What An Honest Conversation About Race Would Look Like

by Sheldon Richman
What An Honest Conversation About Race Would Look Like

Ever since George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin hit the national headlines last year, calls for an “honest conversation about race” have been heard throughout America. (Up until then, apparently, we’ve had only conversations about having a conversation about race.) However, one need not believe that the Zimmerman shooting and verdict were about race — I watched the trial and I don’t — to think that an honest conversation about race is indeed long overdue.

First on the agenda should be the many ways that government policies — either by intent or by palpable effect — embody racism. Let’s call them vehicles for official racism. I have in mind things like the war on certain drug manufacturers, merchants, and consumers; the crusade against “illegal” guns; the minimum wage and related laws; and the government’s schools. All of these by far take their greatest toll on people of color.

Private racism, whether violent or nonviolent, is evil and abhorrent; it is also unlibertarian — yes, even nonviolent racism is unlibertarian, as I point out in “Libertarianism = Anti-Racism.” There I wrote,

What could be a libertarian reason to oppose nonviolent racism? Charles Johnson spelled it out in The Freeman. Libertarianism is a commitment to the nonaggression principle. That principle rests on some justification. Thus it is conceivable that a principle of nonviolent action, such as racism, though not involving the initiation of force and contradicting libertarianism per se, could nevertheless contradict the justification for one’s libertarianism.

For example, a libertarian who holds his or her philosophy out of a conviction that all men and women are (or should be) equal in authority and thus none may subordinate another against his or her will (the most common justification) — that libertarian would naturally object to even nonviolent forms of subordination. Racism is just such a form (though not the only one), since existentially it entails at least an obligatory humiliating deference by members of one racial group to members of the dominant racial group. (The obligatory deference need not always be enforced by physical coercion.)

Seeing fellow human beings locked into a servile role — even if that role is not explicitly maintained by force — properly, reflexively summons in libertarians an urge to object. (I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken said when asked what he thought of slavery: “I don’t like slavery because I don’t like slaves.”)

Another, related, libertarian reason to oppose nonviolent racism is that it all too easily metamorphoses from subtle intimidation into outright violence. Even in a culture where racial “places” have long been established by custom and require no coercive enforcement, members of a rising generation will sooner or later defiantly reject their assigned place and demand equality of authority. What happens then? It takes little imagination to envision members of the dominant race — even if they have professed a “thin” libertarianism to that point — turning to physical force to protect their “way of life.”

It should go without saying that a libertarian protest of nonviolent racist conduct must not itself be violent.

But as bad as private racism is, official racism is worse, since it is committed under color of law and leaves its victims all the more vulnerable.

No one with open eyes can possibly believe that a black or Hispanic male walking down the street at night — or even during the day — faces the same hazards presented by the police that a white person does. The criminal justice [!] system — from the police to the courts to the prison complex — is far more entangled in the lives of men of color than of white men. Blacks and Hispanics are stopped disproportionately under New York City’s abominable stop-and-frisk policy. (See David D’Amato’s article in the forthcoming August issue of Future ofFreedom.)What are the cops looking for? Drugs and guns. Police can stop virtually anyone because the official standard for suspicion is low and subjective — and that gives racist cops plenty of scope to harass (and worse) people they dislike. It’s a vehicle for official racism.

The drug laws were originally inspired by racial and ethnic animus against blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese. (See Thomas Szasz’s books Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers and Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market.) Since drug prohibition is a crime by the standard of natural law and justice, and since it was motivated by racism and is racist in effect, those who passed and those who now enforce those laws are arguably guilty of hate crimes.

Prohibition — and the violent black markets and gang culture it spawns — makes the inner cities barely livable, while chasing legal businesses and jobs away. (Other government regulations contribute to this devastating result.) The cost to young people in terms of their futures is incalculable.

