Friday, February 22, 2008
'In America,' Sudhir Venkatesh said to me, 'you can never underestimate race as a governing principle for creating division and framing how we make sense of the world.' Many years ago, one of the first things I noticed about America was racial division. I also noticed a good deal of casual racism among whites. I remember a perfectly respectable, educated white woman say the sight of a black man with a white woman made her shudder. The fact that I noticed this indicates that it contrasted with my experience in Britain. I thought there was one thing of which I could be sure - America would never have a black president in my lifetime. We had - have - our problems, but America's have always seemed to be worse. Things have changed - that woman could not now make that remark in polite society - but Venkatesh's comment made me wonder how much. I remember the fuss about Murray and Herrnstein's book The Bell Curve which made much of the poor performance of blacks in IQ tests and I remember perfectly decent, non-racist Americans shrugging their shoulders and saying, well, yes, sadly it's true. In fact, the whole argument suffered from a fundamental conceptual flaw on which I have posted before. This made me wonder if those perfectly decent people wanted to believe. And, anyway, irrespective of the arguments, it's just plain wicked to start labelling people and restricting their lives just because of some dumb statistics. It's equally wicked to turn race into a cheap political scam - a favourite trick of our own Ken Livingstone and many other unregenerate lefties - but these are two sides of the same racist coin. All of which is inspired by the thought that Barack Obama may be assassinated. This has been discussed and the hate sites - for example, here, here and here - are certainly enraged by his success. America probably has no more murderous nutters per thousand of population than we do, but she also has a much more intense awareness of race, the ludicrously easy availability of guns and a lively tradition of political assassination. And if he were killed, what then? I don't know, I just wonder.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:30 am