Why National Review Must Fire John Derbyshire


Last week, National Review Editor Rich Lowry wrote a column arguing that the Trayvon Martin case is a distraction, because the real problem facing black Americans is black on black crime. And on Monday, he complained that some people had called him a bigot for writing the column. (Note: I have contributed periodically to National Review and National Review Online.)

Trayvon Martin and the Right’s Race ProblemJosh BarroJosh BarroContributor

I disagree with Lowry’s piece, but I certainly don’t think it’s bigoted. Here, I originally had a few hundred words about why, but that’s not really the core point of this post; I’ve appended my discussion of the Lowry column at the bottom if you’re interested. It suffices to say that Lowry ought to be able to make these points without being called a bigot, even though I think he’s wrong.

But Lowry is running into the problem I discussed last week: he’s probably getting called a bigot because of the company he keeps. Providing a great example, this week National Review writer John Derbyshire published a kind of unbelievably racist piece forTaki’s Magazine, describing “the talk” he gives to his children.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many black parents have discussed the advice they give to their male children about not getting themselves shot in a misunderstanding with a white authority figure. Derbyshire’s talk, on the other hand, is about how to avoid being harmed by a black person. He gives such advice as “If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date,” and “If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.”

Derbyshire also recommends befriending some “intelligent and well-socialized blacks” (IWSBs, for short) so that you can deflect charges of racism by noting that some of your best friends are black. Alas, he adds “the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous.”

So, while Lowry is advising blacks not to worry so much about the systematic profiling of blacks as criminals due to their race, his colleague Derbyshire is writing a piece specifically urging white people to engage in such profiling, among various other racist nonsense.

And this is the problem for Lowry and other conservatives who want to be taken seriously by broad audiences when they write about racial issues. Lowry wrote a column containing advice for black Americans. Why should black Americans take him seriously while he’s employing Derbyshire? If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.


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As for my substantive take on Lowry’s column? It isn’t bigoted, though it does set up a false dichotomy. Why shouldn’t black Americans concern themselves with black-on-black crime and also with the mistreatment of innocent black men by authorities? Indeed, I think if you look closely at the politics of heavily black jurisdictions in America today, voters do care about both of those things.

Trayvon Martin and the Right’s Race ProblemJosh BarroJosh BarroContributor

Lowry’s first example in his column is a young black man shot for no reason in his Detroit home in February. He complains that there is no national outrage over this, but he doesn’t note that the Detroit Police Department under Mayor Dave Bing’s administration has brought in outside experts to import policing best practices from places like New York in an effort to reduce violent crime.

Reducing violent crime is absolutely high on the political agenda in Detroit. It’s just that different problems have different solutions. The problem in Sanford was that the police department wasn’t properly handling the investigation of Martin’s death, and public pressure was a useful tool to bring about intervention from the state and federal governments to improve the case’s handling. Fixing Detroit’s crime problems will require a more bottom-up solution, and the fact that there isn’t a national outcry doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t being taken seriously.

Indeed, while the sharp drop in violent crime over the last two decades has had many causes, it partly reflects the fact that voters and politicians have placed greater emphasis on fighting crime than they used to. In large American cities, that very often means black elected officials and black voters.

Lowry also ends the piece with this:

[George] Zimmerman could be arrested, convicted, and hanged tomorrow, and it will have no effect on the lives of young black people in communities beset by social disorder. Whatever happens to Zimmerman, the drip-drip of spilled blood will continue, all but ignored except in the police blotter. In America, the lives of young black people are cheap, unless they happen to fit the right agenda.

This is missing the point. The broader complaint in the Martin case is that young black men are suspected of crimes for no reason other than their race, leading to unwarranted seizures and arrests and, in some rare cases like this one, tragic deaths. And a further problem is that the non-investigation of Zimmerman (whose clothes were not even retained as evidence by the Sanford Police) sends the message that there is no consequence for killing a young black man due to a misunderstanding. It’s a perfectly valid complaint about the rule of law, and doesn’t negate Lowry’s point that black-on-black violence is an important problem.

Just a little remainder, but Lowry did fire Derbyshire today

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Posted on April 8, 2012

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