What about the war against “illegal” guns? It’s much the same story. As gun historian Clayton E. Cramer writes,

The historical record provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws — and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control was openly stated as a method for keeping blacks and Hispanics “in their place,” and to quiet the racial fears of whites.…

It is not surprising that the first North American English colonies, then the states of the new republic, remained in dread fear of armed blacks, for slave revolts against slave owners often degenerated into less selective forms of racial warfare. The perception that free blacks were sympathetic to the plight of their enslaved brothers, and the dangerous example that “a Negro could be free” also caused the slave states to pass laws designed to disarm all blacks, both slave and free. Unlike the gun control laws passed after the Civil War, these antebellum statutes were for blacks alone.

While the drug and gun laws today may not be racial in intent (though they may be), they are such in consequence. Again, they are vehicles for official racism. Whose neighborhood has more to fear from a local militarized police SWAT raid?

The government’s schools for decades consigned black children to ramshackle custodial institutions misleadingly called “schools,” where the kids’ future choices were systematically narrowed to a demeaning few. With white-controlled elitist school boards depriving minority communities of resources (through taxation), it took heroic family and neighborhood action to help kids to overcome these official barriers. Things are little different today. Even though a great deal more tax money is spent on inner-city schools now than previously, the results are not much better.

These handicaps on minority children are reinforced by the minimum wage and related laws, such as the Davis-Bacon Act. By pricing low-skilled, poorly educated workers out of the market, these laws make getting a first job especially hard if not impossible. For many unfortunate victims of the law, their lives are stifled in ways that cannot be reversed without herculean effort.

Tragic coincidence? No. The laws were racially motivated — intended as barriers against black workers aspiring to compete with exclusionist white unions. (See “Eugenics: Progressivism’s Ultimate Social Engineering” by Art Carden and Steven Horwitz.)

And to this list of offensive interventions let us add immigration controls, zoning laws, occupational licensing, and restrictions on street vendors and taxi drivers, all of which impose their heaviest burdens on people of color, who are thwarted at every turn, as my account here indicates. Most tragically, all these government inventions, which serve to create dysfunctional communities, feed the private racists’ poisonous narrative.

This hardly exhausts the discussion of official racism. So, yes, let’s have that honest conversation about race. And let’s begin with the biggest enabler of racism of all: the state.

14 responses to “What An Honest Conversation About Race Would Look Like

  1. Nick diPerna

  2. Hugo Miller

    1) The term ‘racist’ is never defined. I have no idea what it means. It is used merely as a term of abuse.
    2) I don’t see how one can have an intelligent discussion about ‘race’ while referring to Negroes as ‘men of color’.

  3. Define your terms. What do you mean by “race?” I’ve oft heard “race has no biological reality” and yet at the same time white people are racists.

  4. It is not even clear what the Politically Correct [PC] author, Sheldon Richman, here posing as a liberal, even means by bigotry. PCers tend to mean only those who reject PC but most people see PC itself also as very bigoted. In the sense of being unwilling to reason about the basic crass dogmas they are pushing, I would say that is right. Anti-racism and anti-sexism is very dogmatic and thought-hating.

    However, if I take a look at what my Chambers Dictionary says , I discover it has bigot as . “One blindly and obstinately devoted to a particular creed or party”. Well, that looks like unrealistic hyperbole to me in any case for who can truly be so blind? It is clear exaggeration to an unrealistic extent.

    Nor does the word relate well to ordinary social discrimination, of accepting or rejecting people that we meet, some aspects of which PC wants to outlaw, indeed does outlaw, or call, in an arbitrary way, immoral. Sheldon Richman says many liberals fear being labelled racists by the PCers. If so, then more fool them or do they fear the state tyranny that PC has established? The moral blackmail, apologies for the pun, is not the least part of current PC tyranny. The PC quasi-witch hunts need to stop.

    Sheldon Richman says in his earlier article, that he cites as background here, that he knows no liberal who wishes to extend what Voltaire’s statement about free speech to life style but I do not know one who would not, as long as they respect the liberty of others. We all know that is the liberal position.

    He asks should a liberal even care about the PC sin of racism, as long as the discrimination is peaceful. Is this PC sin anti-liberal in some way? Sheldon Richman realises that many liberals say no, but he feels they err there. He feels that liberals have a duty to oppose the PC sin of racism, even if it is civil or non-violent or to even take non-political steps to stop it.

