White Supremacy and Know-Nothings

Any conservative who takes seriously the charge that conservatism has a serious white-supremacy problem is a chump. The people making such charges—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in her maniacal tweets, the Baltimore Sun editorial page—invoke a dark history of white supremacy in their condemnations of President Trump, Tucker Carlson, and those who admire them, but they don’t know anything about that record. They think they have the moral authority of African-American suffering behind them, but their eagerness to attach racial significance to the word “infested” only proves their phony credentials.

Here is a bit of real white supremacy for you:

Excepting those portions of Africa wherein the white man has set his foot and impressed his will, the negro is at this day the same lustful, brutal, besotted cannibal and voodoo slave that he was thousands of years ago.

That’s Tom Watson in April 1906, writing in his magazine about “The Ungrateful Negro.” Watson was a fiery Southern intellectual and politician in the 1890s who tried to create a political bloc of white and black workers who would oppose the railroad magnates and Wall Street bankers who, he believed, were bleeding the lower classes dry. After the turn-of-the-century, though, seeing the alliance fail again and again because of racial tensions, Watson became a full-throated “negrophobe” (a label black intellectuals attached to rabid race-baiters). He was elected to the U.S. Senate by Georgia voters in 1920.

Here is another specimen of white supremacy:

We took them as barbarians, fresh from Africa. . . . We taught them there was a God. We gave them what little knowledge of civilization they have today. We taught them to tell the truth. We taught them not to steal. We gave them those characteristics which differentiate the barbarian and savage from the civilized man.

That’s Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina in 1907, addressing his colleagues on the Senate floor. “Pitchfork Ben” talked this way all the time, jarring his Yankee counterparts with defenses of lynch law and wild theories of African-American depravity.

One year later, speaking to the Mississippi legislature, Governor James K. Vardaman had the same idea, but he made the case that the best place for that civilizing process was the penitentiary.

The average negro goes to the penitentiary; he is taught the values of industry, promptness, obedience, cleanliness and regular habits . . . His morals may not be improved; really he had no morals when he entered; he is unmoral—a normal negro—and you cannot create the moral sense when there is nothing to build on; but he is well trained, and that is the best that can be done with the genuine negro.

Such statements are painful to read, to be sure. (I quote all of them and many more in Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906.) But if we don’t keep them in mind when tossing around the charge of white supremacy, the term loses its meaning. It becomes a sloppy usage liable to abuse—exactly what we see in corporate leftist media and Democratic politicking, which casts Trump supporters as closet racists.

But there is nothing subtle, canny, dog-whistling, or unconscious about the practice of actual white supremacy. It’s too virulent to be hidden for very long. A white supremacist can’t sit down with African Americans and fake it. The recoil would show. Can we really think that an uncompromising man like NFL hero Jim Brown could meet with president-elect Trump in 2016 and walk away ready to support him if Trump really was a racist ass?

Of course not—which is why conservatives should understand the liberal allegation as a power play, and not take it seriously as a genuine description or even an unfortunate misunderstanding.

It’s very simple. If liberals and the Left can tar conservatives as white supremacists, they gain votes. If that involves stretching the meaning of white supremacy way past its historical sense, while retaining its moral force, well, that’s a darn good move. But it’s also, as Tucker Carlson said the other day, a hoax.

At Vox, Zack Beauchamp picked up on Carlson’s judgment and proceeded to follow the white-supremacy method to the letter. You can read his indictment for yourself and count the tendentious citations and misleading language, but one paragraph, in particular, demonstrates well the real endpoint of the method: conservatism is racism.

The paragraph follows right after Beauchamp says that conservatives have reduced racism to a “raw, individual animus that boils down to committing a hate crime or using the n-word.” It reads:

One of the most prominent conservative intellectuals in America, Charles Murray, is most famous for arguing that people of African descent could be genetically less intelligent than white people—a position many conservatives today insist is not racist. Toleration of such racially inflammatory views blurs the line between conservatism and outright white supremacy, making it very difficult for conservatives to police the boundaries between the two.

The first thing to note here is the characterization of Murray as a conservative. In fact, Murray calls himself a libertarian. He’s a bit soft on abortion and same-sex marriage, and he opposed Donald Trump in the primaries, too. But Beauchamp wants him to be a conservative. If Murray isn’t, he doesn’t help Beauchamp’s argument.

Next, Beauchamp identifies Murray with the controversial intelligence issue. He ignores Murray’s other work, Losing Ground, for instance, which President Clinton singled out while pressing welfare reform, and Coming Apart, which pointedly avoided racial issues. Beauchamp takes Murray’s contention as a decision point for conservatives, adding that Murray’s intelligence gap is “a position many conservatives today insist is not racist.” This observation serves a crucial purpose. It extends the denial of racism to conservatives in general.

But the supposition of unequal average intelligence between whites and African Americans is not, in itself, racist at all. If it is, then Beauchamp is going to have to accuse every test developer and every institution that relies on tests of the same racism he attributes to Murray. Every test, whether it be the SAT, GRE, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or certification tests for particular jobs, shows a persistent and significant score gap between blacks and whites. (NAEP scores show that the black-white “achievement gap” for 12th graders has widened in recent years.) We don’t even have to get into the delicate IQ debate to make this point.

Ah, but there is the word “genetically.” That’s Beauchamp’s kicker. It raises the whole eugenics/racism/white supremacy charge and implicates any conservative who doesn’t disavow the genetic theory.

Yes, Beauchamp inserts “could be” in front of “genetically” to preserve the speculative nature of Murray’s infamous opinion that intelligence is to some degree heritable. But he glides right past it to characterize Murray’s opinion as a “racially inflammatory view.” In other words, simply to examine the gap with any sense of biology in mind marks you as racist.

But the incorporation of biology into intelligence discussions isn’t unusual at all. A 2013-2014 survey of intelligence experts found that most of them, in fact, assigned to genetics some degree of influence on intelligence. They disagreed on how much, but not on the presence of a genetic factor itself. Vox itself published a story in 2017 on recent research confirming that “we’ve known that intelligence is largely heritable.”

Nevertheless, “toleration” of Murray’s racist science leads to Beauchamp’s all-important conclusion that it “blurs the line between conservatism and outright white supremacy.”

Case closed, the verdict is in. We have gone from the flat characterization 100 years ago of African Americans as degenerate brutes to current research into the genetic influence on intelligence. A prominent intelligence theorist was a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; hence, white supremacy and conservatism are intermingled. Conservatives are racist merely by being willing to entertain the idea that cognitive ability has an element of heritability to it, an idea practicing scientists generally accept in a basic way all the time. The argumentation is flimsy, the evidence faulty, but the “correct” conclusion has been reached.

It’s been reached again and again in recent weeks, but don’t bother responding. The journalists and politicians peddling the charge aren’t worth the time I’ve taken to pick apart a single paragraph in a Vox smear. I spent three years in archives poring over newspapers, city records, court documents, and private letters regarding a time of intense racial bitterness. Trust me—they don’t know what they’re talking about. The term white supremacy in the mouths of Millennial politicians and journalists should be met with laughter.

Photo Credit: Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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