Why didn't John Derbyshire tell me this stuff twenty years ago?
The veteran National Review writer, who was kicked out of the house William F. Buckley built, after writing a piece for a conservative website actually advising his children to avoid social interactions with African-Americans, has written another highly controversial piece dealing with conservatism and race. I could spend months detailing my differences with Derbyshire regarding American race relations. However, one of his observations about politics and race is uncomfortably true:
Conservatism... is a white people's movement, a scattering of outliers notwithstanding.
Always has been, always will be.
I have attended at least a hundred conservative gatherings, conferences, cruises, and jamborees: let me tell you, there ain't too many raisins in that bun. I was in and out of the National Review offices for twelve years, and the only black person I saw there, other than when Herman Cain came calling, was Alex, the guy who runs the mail room.
I gulped when I read this passage, because it echoed everything liberal African-Americans told me when I first began expressing interest in conservative ideas. In particular, it echoed the words of a writer Derbyshire himself mentioned in the piece that led to his ouster from National Review.
About a decade and a half ago, Latin School was the focus of controversy over the constitutionality of its efforts to establish a highly diverse student body. I argued then in numerous calls to talk radio and letters to the editor that diversity was not a compelling governmental interest that justified those efforts, and took a fairly dim view of those who argued that diversity was in fact sufficient legal justification for those measures.
One of those letters ran in the September 4, 1996 Boston Herald. On September 6, then- Herald columnist Leonard Greene--a longtime critic of what he viewed as the racially insensitive undertone of conservative politics, and one who believed that the initial lawsuit against Boston Latin was, at bottom, a right-wing ideological crusade--took exception to my LTE. In a column entitled "In Present Racial Debate, History Can't Be Ignored," Greene wrote:
...Unfortunately, these debates often take place in historical vacuums, far from the clutches of cause and effect. It is a painless way to approach the world, only it makes no allowance for reality.
Tucker graduated from Latin nearly 20 years after a federal judge ordered the School Department in the so-called 'Cradle of Liberty' to stop discriminating against its black students.
The much-maligned 'quota' system was no arbitrary program designed to exclude white students. It was a court-ordered remedy aimed at redressing the exclusion of blacks, an exclusion that would continue if protections were not in place...
Without that historical context and the vision to see the big picture, it is easy to get distracted by debates over the merits of individual students.
Someday, Tucker may develop that vision. He certainly has the passion. Usually, such insight is the product of mistreatment and setbacks that put things in perspective.
I was livid at Greene for years after that piece ran, disgusted by the idea that a columnist would go after an LTE writer. I was thrilled when Greene left the Herald the next year, repulsed when he briefly returned to the paper in 2000, and chagrined when he started writing for the New York Post.
When I read Derbyshire's observation about conservatism being a "white people's movement," I immediately thought back to all of Greene's Herald columns from the 1990s, columns that effectively made the same point about those who would benefit from conservative policies and those who would not. I recalled in particular his pieces about African Americans who were affiliated with the right, pieces that questioned just what these individuals were doing in a movement that had no interest whatsoever in resolving problems affecting African Americans.
Derbyshire's observation about the de facto racial exclusivity of the American right is indistinguishable from Greene's old writings on politics and race. Funny how I would not accept this truth when it came from the mouth of a liberal African American, but I could not deny this truth when it came from the mouth of a conservative white Englishman.
I only wish Derbyshire had written about this racial/political dynamic when I first became politically involved, as it would have spared me years of needless grief. I would have avoided the scorn I faced when I told acquaintances of my plans to cast my first presidential ballot for Bob Dole instead of Bill Clinton. I would have avoided wasting time praising Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly for their alleged courage, instead of accepting the reality that they were political grifters. I would have avoided having to make excuses for the likes of Rush Limbaugh. I would have avoided having to count as ideological allies people who couldn't tell the difference between Margaret Thatcher and Harold Camping. I would have avoided having to hear the insults from false friends who couldn't tolerate having any aspect of their ideology questioned.
After reading Derbyshire's piece, it's clear that any non-Caucasian who continues to consort with conservatives can be reasonably and objectively described as being out of their freaking minds. (Yes, Greene made that observation years ago, but I was too hard-headed to listen. My bad, as they say.) Derbyshire has retroactively justified the extensive progressive effort to keep Thomas off the Supreme Court bench in 1991; the feminists and civil-rights activists who recognized that Thomas would indeed deliver strange justice were much more perceptive than I was at the time.
It's also clear that the right probably always viewed Jack Kemp as a politically correct dolt and sap; I don't think too many tears were shed in conservative circles when he checked out three years ago. (The notion that Paul Ryan is Kemp's heir apparent is laughable when it comes to anything besides tax policy; when's the last time you've seen Ryan in the 'hood?)
I strongly disagree with almost all of Derbyshire's answers to the American race question -- but when it comes to the racial/political dynamic on the right, he's dead on. I have a love-hate relationship with the man; while I cannot tolerate his negativity on the race question, I also can't forget that it was his observations about the flaws in conservative talk radio that encouraged me to try my hand at that medium.
Thanks to Derbyshire, I now realize that Greene was right all those years ago when he declared that the American right was, for all intents and purposes, whites-only. In this specific respect, Derbyshire displayed an honesty not often seen in conservative media. I reject his views on race, but given a choice between dealing with someone who is upfront about their views, and dealing with someone who's just as much of a bigot but who falsely claims to be colorblind, I will choose the former any day of the week.