    Liberalism is a non aggression principle, says Sheldon Richman but it is much more than that in fact. That is just Rothbard & his friends being inept as summing liberalism up. To steal is no particularly aggressive but it is clearly illiberal, for example.

    Sheldon Richman imagines there is something called justification. He may also imagine there is a God too. He certainly imagines that liberalism is totalitarian PC. He also imagines that PC is not immoral but I think it is. Thus he is in this article.

    Sheldon Richman seems to like the ideal of equality. It is the PC ideal, of course. I have met a number of PCers who do not realise that, as well as a few anti-PCers who do not too.

    The liberal ideal is just the Kantian one of treating all persons as ends; to be respected as such. It does not hold the quite impractical ideal of all holding exactly equal authority. Authority in any fluid society is bound to be anarchic. At work it may be one way but at the social club in the evening the reverse. The one in charge at work may well be rejected as an officer in the club.

    As Dr Johnson said, society requires some subordination. Mises rightly held that the division of labour required some inequality.

    Sheldon Richman writes as if flouting PC requires some form of apartheid or segregation. But it need not. Anyway, his talk of the next generation rising up seems inept, as does fighting to maintain a way of life. In all this he overlooks that social discrimination, even that based on race or sex, is a personal matter rather than relating to any social structure. To treat a person as a person we bring in sex and race. To treat all people the same is not to treat people as ends at all. Nor is it one iota practical. We are all individuals.

    There I end my criticism of the earlier article.

    Sheldon Richman says the recent letting off of George Zimmerman in his fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin calls for an honest discussion about race. But he watched the trial and he felt it was not about race at all. However, he feels that government policies do embody racism, the PC sin. The war on drugs does, he says, as does the law on guns.

    He holds his PC outlook that racism is evil. My own outlook is the PC is evil.

    He then refers to the article I have criticised above. That imagines a phenomenon called justification. The sceptics were right to say, 2500 years back, that there never was any such thing. This is because all valid arguments amount to only an assumption, as does all true observations. So we can never justify anything. Philosophers hate this fact, so, for the last 2500 years, they have been trying to refute the sceptics [who got things wrong in other respects e.g. they unrealistically recommended a suspension of belief as we had no justification, but no one can do that any more that they can stop the circulation of their blood at choice] and the philosophers may well still be doing so in 2500 years time too. I do not regard this mere explanation as anything like a justification, of course.

    Sheldon Richman seems to go on as the ordinary PCer he seems to be in citing the police search mainly the blacks or the Hispanics, but he does not ask why, which was a question not asked in the few reports of the case of the shooting of Tayvon Martin, whom seemed innocent on the face of it. I did not hear the trial, nor did I look into it closely. Why did the plea of George Zimmerman work? Again, the first glance reply seems to be that such a fear that he pleaded to having seemed reasonable given the number of blacks that do so often threaten life.

    I was myself searched nearly every night by the police in Birmingham, UK, by the police back in the 1960s. I am not black so that was not the reason. I was then young. I was also in my working clothes. The young often are up to no good, especially when not dressed smartly. The police were just doing their job. This does not mean I like state monopoly police. It merely means it was their job.

    The hate crimes are as silly as the laws against drugs from a liberal point of view. But the PCer Sheldon Richman does not seem to realise that.

    Anyway, if he is right that repealing all those illiberal laws will be a boon to the groups he seeks to privilege by PC laws against racism, then I am still with him on the need to repeal the minimum wage laws and all the other non PC laws that he cites, but I am also for repealing the hate crime laws and the laws against discrimination on race and sex too. He is not with me there, is he? He prefers black or female privilege.

  5. I think most white and black people have an innate form of racism as in preference to their own *kind*. That does not mean that they act out violently against each other – they do but it is turf war and power control that instigate such violence; which can also be between white on white and black on black gangs. Even the Chinese are racist in relation to black people if one considers they have preference against them, in relation to preference for white people. This has been noted in studies.

    The State tries to accommodate the bias of a majority against a minority by making it illegal to refuse association in public applications or services from the white to the black. The same as they do in relation to gender or sexual orientation.

