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Chapter Twenty-nine: Confronting the Demons
I live in the inner city, a place of political craziness and infantile behavior from a small businessmans point of view. I would like to believe that in the suburbs there are persons of mature judgment who would understand my situation and perhaps offer some sympathy. At the same time, I recognize that people have moved to the suburbs to escape big-city problems. They do not want to be dealing with the big-city mess. So they move on to a place where sensibility and serenity might be possible. An analogous situation would be that of the white-male population in the United States immersed in a political environment that spews forth hatred in their direction. This is a place, for instance, where reparations are demanded of white Americans for injustices perpetrated against black people a century and a half ago. They know in their hearts that those demands are absurd but dare not say so. From this kind of craziness there is no escaping to suburbs except in the sense that one avoids discussions of race or other sensitive topics. Avoidance is again the strategy.
To them, I say: Come back into the big city. It is not such a frightening place, once you have gotten used to the fear mongers and con artists and moral posturers and have taken a few hits. If you think you may be guilty of racism, confront your own demons. Are you anti-Semitic? Are you homophobic? Do some honest thinking and follow it through to a firm conviction. Are you afraid of other people screaming at you? Then scream at them back. Being Minnesota nice will get you nowhere. Watch how quickly those demons disappear if you have the backbone to confront them.
During his second term as President, Bill Clinton staged a national initiative on race which was portrayed as an opportunity for blacks and whites to sit down together to discuss racial issues and perhaps begin to heal a race-torn society. The concept was laudable. Like many others, however, this discussion of race was one-sided. A white man named Robert Hoy, who attended Clintons forum in northern Virginia, stood up to complain: Theres no one up there thats talking about the White people!, he said. We dont want to be a minority in our own country. Jeers and boos greeted that comment from the audience. Soon a security guard appeared to escort Hoy out of the building because he was disrupting the event. Disgusted with the official reaction, several other whites and blacks followed Hoy out the door.
To me, it is interesting that this incident was reported in an African American newspaper. None of the white-controlled newspapers would touch it. None would admit that the Presidents race initiative was anything less than the complete, honest discussion it pretended to be. Black Americans such as Ward Connerly have been outspoken critics of affirmative action. A black minister from Louisiana is traveling around the country to speak out against reparations for slavery. Im sure both men have endured much personal abuse. Despite such examples of honesty and good will from the black community, white Americans are afraid to take a similar position for fear of being called racist. Yet, we call ourselves land of the free, home of the brave.
I remember reading somewhere that the CEO of Home Depot, the nations largest building-supplies store, was an African American man. Buried on page A7 of the Star Tribune on June 17, 2002, there was a short article disclosing that Home Depots headquarters in Atlanta had sent instructions to its 1,400 stores around the country not to accept government credit cards, purchase orders, or even cash, if the items were purchased for the federal government. The reason was that such purchases would subject the company to federal regulations relating to gender and race. Home Depot did not wish to be covered by or responsible in any way for compliance with three federal laws or executive orders that deal with affirmative action or discrimination.
Was this directive initiated by Home Depots African American CEO who, perhaps, in his own crusty way was telling the world that he had not risen to the top of the corporate hierarchy through race-based preferences? Alternatively, had there been a corporate coup in which white racists had removed him as Home Depots chief executive? I did not know. I did find it strange, though, that such a potentially major development in the area of race relations was not reported more prominently in this race-obsessed newspaper. Did the editors not want us to know something? Usually the personal angle makes them want to jump on a story.
The Star Tribune does allow a conservative named Katherine Kersten to publish opinion articles on culturally sensitive subjects which contradict the views of its editorial writers. It was Kersten who produced statistics showing that African Americans were responsible for a disproportionate share of violent crimes. She had spoken the unspeakable in todays politically correct environment. The president of the Minneapolis Urban League followed with a counterpoint article condemning Kerstens disclosure. What does she mean?, he sniffed. Does she mean that I am about to commit a crime and she is not? Does she mean that my beloved 14-year-old daughter has a greater propensity for lawbreaking than her white classmates? Is she implying that African-Americans carry a crime gene that white people do not?
When a Newsweek writer made a point similar to Kerstens, the associate publisher of an African American newspaper wrote: To allow Alter (the Newsweek writer) to get away with writing, The politically incorrect truth is that minorities do in fact commit a disproportionate number of crimes (his emphasis), is blatantly racist, racist, racist. With certain individuals, you have to walk on eggshells not to say the wrong thing.
