Shaken From Slumber
A conservative editor's bold decision to see what's in front of him
“One of the chief dividends of racism is the blithe sense of remove that much of America has from that reality,” Jelani Cobb wrote, referring to the Baltimore riots, this week in The New Yorker. For a lot of people, that’s not going to change. It’s comforting for people who never have to face the blunt end of American race and class division to deny the division exists, the better to feign shock when this exact type of violence erupts for the same basic reason, over and over again, seemingly as regularly as the seasons and, lately, mass shootings.
Every once in a while, though, reality penetrates the protective membrane. You may remember the Rhino Times, a Greensboro-based online conservative publication that once published in print, and in Charlotte, as well. Today, John Hammer, the paper’s editor-in-chief, ran his own mea culpa column, and it’s extraordinary—not just because he admits he was wrong about his assumptions, but because he shows he understands how and why he reached them to begin with:
I have felt that I have been discriminated against while living abroad because of my nationality. Not that it compares with overt racism, but I had in some cases overreacted because of what I perceived to be unfair treatment. So in some small way I thought I could understand the mindset. Although I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to grow up being mistreated in your own country because of the color of your skin, I took my personal experience, and realizing that I had often wrongly interpreted what was really happening, I thought that much of what I was hearing about black men being arrested for being black was often a misinterpretation of the situation.
It turns out I was wrong …
It is extremely revealing that the videos of the men being shot and detained—which are appearing with alarming regularity—are all of black men. If it is not racial, where are the iPhone videos of white men being detained for no reason or shot for running away from police after being stopped for a minor traffic violation?
I was wrong.
There evidently is a crime in this country that is not on the books but can only be described as the crime of being a black male …
I don’t know what the solution is, but now I do know that we have a problem.
I’m tempted to Bronx-cheer Hammer for his late awakening. But I won’t. Some folks just flat don’t know—many because they don’t want to, many because their paychecks depend on their pretending not to know, but some who genuinely can’t imagine pain until someone has stomped on their feet (or shown them video of an officer-involved foot-stomping).
So Hammer deserves sincere congratulations. It took humility and courage for him to publicly reassess his prejudices, especially since his readership is likely to get up in his face about it. I don’t know what the solution is, either, but whatever it is, it begins with recognition of the problem.