    Free market application is ideal but not under the auspices of State control – as is now. If people were allowed to provide and market without hinderance there would be both natural segregation – through preference of association – and natural integration as well. At the moment the State promotes – unwittingly maybe – racism buy failing to protect both sides in the racial issue. it tends to favour one over the other.

    Institutional racism comes about via State interference. The State pretends that racism would not exist if it outlawed it. As I have already stated that most white and black people have an innate form of racism as in preference to their own *kind* there is no way an anti-racist law can prevent racism. It can have the opposite effect as one side crys racist and the other side is stymied when real action is needed.

    Also facts are interesting as if it is so that one type of person and their colour are predominantly involved in crime it makes sense to target such people. However it is not just race that has this *problem*. Class too has a double standard applied to it. Drugs for instance. Criminal if you are working class black or white. Acceptable if you are rich and white, acceptable but less so if you are rich and black. Though the drug taking is seen as [and is] illegal, more money and effort is put into preventing working class black and white drug users than upper class people and areas drug use.

    So far I have only covered black and white phenotypes. There are other races out there, of course, but it tends to be when there is absolute difference – black and white [or Islamic and Christian] that racism is seen and is accommodated – Jim Crow Laws – or impeded by anti-racist action laws.

    I have no easy solution. Is there a real problem or does the media hype feed on a few issues? Is everyday living so difficult for everyone that police intervention is required? Or is it a few that cause the problems over and over again?

    I hope this stimulates discussion.

  6. Racism is clearly defined. It means the expression of class power by a hegemonic racial group over other racial groups. Many people have other personal definitions; for instance that it means bigotry between racial groups, or a preference for one’s own. It does not mean those things.

    Whites (European and European descended populations) are defined as the hegemonic racial group. All members of the White racial group benefit from its hegemonic class power, and are thus always racist in their dealings with other racial groups. A White is racist even if he actively avoids prejudice and privilege. His racism is intrinsic to his race, due to that race’s hegemonic power.

    This is what the word racism means.

  7. Not a lot of people know that– obviously or non-leftist scum would stop using the word.

  8. The implication of most of the coverage (although not of Mr Richman’s article) is that Mr Zimmerman was white (not true – he is hispanic and has brown skin), or that he is biased against black people (also not true – even the FBI, which launched a big investigation into Mr Zimmerman, came up with no evidence of racism in his past – indeed a lot of evidence that Mr Zimmerman was strongly opposed to racism).

    The effort to make the case about race (started by paid employers of the “Justice” Department working hand in hand with the “mainstream” media – for example the effort to FRAME Mr Zimmerman by NBC news as part of a Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice ) should not be aided (even unwittingly aided) by libertarians. This case is not about race.

    By the way I write under my own name and if the lawyers of NBC object to my charge that NBC news tried to FRAME Mr Zimmerman (as part of what would be called in Britain a “Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice”) I will happily give them my address.

    As for “racism” in government policy.

    Black Police Chiefs and black Mayors often use the same policies as white ones – for under “liberal” police chiefs and mayors (black or white) violent crime explodes.

    I would rather be a black man in “racist” New York City than in “non racist” Chicago (where the City government and police appear to be uninterested in fighting violent crime – and the chances of being murdered are vastly higher) or in the “non racist” New York City of the 1970s and 1980s (when violent crime was out of control).

    At the Federal level it seems hard to believe that E. Holder (the one time supporter of Malcolm X and now head of the “Justice” Department) and Barack Obama are engaged in a racist conspiracy against black people.

    However, such government policies as the prohibition of drugs and guns may indeed have racialist effects.

    Although such policies would still be mistaken (radically mistaken) even in a mono racial environment.