In recent years, hate crimes laws have been enacted calling for stiffer penalties when violent crimes have been committed with demographically malicious thoughts in mind. While some such as Governor Ventura argue that a racially malicious assault hurts no worse than a mindlessly delivered one, others see hate crimes as assaults against communities, whose ill effect is magnified beyond individuals. The hate crime concept adds the element of thought to violent action. In the guise of criminal justice, it becomes a tool to mold political opinion.
President Clinton was inspired to propose expanding hate-crime laws when a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, was pistol-whipped to death in Wyoming and when white supremacists in Texas dragged James Byrd, Jr., a black man, by a chain beneath a pickup track. Those many lesser publicized murders of whites by blacks or of straights by gays meant little in this context. Official FBI statistics show that in 2001 there were 2,900 hate crimes committed against black people, 1,043 against gays, and only 891 committed against (presumably straight) white people. I recall that in the 1980s when the Minneapolis police first began to record the racial identity of persons committing violent crimes, the Star Tribune let the information slip that more than 70% of the racially recorded crimes were committed by blacks. A retired Minneapolis police officer tells me that the officers are discouraged from reporting hate crimes committed against whites. When that box is checked on the police report, someone forgets to include it on the typed copy.
Racial profiling by police has received much attention. The official version is that all too many officers are racist brutes bent on harassing black people. Police sometimes argue in defense that blacks are involved in a disproportionate number of criminal activities. As a fisherman fishes the hot spots, so police officers target their investigations to communities or groups where crime is more prevalent. I have no doubt that law-abiding blacks are disproportionately stopped and searched or otherwise harassed by police officers, or that some officers do exhibit racial malice. But what about the higher crime rates among blacks? Does it help for black representatives to scream racism when someone even raises the subject? No, it does not.
Those black leaders and sympathetic whites cannot force white individuals to think differently if their experience confirms a general pattern. The politically unacceptable opinion will simply be pushed underground. Like it or not, the disproportionately high black crime rate is a particular problem for the black community and for those who call themselves its leaders. If there is indeed racial solidarity within that community, those black leaders are in a position to do more to combat the black crime problem than white people ever could. To allow black criminals to use the cry of racism as an excuse for their bad behavior encourages more of the same. That political shield weakens the disincentive to committing crimes which is the fear that they will get caught and be punished, having no such excuse.
What of the Urban League presidents suggestion that white people think blacks carry a crime gene? What of some white peoples idea that blacks have a lower level of intelligence than whites, implying that they may not be as advanced on the evolutionary scale? Is this not racism at its core? Are not such attitudes deeply offensive? Of course they are. There can also be little doubt that many whites harbor those views. On other other hand, people will think what they will, regardless of political persuasions. It is, in my view, counterproductive to try to tell people what they should believe.
It may well be that levels of average intelligence as measured by IQ tests differ by race. Yet, even if it could be proven that blacks or another group have lower average intelligence, that finding would not justify race-based treatment of individuals within our society. We live in a society governed by laws, and laws inherently treat people the same. Those blacks of higher-than-average intelligence certainly do not deserve to be treated according to theories of differing group intelligence. Sound public policy requires equal treatment under the law, not a race-based caste system. That is why it is also dangerous when, following different theories, the laws are twisted to favor disadvantaged groups. It helps little to try to make a case that certain groups of people are good or bad, advantaged or disadvantaged, criminal or law-abiding, or any such thing.
Now let me go on to discuss the Jews. Does not a red flag go up when I even mention the word: anti-Semitism alert!! The reader may guess that if I have not followed the standard line in discussing race relations, I may be an equally loose cannon when it comes to questions relating to Jews. Yes, I will be critical of Jewish influencewithin our society where religious issues are raised. It is generally accepted that for a person to say that the Jews control banking, especially international banks or the Federal Reserve System, is anti-Semitic. What about saying that Jews control Hollywood? Is that also anti-Semitic? Is it relevant whether the statement happens to be true; or is the very fact that one says that Jews control some powerful institution an act of anti-Semitism deserving of public condemnation?
My own view is that this becomes a matter of public concern only when Jews in positions of power use that position to favor other Jews or to promote religious or quasi-religious ideologies associated with Jews. The fact that Arthur Burns or Alan Greenspan, chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, were both Jewish arouses no particular concern because there is no indication that these gentlemen pursued policies other than what they believed would be in the common interest. On the other hand, Henry Kissinger, also Jewish, does arouse suspicions when, on his beat, the U.S. government decided to buy peace in the Middle East by devoting the bulk of U.S. foreign aid to Egypt and Israel. I must admit, however, that I do not know the extent to which Kissinger was personally responsible for that decision. The fact that the Israeli lobby in the United States exerts an unusual influence over U.S. foreign policy and that this influence may, in some cases, be detrimental to the broader interests of Americans is a legitimate point of criticism. I think most reasonable people would agree.
