Richard Cohen vs. Reality

[Content Note: Racism.]

Under the truly amazing headline "Racism vs. Reality," which implies right from the outset that the two are mutually exclusive, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen (who may not have chosen the headline, in which case the responsibility for this fetid mess is simply broader), writes one of the most heinous pieces of racism apologia I've read in a mainstream paper in years. It opens thus:
I don't like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don't know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I'm tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist. The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.
Wearing a uniform we all recognize. Richard Cohen, I am a 39-year-old white woman married to a 37-year-old white man, and between us we own at least five hoodies. No one—no one—looks at either one of us wearing a hoodie and imagines that we are wearing "a uniform" of "urban crime." The only reason anyone would look at Trayvon Martin and call a hoodie "a uniform" is because he was a black kid. That is the reality of racism.
Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males?
Naturally, Cohen is not looking for a politician to acknowledge this fear because it is detrimental to the lives of young black men, like Trayvon Martin who is dead as a result of this very fear-driven hatred. Instead, Cohen is looking for a politician who has the courage, ahem, to acknowledge this fear on behalf of terrified white bigots who are desperately oppressed by people thinking they're racist just because they happen to regard young black men as a violent monolith.

Indeed, where are all the powerful white people with the will to be HEROES by publicly talking about how dangerous young black men are so Richard Cohen and his precious, trembling white cohorts can feel better about their rank bigotry?

No one understands how terrible it is to be so demonized, whines Richard Cohen, as he begs for more white people to publicly demonize black youth.
This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.
And if there's one thing we know about the New York City Police Department, it's that it isn't compromised by institutional racism. So we can definitely take their suspect stats as sure-fire evidence of how disproportionately violent black men are. Ahem.

Cohen makes not even a cursory attempt to give context to crime statistics: Not demonstrable police bias, not victim statistics (a gang member's life is not worth less, but a gangland shooting is a critical contextual difference elided by white elites publicly wringing their hands about the alleged violent nature of young black men), not the link between poverty and crime, not the myriad potential effects of lifelong dehumanization on one's emotional health, not existent racist frames about violent black men, nothing. Nothing.

And then this:
Crime where it intersects with race is given the silent treatment. Everything else is discussed — and if it isn't, there's a Dr. Phil or an Oprah saying that it should be. Crime, though, is different. It is, like sex in the Victorian era (or the 1950s), an unmentionable but unmistakable part of life. We all know about it and take appropriate precaution but keep our mouths shut.
What in the everloving fuck is he even saying?

1. White people—especially older white male liberals!—talk behind closed doors ("whites only") about "crime where it intersects with race" (which is a nice way of saying "I am scared of young black men in hoodies because I believe they are all violent") ALL THE TIME. I have heard these conversations on dozens of occasions in my life, had in my presence by people who presume that I will agree, and they sound exactly the same whether it's white conservatives who are naked racists proudly braying their prejudice or white liberals who are closet racists conspiratorially whispering what they frame as "the reality" about which they're "not allowed" to speak publicly.

2. Unapologetic racists talk about "crime where it intersects with race" ALL THE TIME. Go to a gun show, Richard Cohen, and see if you can find anyone there talking about "crime where it intersects with race."

3. Black community leaders, and black community members, talk about "crime where it intersects with race" ALL THE TIME. Cohen's pretty obviously not in the habit of listening to black people, or crediting them with being experts on their own lived experiences, so I suppose this is not of much interest to him. But it is white privilege as thick as custard to assert that this is a subject "given the silent treatment," full-stop.

4. People who are trying to dismantle institutional bias talk about "crime where it intersects with race" ALL THE TIME. There are countless black writers and/or activists who advocate against the racist tropes around black criminality. There are not-black anti-racism allies who advocate against them. There are poverty advocates, educational advocates, nutritional advocates, healthcare advocates, employment advocates, welfare reform advocates, prison reform advocates, immigration advocates who talk about the intersection of crime and race, even if only to point out that institutional neglect begets higher rates of (not white collar) criminality, and communities of color are disproportionately affected by institutional neglect. Of course, none of them/us are having the kind of conversation that Richard Cohen wants to have. The one where "reality" and "racism" are mutually exclusive.

Richard Cohen isn't interested in reality. He's interested in maintaining his white privilege, which entitles him to call "reality" the corrupted information he's filtered through his Validity Prism.

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