Sunday, February 22, 2015

Juan Williams Ignores Systemic/Structural Racism

In case you ever had any questions about how Fox News tolerated Juan Williams as their token black commentator, your answer can be found in what Williams wrote in a WSJ editorial titled: America's Most Influential Thinker on Race.

Let's take this a step at a time. First of all, the person Williams is referring to is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Secondly, the use of the word "influential" can be taken to mean influential in a good way or a bad way. Williams suggests it in a good way.

Now...the reaction Williams notes from a lot of people is to simply call Thomas - and Williams by this association - an "Uncle Tom." I totally understand that response. When I was reading this article I had to stop several times as my blood boiled. But I think its also important to take this kind of argument apart and demonstrate why it is so wrong. So I'm going to give it a go.

Williams uses Thomas' words to suggest that government policies that attempt to alleviate the effects of racism are actually based on an assumption of African American inferiority. For example:
“After all, if separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something inferior about blacks,” he wrote in his concurring opinion in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995). “Under this theory, segregation injures blacks because blacks, when left on their own, cannot achieve. To my way of thinking that conclusion is the result of a jurisprudence based upon a theory of black inferiority.”
Its almost as if Thomas and Williams never heard of things like separate and unequalredlining, or sundown towns. That speaks to the heart of what both men completely ignore...the reality of systemic and/or structural racism. When we confront the reality of disparities for black people in everything from education to poverty to housing to health to criminal justice, we are left with a question of why those disparities persist. We can answer that question in one of three ways:
  1. Black people are inherently inferior
  2. The remedies to racial bias create the disparities
  3. Systemic/Structural racism creates the disparities
People like Charles Murray in The Bell Curve have actually attempted to suggest that #1 is the answer. But both science and morality have caused most of us to reject it outright.

The second answer became the foundation of much of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" (IOW, a way for people to deny their racism was fueled by #1 above). We see it today when people like Rep. Paul Ryan suggest that there is a "cultural" problem in inner cities (i.e., with black/brown people) and when President Reagan coined the term "welfare queens" or Mike Huckabee talks about "roach motels."

Never mind that the majority of people who receive government benefits are white (significantly more than their percentage in the general population), this becomes an excuse to blame people of color for the disparities. It also totally ignores that those disparities were both present and significantly worse before the government began intervening. As just one example, we now have our first Latino Supreme Court Justice who graduated summa cum laude from Yale Law School precisely because of Affirmative Action. If policies like that were the problem rather that the solution, Sonia Sotomayor would be trapped in her own inferiority.

And so, we're left with systemic/structural racism. There have literally been books written about that one, but it basically comes down to the way in which white supremacy has been structurally built into our educational, housing, health and criminal justice systems. The disparities of federal sentencing guidelines on crack/cocaine (or even the whole "war on drugs") are but one example of how racism is baked into the cake of our criminal justice system. Contrary to what people like Williams and Thomas suggest, government policies and programs designed to remedy and/or compensate for those systemic issues are what they are so casually dismissing.

I'd suggest to Juan Williams that he needs to go elsewhere to find America's most influential thinker on race. He could start by listening to Jay Smooth.


  1. Thank you for this.

    Juan has to earn those slave catching $$$$

  2. Even the Left now has embraced the meme that people are responsible for their situation. It's called 'agency', a noble term when used well but a pernicious one that has come to mean "you're on your own" because you can choose all your life outcomes. If it's not working, it's because you're not trying. Denying systemic barriers created to BE systemic barriers is therefore not of interest. It's all about your attitude and willingness to reject heritage, history, culture to be included at ANY PRICE. That can mean accepting an inferior position in society and sucking it up. When Left and Right white privilege converge, we have a dangerous situation of further barriers created by those impositions. As minorities become majorities, the outcomes will not be clear unless and until we admit those barriers were created by human beings and must be destroyed by human beings. No 'bad attitude' can explain any of it. Only a real commitment to equity and inclusiveness can set this nation free of its racism.

  3. Mo'nin, Nancy

    Two things:

    One, VERY interesting to see Rikyrah's post because, it appears, that she has, now, taken ill. Hopefully, we will know more later. She seldom wastes time. From my perspective, she NAILS Juan (who DOES know better. money)


    You "forgot" somebody who is sittin' where he is on that Supreme Court bench due to Affirmative Action as well. And, he got there a goodly bit before Justice Sotomayor did. That would be the alleged most American influential race thinker. Trust me. Black folk have been blowin' his "Tom" butt up, justifiably, for years. As Churchlady (I'm adding my name to the chorus, Churchlady. your blog whenever you're ready. YOU, TOO, Tien Le) up above points out, "it's all about your attitude and willingness to reject heritage, history, and culture to be included at ANY PRICE". He always shimmies and shakes if it's pointed out that he was a direct beneficiary of one the very things that he wants to take away from others. Not unique to American black folk. Governors "Bobby" and "Nikki". SAME thing. Ever notice how many of the minority conservatives sound alike?? For me, I gotta take Secretary Powell out. Waaay before he layed out why PBO made sense he, during W's first run and during that Republican Convention, stood in front of one and all and, pretty much, yelled at those people about why Affirmative Action was both correct and needed. His undermining started on the spot.

    And, Nancy have you heard about Mr. Steele (yet aNOTHer example) and Mr. Coates???

    1. You know that no one enjoys getting into the heads of folks like Clarence Thomas more than me - the recovering therapist. But perhaps I was influenced on this one by Juan's title claiming that Thomas is America's most influential THINKER on race. Regardless of what monsters occupy space in the heads of people like Thomas, Williams, Steele, etc., I wanted to take the THINKING apart this time.

      I didn't know about rikyrah being ill. I sure hope she's alright!!!

  4. Eve'nin, Nancy

    Rikyra checked in over at TOD. She, apparently, had a serious stress experience. First time, she said, she'd ever been through anything like that. Hopefully, she'll check in when she can.

    Coates and Steele were supposed to have a big throw down on ABC with George. Didn't turn out that way. Something appeared to be honestly wrong with him. So much so that you can see it in Coates' expressions of surprise. Steele wrote yet aNOTHer book about how (just like PBO wasn't gonna win and become PBO) we black folk are just fatally flawed. Coates leveled him. Either something was really wrong with Steele or he didn't know that Coates is a sharp as he is. Also, too....

    Add Ms. Stacy Dash - Fox News correspondent - to the list!!

    1. Now I get where you were going in your comment above. I hadn't heard about the Steele/Coates interchange. But I watched it last night. Steele was positively incoherent - except to say that we should do nothing about racism. Wow!


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