Fewer would agree, however, with my point that Jews or the Jewish community can be faulted for promoting religious or quasi-religious ideologies associated with Jews when holding positions of trust in the larger community. Judaism as a religion has a distinct cultural heritage. Most would agree it would be wrong if Jews in power positions tried to force this religion or its particular practices and beliefs upon the population of the United States. To force a quasi-religious ideology upon Americans is another matter. Does such exist? The fact is, however, that many Jews are not religious in a traditional sense. Yet, a quasi-religious culture has developed within the Jewish community in its secularized state. Preoccupation with the Holocaust is one of its main elements.
The Holocaust for many Jews is not simply an historical fact but an object of veneration and belief. The term Holocaust-denier is used in much the same sense that one would use the term heretic for someone who denied a tenet of the Christian or another religious faith. People are not allowed to deny the Holocaust because that would violate a deeply held quasi-religious belief. Those who would deny the Holocaust are evil and not merely deluded. Belief in the Holocaust is a tenet of Judaism in its contemporary, secularized phase.
What are some of the other elements of this Judaic quasi-religious culture? The ideology of the Civil Rights movement in America might be an example. In this ideology, Jews and blacks struggled together to help blacks overcome racial oppression - a generalization which has some basis in historical fact. The moral overtones are, however, what makes it a quasi-religious tradition. In this particular set of stories, Jews are good people who unselfishly help another oppressed group. Black Americans also have a positive role as victors in this struggle. White people, especially in the South, are the villains. The problem with this type of culture is that it demonizes certain peoples - in this case, white-racist southerners.
The quasi-religious ideology of contemporary Judaism has a more general type of villain called an anti-Semite. This is a stock character formed through historical association with the Nazis who is therefore capable of murderous violence. In practice, an anti-Semite can be anyone ranging from someone who uses a derogatory term for Jews to one who criticizes the state of Israel or even an individual Jew on almost any grounds imaginable. It is a malleable label of derision and hate attached to non-Jews in a quasi-religious - i.e. serious and compelling - manner.
Individually, people can be as hateful and narrow as they wish to be. If individual Jews wish to immerse themselves in dark ruminations concerning anti-Semitism, that is their problem, not mine. It does become my problem, however, when this point of view is officially promoted or enforced in the general culture. Religious or, I would argue, quasi-religious ideologies are not supposed to be official doctrine. It is quite improper for government to fund institutions which promote such ideologies or to teach them in the public schools. It is also improper to use the public airwaves to promote quasi-religious values in a systematic way. This utterly violates the traditions and values of a pluralistic free society.
Now, I do not wish to encourage the formation of a new kind of thought police to root out religious influences in our culture. If, statistically, many or most Jews believe certain things - lets say, the doctrines of Freudian psychology or non-Euclidean geometry - that would be of no particular concern. What does concern me is the type of ideology which exalts certain groups of people while vilifying others. That is what I call a religious or quasi-religious ideology. For goodness sake, lets end the demonization of particular groups of people. Jews who practice such demonization while holding a position of public trust should be rebuked. They ought not to push their quasi-religious values upon others. No, the world does not revolve around them or their particular people. We are living in a secularized, pluralistic society where all groups deserve to live in dignity. But do these things indeed happen as I am suggesting?
Lets focus on Hollywood. I was watching Steven Spielbergs television drama, Taken, the other night on the Sci Fi channel. In the middle of a drama about abduction by space aliens, Spielberg or his screen writers popped in a little scene, set in the 1940s, about two well-behaved, well-groomed black men being attacked in a restaurant while they were waiting to be served. It was a scene stereotypical of the segregationist south: the burly white cook spitting into the black mans coffee, another white shooting at the blacks through the window with a rifle as the boy hero saves the intended victims life by pulling him to safety under the table. This gratuitous piece of political-social propaganda seemed to have little to do with the plot.
In a more positive way, I have seen at other times in the movies Jews in traditional religious garb placed conspicuously in a sea of smiling faces to greet a Jimmy Stewart-like hero. To a suspicious mind such as mine, this was a ploy to cultivate sympathy for Jews among the types of people who would identify with Jimmy Stewart. An innocent coincidence? It depends upon how often these religiously infused elements appear in the Hollywood films and whether they serve a thematic purpose. If good and evil characters are evenly distributed among the demographic types, none has reason to complain. But if some birth-determined groups are systematically vilified or exalted in the popular culture, this becomes a matter of public concern.
