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A Tale of Two New Yorks on Race

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There are many tales that can be told about New York on race. The news of recent days allows observers to focus on two that stand diametrically opposed to one another. One is a tale drawn from the Democratic primary for mayor. Bill de Blasio, along with his multiracial family, stand as main characters of this tale. It is a tale about race that centers on inclusion and the strengthening of real bonds among New Yorkers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The other tale -- one pushed by indignant conservatives who claim they are the only ones brave enough to tell the truth -- is in fact the same one that the right wing has been telling since the first slaveowner realized that there might someday be a rebellion among the enslaved.

Let's start with the first story. Bill de Blasio won right around 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, a campaign that featured five major candidates. Exit polls show that de Blasio won almost exactly 40 percent among white, black, and Hispanic New Yorkers, while winning 40 percent overall. John Liu won a plurality among Asian New Yorkers, according to other data, but even there de Blasio appears to have finished a respectable second to a groundbreaking candidate for that community. Additionally, de Blasio also won just around 40 percent among men and women, across all age groups, levels of education, and among the three major religious groupings (Jews, Catholics and Protestants). Astounding.

We can contrast what de Blasio accomplished in winning the race while getting virtually the same percentage among white, black, and Hispanic New Yorkers to the results of the 2008 presidential primary. In 2008 Hillary Clinton did better among white and Hispanic voters than she did overall, and Barack Obama won the black vote by a very wide margin in an overall close race. In terms of who voted for whom, race mattered.

As for what de Blasio did, political analysts were stunned, having never imagined that a winning candidate could garner virtually equal support among the city's three dominant ethnic/racial groups. Here's what Edison Research Executive Vice President Joe Lenski had to say:

"I don't know if I could ever remember a race where a black guy is (close to) losing the black vote, the woman is losing the woman vote, the Jewish guy is losing the Jewish vote. It's quite impressive.... de Blasio did a good job of saying, 'I'm one of you even though I'm not personally one of you.' He was able to say, 'my wife is African-American, my kids are multiracial."

Below is the ad that most observers agree propelled de Blasio from the back of the pack to the top of the heap. In it, voters saw the people the candidate loves, the people around whom he has chosen to build his life.

Then there's the other tale of New York and race I mentioned at the outset. That one centers around a vicious hate crime, the murder of Jeffrey Babbitt, a white man, by a black man named Martin Redrick. On Sept. 6, Redrick, who has a history both of violence and of mental illness (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in a psychiatric institution), was walking through Manhattan's Union Square when he suddenly yelled out that he was going to "punch the first white man I see." Martin then did just that, hitting the 62-year-old Babbitt in the face. After being hospitalized for a few days, Babbitt died.

Certainly, all of us here condemn this heinous act, as well as hate crimes of every kind. Without question, Martin Redrick killed Jeffrey Babbitt because of his race, the definition of a racist hate crime. (Side note: Trying to argue that only white people can be racists is as counterproductive an effort as I can imagine. In the real world, racism is defined as race-based hatred or prejudice of any kind. Any definition of racism under which Redrick's murder of Jeffrey Babbitt doesn't qualify as racism is nonsense. Spending time trying convince people, in particular potential allies, that they must adopt a new definition of the word racism -- as opposed to, say, trying to convince them that structural racism against dark-skinned people remains all too prevalent and must be fought by all right-thinking people -- strikes me as a particularly poor use of the energy of anti-racists).

But the tale about this horrific tragedy that the right is telling is one that seeks to exploit Jeffrey Babbitt's murder by connecting it to a twisted, distorted vision of New York City as well as of liberalism more broadly. This right-wing distortion evokes the great boogeyman of a racial order turned upside down.

One element of the story emphasizes supposed liberal hypocrisy. See, we liberals only care about people like Trayvon Martin, but not people like Jeffrey Babbitt. We saw similar complaints, including those from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, about the media coverage of the murder of Australian Christopher Lane, complaints that ignore the obvious differences between a random thrill killing and the killing of Trayvon Martin, namely that the killers of Mr. Lane will almost certainly be spending the next few decades in prison or face the death penalty while Mr. Martin's killer walks free.

On Fox News' "The Five" we had Greg Gutfeld who, after rightly condemning Jeffrey Babbitt's murder, oh so solemnly lamented that the liberal media didn't care:

This might be the first time you've heard about this story, maybe because it's a local story, but what's a local story in the internet age? That's a BS dodge, ignored when there's a story the press wants to tell. Jeffrey's should be a national story, but his death is not fashionable. His face will never be seen on a shirt worn by a big star... Despite progress we live in unforgiving chaos. The least we can do is condemn such acts, as well as the pathetic media concerned with evil only that fits their narrative.

