Compassionate racism

In Sorry, Not Buying, the ever-astute ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere) perceives the forked tongue with which modern-day Republicans utter the “soothing code words of ‘compassionate conservatism’ that have replaced the now-unfashionable racist rhetoric of decades past.”

Not long ago, William Bennett — former education secretary, self-styled moralist, and gambler — philosophized, “If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” A few beats later Bennett reminded himself and his radio audience that such a crime-fighting method might be “morally reprehensible.” For me and other blacks, hearing Bennett uphold his racist “blacks = crime” premise was unbearable, and hearing him discuss black genocide in the language of tactical options was otherworldly — a little like interviewing a slew of baby-sitters and having one announce, unbidden, that he would never think of throwing your infant around like a football. Thanks for the reassurance, but I’ll pass.

His mistake was saying what too many Republicans still believe, Bill Clinton said of Trent Lott’s remarks praising segregationist Strom Thurmond and his 1948 run for the presidency. But the same applies to Bennett. As Clinton’s aperçu suggests, these Freudian slips are failures to work according to script…. Bennett’s gaffe was the latest in a long parade of such comments by Republicans and conservatives since the GOP made its public gambit for racial inclusiveness under George W. Bush.

If you doubt Packer’s contentions for a moment, you’re wrong to, and I wish I could travel back in time to the 70’s or 80’s and introduce you to my father as he was then, when the flag of his sociopathy flew high.

He went a step further than most of his fellow racists, bemoaning not only integration, busing, and affirmative action, but even the end of slavery.

In our last brawls — before I stopped speaking to him — on these issues, his arguments had begun to shift from the blatantly white supremacist ones of my youth to the slippery, faux-equitable language peddled by think tanks like Linda Chavez’s so-called Center for Equal Opportunity. (“As the only think tank devoted exclusively to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony, the Center for Equal Opportunity is uniquely positioned to counter the divisive impact of race conscious public policies,” the website says.)


Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to my free newsletter, Ancestor Trouble.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.