The historical documentary, Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor, which appeared on the A&E cable channel, was a useful reconsideration of Arnolds reputation as a traitor to our country. What purpose was served, however, by displaying a small but conspicuous gold chain bearing a Star of David around the neck of Arnolds subordinate officer? The officer appeared often in the documentary, always exhibiting this religious emblem. He was presented in the sympathetic role of warning Arnold to be diligent in serving the revolutionary cause while being loyal to him. Arnold, of course, went ahead with the betrayal at the urging of his upper-class WASP wife. Did Benedict Arnold, in fact, have a Jewish associate who tried to keep him on the right path? Was it necessary to label this character visually as a Jew?
One Hollywood Jew who is not afraid to push the envelope in promoting social and political agendas is Aaron Sorkin, creator and writer of NBCs The West Wing. Sorkin has built the President, played by Martin Sheen, into a figure of moral authority whose favorable or unfavorable remarks directed at certain types of individuals may influence public attitudes about groups. On a day when I watched this show, there were both Jewish rabbis and fundamentalist Christians visiting the White House. The rabbis got along well with the President who, in contrast, found some choice words to put down the fundamentalists.
Sorkins shameless advocacy has attracted the attention of media columnists such as Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who wrote: The West Wing comes across as a pretty liberal show in the first episode with Christian Coalition anti-abortionists depicted as anti-Semitic deal makers who send the presidents 12-year-old granddaughter a doll with a knife in its throat because she said in an interview she was pro-choice. It wouldnt surprise me at all that we get letters that the Christian right isnt happy, Sorkin said. On the other hand, I will cop to this being one of those moments where I take a personal passion of mine in life, I get up on a box and I let you all know about it. The point is that most Americans do not have the opportunity to stand on any kind of soapbox, let alone rebut those who, like Sorkin, use it to push personal or group agendas laden with hate over the publicly owned air waves.
Some Jewish organizations, or organizations devoted to combating anti-Semitic or other prejudices, I would characterize as hate groups; they basically demonize people. I refer to organizations purporting to represent Jews and other victimized peoples, which show little interest in becoming reconciled with their demographic adversaries, typically fundamentalist Christians or nonimmigrant white Americans. They prepare what I would consider to be enemy lists - enemies of the Jewish people who, in their eyes, ought to be considered enemies of humanity - consisting of subhuman, brutish types of persons bent on pursuing evil, secretive activities that threaten us all. Insinuations that these groups share common ground with Jew-killing Nazis or white lynch mobs in the South are a staple of their hate-filled message. There is a lurid Hollywoodish flavoring of frightful imagery, evocative of death, surrounding these roach-like anti-Semitic or racist characters. However, I separate individual Jews, who are sometimes critical of such politics and its culture, from the hateful organizations that speak in their name. None of us should be subjected to that kind of intimidation.
According to the World Almanac, there are 5.9 million Jews in North America, of which 3.5 million persons belong to the three principal Jewish religious organizations in the United States. In comparison, 61.2 million Americans belong to the Roman Catholic church; 30.7 million, to Baptist churches; 14.1 million, to Methodist churches, etc. Yet, in an effort to promote a more equitable and diverse religious culture, the minor Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is put on a par with Christmas in official celebrations of the holiday season. Jews and other non-Christians are quite vocal in protesting artifacts of Christian celebration in public places.
During the 2001 Christmas season, some objected to the fact that red poinsettias, believed to be such an artifact, were placed in baskets in the lobby of the St. Paul City Hall. Eventually, a compromise solution was achieved by which white poinsettias, not so closely associated with Christianity, were allowed. Meanwhile, a large representation of a Menorah, an unmistakably Jewish religious symbol, stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol without objection. Seldom have the double standards inherent in political correctness been so clearly on display.
Why do Christians put up with this? They know better than to criticize Jews. Decades of intense propaganda directed from the entertainment industry and other places have convinced the public that to say negative things about Jews, their religion, or cultural influence makes one an anti-Semite, hence a krypto-Nazi. Even such a large and historically important group of Americans as those who profess belief in Christianity can be rendered impotent as a political force if demoralized long enough.