Of course, what Gutfeld didn't tell you was that the national media did cover Jeffrey Babbitt's murder. Here's the article from the Washington Post. Here's the article from United Press International. In fact, the Associated Press's story appeared in newspapers from Amarillo, Texas to Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with that noted right-wing media source Salon.com.

In an even better example of right-wing carelessness (you don't think they'd lie to their audience, do you?), on Sept. 7 the right-wing site Newsbusters accused the New York Times of having ignored the story of Mr. Babbitt, and repeated the charge on September 8. Newsbusters characterizes itself as "the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias."

Turns out that, er, eh, oops. The "documenters" over at Newsbusters were themselves "exposed," having to append an update to their Sept. 8 post acknowledging that the Times had in fact covered the story, but then took a dig anyway at the Grey Lady, noting that their article on the crime "was a total of 152 words buried on page 21. I guess that's the importance the Times gives to black on white hate crimes." So, yeah, the liberal rag wrote about it, but it wasn't on the front page so that shows they don't care about white people. On the other hand, the Times has run two more articles since that initial one, one about the friends and family mourning Mr. Babbitt, and the other on the assailant's troubled history. But let's not allow facts to get in the way of a good story about liberal hypocrisy.

But back to Fox's "The Five." A discussion ensued about the incident after Gutfeld's commentary. The resident Democrat, Bob Beckel, spoke sincerely about what a terrible, hateful crime Mr. Babbitt's murder was, as he should have done. Then another right-winger, Andrea Tantaros, joined in. She brought up a different hate crime that occurred last Monday, a few days after the murderous attack on Mr. Babbitt. A black man riding a city bus is reported to have -- without provocation -- called a white rider a "cracker," then proceeded to pummel him, resulting in a broken nose and broken eye socket for the victim. This attack also received extensive coverage in the local media, as did the murder of Mr. Babbitt.

But then Tantaros offered the following attempt to connect these two horrific, evil, hateful acts by individual black people into something far more sinister. She evoked the old conservative tale that goes back centuries, of a world turned wrong-side up, a world where dark-skinned people -- allied with and aided by foolish race-traitor whites like those who stood up against the stop-and-frisk policy as practiced in New York until recently -- dominate society and impose their violent rule on the rest of the good citizens. Here's Tantaros's concluding remarks about the hate crime on the bus:

An officer said this: A few months ago you wouldn't have a problem stopping somebody, but now we can't do that because of stop-and-frisk prohibits (sic), and now we're going to have to second-guess yourself. This from a cop.

To square the circle, the Bill de Blasio ad above highlights his staunch opposition to stop-and-frisk, an opposition that became central to his candidacy as a strong progressive who could appeal to black and Hispanic voters.

In other words, the right-wing tale of New York on race is little more than a coded appeal to scare white people about dark people as well as liberals like Bill de Blasio. With their opposition to stop-and-frisk and their lack of concern about white victims of hate crimes, these kinds of New Yorkers supposedly want to take the city -- and, by extension, the country -- further in the direction we are already heading, defined by the aforementioned Greg Gutfeld as "unforgiving chaos."

Gutfeld also referred to Trayvon Martin when he talked about having his face on a shirt worn by stars. And other right-wingers (falsely) complained about President Obama not speaking out about Christopher Lane's murder, given the President's well-known comments about Trayvon Martin. The de Blasios and the Obamas of the world are, in this right-wing tale, the enemies of safety, of white people, and of racial harmony itself. This is their tale of New York on race.

Their tale, however, is a false one. The real one out of New York this week is the Democratic primary, a tale populated by hundreds of thousands of voters as opposed to two separate violent men motivated by racial hatred. We just had an election campaign where, as far as what's been reported, none of the candidates said or did anything to provoke racial division, and where a winning candidate proved equally able to gain support from whites and non-whites, from Jews, Catholics and Protestants, from men and women, and from people with all levels of education. That candidate spoke of a Tale of Two Cities, a city divided between the haves and the have-nots, but did so explicitly because he wants to heal that divide by increasing opportunity for those who lack it. I hope and I believe that he will be able to do so.

In this case, there is a tale of fear drawn from a dangerous cocktail of hate and paranoia, based on a fantasy. The other is a tale of hope that is not only the more inspiring one, it is also the one that represents reality.