  9. Julie near Chicago

    Actually, Mr. Zimmerman is himself part-Negro, on his Peruvian mother’s side. Insofar as “Hispanic” means, specifically, Spanish, Hispanics are Caucasians–“whites”–like other descendants of Europeans. Here is the first paragraph of WikiFootia’s article on “Hispanic”:

    Hispanic (Spanish: hispano, hispánico; Portuguese: hispânico, hispano, Catalan: hispà, hispànic)[1][2] is an ethnonym that denotes a relationship to Spain or, in some definitions, to ancient Hispania, which comprised the Iberian Peninsula including the modern states of Andorra, Portugal, and Spain and the British Crown Dependency of Gibraltar.[3][4][5] Today, organizations in the United States use the term as a broad catch all to refer to persons with a historical and cultural relationship either with Spain and Portugal or only with Spain, regardless of race.[6][7] However, in the eyes of the US Census Bureau, Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity, or any country of origin.[8]

    The hypocrisy and bland mis-reportage on Mr. Zimmerman AND the “race,” or even the ethnicity, of his forbears boggles the mind. This is first-grade stuff. *SNARL*

  10. Julie – agreed.]

    David also makes many good points.

  11. Ian B says; “Racism is clearly defined. It means the expression of class power by a hegemonic racial group over other racial groups. Many people have other personal definitions; for instance that it means bigotry between racial groups, or a preference for one’s own. It does not mean those things.”
    Really? Who says so? I know what racial prejudice is; I know what racial discrimination is, and I know the difference between the two. I know what a White Supremacist is. But I really don’t know what a racist is. Is it the same as a racialist? Personally, I don’t care for the Spanish or the Italians. What does that make me?
    Incidentally, Paul Marks, I believe Mr Zimmerman has filed a lawsuit against NBC. That should be interesting!

  12. Hugo – Ian was being sarcastic (he was citing the, absurd, definition of racism used by the academic Marxists – such as Comrade Barack Obama and his friends).

    Yes Mr Z. has indeed launched a civil suit.

    He will need the money – the “Justice” Department is after him.

    I do not have the dislike of all things American that Ian has – but I profoundly wish the United Kingdom had not copied such failed (and nasty sounding) concepts as a “Supreme Court” (power without responsibility) and a Ministry-Of-Justice (very Frederick the Great).

    For a long time now the British (including the English) seem to have developed a contempt for British institutions – and have developed a desire to copy the institutions of others (perhaps it goes back as far as the 1830s – with such things as the local government Act of 1835 which the Duke of Wellington may have been right to oppose.- harmless dining clubs, the Closed Corporations, replaced by eager busybodies filled with a desire to “improve” things at the expense of the public, Manchester is the classic example, the new council was supposed to save money but it ended up costing more and more – and taking over water supply, gas production and on and on….).

    This contempt for local traditions and practices and the assumption that what looks more “modern” must be better – is not a good thing.

    Nor is it the case that improvement must come from the state – for example Newcastle improved in the 19th century mainly by private and voluntary activity (the Manchester way is not the only way).

  13. Julie near Chicago


    “For a long time now the British (including the English) seem to have developed a contempt for British institutions – and have developed a desire to copy the institutions of others”

    The same could be said of the U.S. In fact I do say the same of the U.S.!

    Actually, perhaps that’s just one of the downsides of human nature. I think of your points about Andorra’s and Switzerland’s adoption of totally uncalled-for and inappropriate welfare-state measures. And at the level of the individual, there’s the remark on YouTube (Penn & Teller with the ban-dihydrogen-monoxide petition) that “perhaps these people are less environmentalists than joiners.”

    We used to, and still do, get an awful lot of persuasive logical argument that goes like this: “Virtually all the industrialized/civilized nations do this. Why aren’t we doing it?”

    I dunno what the common child-rearing practice is today, but we were brought up on this one: “Mom, can I — ?” “No.” “But Mom, all the other kids — ” “If all the other kids jump of the Brooklyn Bridge, does that mean you’re going to too?”

    [We Amurricans have gotten a lot of mileage out of the B.B., I must say!]

  14. Yes Julie – people will sign demands to a ban water (if the language is complex enough – for them not to understand).

    And politicians in Switzerland introduced unemployment “insurance” when there was no unemployment in Switzerland (because the elite academics produced a smoke screen of words – as they did over the end of the link between the Swiss Franc and gold).

    Fashion, intellectual fashion.

    But it is MANIPULATED fashion.

    And it is easy for the elite to do this – after all the politicians (and so on) are not spending THEIR OWN MONEY.

    So they do not really think about what they are doing.

    It is more “that sounds compassionate, and I will seem a beast if I oppose it, so where do I sign……”