I went into a meeting so angry over Charles Blow’s recent column in the New York Times that one of my colleagues actually recoiled when she saw me. I had to apologize and explain that I had just read an article on race that upset me. She recoiled for the second time.
That is the problem with discussions on race. People are afraid to talk about it. That has to stop.
This blog is dedicated to being fearless in the search of moderate solutions. It has not shied away from discussing the canard that one cannot make Nazi comparisons – instead it has argued it is the duty of all of us whose families the Nazis butchered to speak out when Nazi tactics and theories raise their ugly head.
This blog will not shy away from race either. And if being called a racist is the cost, so be it. I grew up in the South in the 1960s and I saw racism often in its most pernicious post-Jim Crow expressions. Paul Ryan may have never held a real job outside government and is wholly unqualified for executive office, but he is not a racist.
Here is what Blow quotes Ryan as saying and one of the attacks on Ryan:
“In a radio interview with Bill Bennett, Ryan said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
Reactions to the comment were swift and brutal.
Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said in a statement, “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’ ”
Here is my question: If “inner city” and “culture” are racial epithets directed at African Americans, what words are acceptable for discussing poverty in cities? What term can Mr. Ryan use to have a discussion on these topics? And the answer is none.
Mr. Ryan is simply precluded from talking about this topic unless he wants to raise taxes to fund programs that those that are allowed to discuss the topic view as the solution to poverty in cities. It is the inescapable conclusion of the last few days.
Much of Blow’s critique and even more virulent attacks uses a razzle dazzle move to side step the issue. First, he displays graphs that supposedly show that rural, suburban, and urban areas all have the same basic poverty problem. Except for the graphs show just the opposite – rural poverty is dropping and lower. Poverty is a complex topic with many layers, but you do occasionally have to look at the data you yourself publish in your piece.
Then Blow goes on to say what Ryan said was “horrific” and implies he was calling black men lazy. I cannot find any evidence that Ryan called anyone lazy. No evidence, because what he is saying is that the anti-poverty programs or lack of effective ones in urban America are contributing to high urban poverty. Ryan believes the traditional Republican position that these programs breed dependency and have failed on the merits.
If you disagree, make your case.
But to avoid a merit based respectful discussion, Blow hits hard on Ryan for reading and admiring Charles Murray. Murray is the conservative social scientist at Harvard famous for the Bell Curve in the 1990s. A book I read and found incredibly boring without any meaningful action plan for reducing poverty.
But it is not racist to discuss data on IQ, genetics, and environmental factors. It is just not useful in helping individuals rise from poverty. Why? Because to actually help someone, you have to delve into their individual situation not lump them into a population segment and begin making grand assumptions.
So for example, implying everyone who says “inner city” or “culture” is a racist in a racist party.