I think, however, that there is an even deeper reason why Christians are reluctant to criticize Jews: Christianity sprang from the Judaic tradition which maintains that there is only One God and the Jews are His Chosen People. Fundamentalist Christians are especially sensitive to those claims. Many have the particular idea that God will bless those who help the Jews. Prophecies concerning the Jewish homeland enter into their understanding of the final days. In essence, these Christians are spooked by the idea of the Jews special place in the divine order. What believer in Christ wants to cross Jehovah and go to Hell? This superstitious sentiment provides ample cover for hyperaggressive, anti-Christian moves by Jewish advocacy groups.
Such attitudes used to affect policies concerning the state of Israel. Jews as a domestic lobbying group have controlled U.S. policy with respect to the Middle East, and that has turned much of the Islamic world against America. It is the genesis of our problems with terrorism. I must say, however, that it is no longer politically forbidden to criticize Israel. Leftist groups do this with some regularity. I must also express some sympathy for the Israeli population which must endure frequent attacks upon innocent civilians from pro-Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists. While security crackdowns are often brutal, no nation can acquiesce in the murder of its own citizens.
The counter argument can also be made that it was the Jews who brought terrorism to this region in the 1940s. Israel today seems unwilling to grant the Palestinian people a separate and secure homeland without violent pressure. Its police actions against Palestinian populations today are worse than what was done against black people in the white-segregationist American South. But rather than demonize anyone, maybe its best now to let go of history and its grievances, forgive ones historical enemies, and try to get on with the work of pursuing ones own happiness and prosperity in a peaceful environment.
He was not originally scheduled to be mentioned in this book but now I want to discuss the demonization of Trent Lott. Senator Lott, as we know, said at a 100th birthday celebration for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond that most Mississippians in 1948 were proud to have voted for Strom Thurmond as the Dixiecrat candidate for President of the United States. He further said, And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldnt have had all these problems over all these years, either. Lott made these impromptu remarks at a lighthearted gathering of Thurmonds colleagues, relatives, and friends. But a fire storm soon erupted because Lotts remarks implied that this man, Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate, still favored policies associated with the white-supremacist South. Furthermore, he had made similar statements at a gathering twenty years ago and his voting record did not favor positions supported by Civil Rights activists. Soon came the demand, supported by President Bush, for Lotts head.
Trent Lott apologized profusely for his remarks. I watched his interview on the Black Entertainment Network on December 16, 2002, which was a humiliating exercise in groveling and evasion of questions intended to allow Lott to keep his job as majority leader. This was obviously a man on the run. What did Lott mean by all these problems over all these years? He wouldnt say. Lotts critics supposed that the Republican Senator meant that giving black Americans full citizenship and equality was a problem; his heart went back to the segregationist South. Lott insisted that it wasnt true. He was for affirmative action, he said. He was a religious man who could admit his own failings. What Lott could not do was stick up for himself and for his own principles. Let me try to do it.
I think that one of the problems that has developed in the years following the Civil Rights movement has been the persistent attempt to curtail free speech. This is an extremely ugly aspect of the political situation today and the Lott incident illustrates it as well as anything. If Trent Lott was in favor of turning back the clock to a time when people were more tolerant of diverse opinions, I would agree. Black people have no right to control what white people think or say. That is not a requirement for living in this society. I would respect the right of Lott or anyone else to yearn for the good old days of the segregationist South and to say so openly if that is his true sentiment. Whether such a person should expect to remain majority leader of the U.S. Senate is another matter. It might have been a good thing, even from the standpoint of African Americans, if Strom Thurmond had been elected President in 1948, though probably not. Thurmond had previously been a racial moderate. Maybe, as Nixon went to China, Thurmond might have moved the South peacefully towards a racially integrated society and had the moral authority to bring whites along with him willingly.
I am not for demonizing white Southerners - and that has been the basic approach of the Civil Rights movement. The idea is to roll over someone elses dead body with court orders and tanks. Blood-stained government action cannot sway the human heart. There is a legacy of racial bitterness in our land. That, too, is one of the problems to which Lott might have referred. Forget Strom Thurmonds candidacy. I would say that we wouldnt have had all these problems if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated in April 1865. Lincoln would have tried to bind up the nations wounds, not force a radical Republican agenda upon the defeated South. Racial healing might well have taken place more quickly under a leader who favored malice toward none and charity toward all.
We seem to forget that some of the worst episodes of violence and hate were spawned in conditions created by the hard-driving policies of victorious forces following wars. If the Allies had not imposed the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty, we might not have had Hitler and the Nazis. If the radical Republicans had not humiliated the post-Civil War South, we might not have had the Ku Klux Klan and a century of racial segregation. We Americans demonstrated the better alternative in our more humane treatment of Germany and Japan following World War II.
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