as evidenced by higher crime rates;

Claim #2: (as a direct corollary of #1) Black crime rates sufficiently justify racial profiling, since it only makes sense to focus law enforcement attention on those who commit a disproportionate share of crime.

An exhaustive examination of these arguments evinces the notion that Taylor and his followers are either statistically illiterate or daringly dissembling. First, as for the disproportionate rate of violent crime committed by blacks, economic conditions and blatant disparities in income, wealth, and the ease with which particular communities can cultivate assets all help to explain the difference with white crime rates. According to several studies, when community and personal economic status is comparable between whites and blacks, there are no significant racial crime differences. In other words, the unspoken message of Taylor’s assertion–that blacks are dangerous because they are black–is untenable. Stated clearly, violence is predicated on poverty, not pigmentation. (By the way, the same sort of comparisons can be posited with regard to popular standardized tests. Persons of the same economic class background perform similarly on these tests regardless of color, ethnicity, etc. A study was released by ETS a few years ago suggested that statistically middle-class African American students and statistically middle-class white students performed within a 2% margin of one another on the SAT.) Secondly, to claim that African Americans are more dangerous than white folks because of official crime rates is to elide the insight that when it comes to quotidian threats to personal salubriousness, whites far and away lead the pack in all kinds of destructive behaviors: corporate pollution, consumer fraud, violations of health and safety standards on the job, and launching wars on the basis of deceptive evidence, to name a few. Each year, far more people die because of corporate malfeasance, occupational health violations and pollution than all the street crime combined, let alone street crime committed by African Americans. (Wise, 2002)

As for profiling, Mr. Taylor insists that because of vaulted rates of crime for members of the African American and Hispanic/Latino communities, it is only shrewd to focus police efforts and the allocation of financial resources on the “darker communities.” (Taylor’s words) But this is demonstrably preposterous. If, as the Justice Department data suggests, African Americans and Latinos commit somewhere between 22-27% of violent crime in most years, then to profile African Americans and Latinos for crime will result in police being wrong, between 73-78% of the time. (Wise, 2002) Let me also remind you that African Americans comprise about 13.5% of the population and those who classify themselves as Hispanic/Latino make up approximately 14.5% of the domestic population. Taken together, these two factions compose about 28% of the U.S. population and such an aggregate figure is correspondingly lower than the proportion one would expect given an even correlation between population and rates of violent crimes. Of course, many know that the number of African Americans and Hispanic Americans/Latinos incarcerated in state of federal prisons is disproportionately high, but let’s us remember not to conflate (nor inflate) the rate of violent crimes with the rate of incarceration for these factions. And of course, as anti-racist Tim Wise eloquently contends, “Profiling is not the typical method for uncovering serious already-committed crimes anyway, since solving such crimes logically involves using incident-specific information. Profiling is, instead, too often done as a way to uncover crimes, such as drug possession, that have yet to come to police attention” (Wise, 2002). As for drugs, there can be no doubt that profiling is irrational. According to federal data, African Americans are only 13.5 percent of drug users, while non-Hispanic whites are over 70 percent of users. (Wise 2002) So to profile African Americans, for instance, for drugs is to guarantee limited success in actually uncovering drug crimes.

What I find most appalling is that a number of recent studies are beginning to suggest that white perceptions of African American and Latino criminality play a prominent role in furthering racism, both attitudinally and institutionally (in terms of support for racially disparate and exorbitant crime policies). Therefore, my obligation to refute statistics that propel forward both personal bigotry and institutional racism carries with it important personal and policy implications. Even though, as some may argue, Barnes and Noble was simply responding to market pressures by stocking this nocuous text, I’m nonetheless highly disappointed in the store. Of course, to be fair, I’m even more ashamed that my fellow citizens reliably purchase Paved with Good Intentions and unknowingly read it with tendentious insouciance. I wish I weren’t compelled to write such an entry, but given the potency of institutional racism as a defining force in American life, I can hardly afford the luxury of turning a blind eye to such racist and statistically misleading positions. As Elie Wiesel writes, “Indifference is the greatest evil” and the sad fact is that our indifference to confronting “scholarship” like Taylor’s merely re-certifies his work as legitimate. I am well aware that American racism already enjoys plenty of legitimacy, with or without a refutation, but I can say in moments of hope and courage that responding to it cogently and forcefully might dissuade ideologically pliable minds from accepting the perverse logic of white supremacists like Mr. Taylor.