Posted on April 1, 2015

The ‘Honest Conversation on Race’ Trap

Robert Weissberg, American Thinker, April 1, 2015

Good news: Starbucks customers need not worry that some barista will try to engage you in an honest discussion about American race relations. The whole idea was laughed off the stage and rightly so. One comic suggested that he’d prefer to talk about free will versus determinism with the folks down at Jiffy Lube.

Unfortunately, calls for such honest, forthright and frank dialogues are irrepressible. Recall Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2009 exhortation for a national conversation. Noah C. Rothman recently offered a catalogue of such calls in his February 2015 Commentary essay. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff suggested “a new commission [that] could jump-start an overdue national conversation.” Similarly, Peniel Joseph of Tufts University called events at Ferguson a “teachable moment that could lead to a National Dialogue on Race Day.” The journalist Troy Singleton opined that “Shying away from this difficult conversation will lead only to more incidents like Ferguson and its painful aftermath.” President Obama invited a “sustained” conversation on race “to move forward in a constructive fashion.” And on and on and on.

But, admonitions aside, let me try and finally eradicate this zombie-like idea. Trigger Warning: killing the very idea that a little talk, and yet more chatter can actually solve a deeply rooted problem that has persisted for centuries will not be a pleasant sight to behold. Those made uncomfortable by genuine honesty are advised to leave the room or, if determined to have a “meaningful dialogue on matters of consequence,” visit Jiffy Lube and seek intellectual enlightenment there.

Let’s start simple. Airing out differences on emotionally laden subjects (and yakking about race guarantees high blood pressure) is not always advisable. Actually, lots of harm can happen from ill-advised frankness. Those in happy marriage know that it would be unwise to turn their 25th wedding anniversary into a two hour tête-à-tête about each other’s annoying personal hygiene habits or spousal sexual ineptitude.

A frank discussion about race relations would be far worse. I can readily see a white person working himself up into a lather when recounting the sky-high black crime rate, the awful academic performance of blacks despite trillions in government help, the relative level of dependence on government handouts and the absolute lack of any gratitude for this assistance. To which an agitated black would respond with a similarly lengthy catalogue: the legacy of slavery and discrimination, innumerable incidents of police brutality, white denial of their pernicious racism and related sins that undermine black self-respect. And this would be only round one of a 15 round championship fight.

That every one of these items has been discussed ad nauseam for half a century suggests that the purpose of this dialogue is not to provide new information or to clear the air as one might spit out a spouse’s long annoying faulty hygiene in couples therapy. Nor could it be argued that contemporary Americans need a refresher course on race — almost every item in these prospective conversations spontaneously surfaces with once-a-month regularity thanks to the mass media’s infatuation with racially charged white-on-black violence (but not the reverse).

Why then the repeated calls and the unwillingness of whites to engage African Americans? Here’s why: nearly all whites (and many Asians, too) know that the invitation is a trap, a disguised ploy to advance the racial egalitarian agenda. An opportunity to advance racial progress is just the bait. Remember Chairman Mao’s a thousand flowers to bloom campaign. This was a 1956 plan to encourage ordinary Chinese to openly criticize the Communist regime so as to promote progress in the arts and sciences. Alas, in 1957 policy was reversed and those who had expressed criticisms were rounded up, sent to prison camps or executed. “Freedom to speak” was a subterfuge from the get-go. Mao called it “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” Closer to home, one wag whose name I cannot recall, nailed it perfectly: “We need an honest conversation so we know who to fire.”

What makes this invitation a trap is how “being bad” has now been transformed from acting bad to thinking bad. This is Orwell’s Newspeak “Thoughtcrime” (also called “Crimethink”) in his novel 1984. Here unspoken anti-regime beliefs, not actions, are deemed criminal since they can readily lead to oppositional behavior and thus must be extinguished in their larvae stage. Truth is irrelevant for certifying a Thoughtcrime; harm exclusively derives from whether the thought contravenes the official orthodoxy. Secretly believing that diversity is a liability is a Thoughtcrime.

Promoting an honest conversation about race will be, as per Mao, “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” Racists will now publically confess their crimes and, to add insult to injury, pay for an overpriced cup of coffee to boot! Critically, costs will be asymmetrical: whites who speak negatively about blacks will face punishment; by contrast, blacks slandering whites are just being frank, honest, and forthright and otherwise acting commendably. So, a white who tells his black conversation partner that blacks disproportionately commit more violent crimes is guilty of offensiveness even if this Starbucks customer totes along stacks of government-issued documentation. By contract, no proof is demanded if the barista responds with crime rates are identical so statistical differences just reflect unequal police enforcement. To be blunt, no forthright white can escape being pummeled in such conversations.

Now for the truly troubling bottom line: calls for honest discussions of race are yet one more step toward totalitarianism insofar as stamping out “bad thinking” apart from bad behavior virtually defines totalitarianism. At it gets worse: blacks will interpret this newly expressed hostility to them as more proof of society’s innate racism and the upshot will be demands yet more sensitivity training, speech codes, more Directors of Diversity and Inclusion and similar fixes to stamp out bad thinking among infected whites. What begins as a request for a tall soy latte can now, speaking figuratively, end up with a trip to the rack.

To be sure, today’s fans of these conversations are not yet calling for punishing “bad thinking” but rest assured, those who take the bait and express heresies will be punished though well short of being burnt at the stake. A single heretical utterance almost guarantees attention from self-appointed social justice warriors who will dig deeper to uncover an “alarming” pattern of racist blog posts, Facebook entries and who knows what else, all to be publicized and sent to the person’s employer (that these conversations can be so easily and secretly recorded further adds to the Stasi possibilities). If the employer claims that these utterances are irrelevant to the person’s job, there may be threats of a boycott, a Department of Justice investigation or soliciting complaints from other employees about working alongside of a now exposed racist co-worker.

Better to avoid any frank discussion of race save among one’s most trusted friends. If asked to join the “conversation” insist that you know nothing other than there is no such thing as race, it is socially constructed and those who talk about race are fueling hate.