How Facts Work

« April 2012 »

Memo to John Derbyshire: YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN FIRED.

Obviously, anyone who wrote a column as blatantly disgusting as John Derbyshire's racist screen for Taki magazine (which is apparently not about bouncy-boobed demon fighters, much to my chagrin) should have gotten the author fired from any respectable publication that has standards for the opinions expressed by the people on its payroll. That's a given.

But John Derbyshire got fired by the National Review, and that just doesn't make any goddamned sense.

Derbyshire's article intended to describe a white version of "The Talk", which has risen to prominence following the Trayvon Martin shooting. The Talk is when black parents explain to their children that authority figures in America are likely to treat them with extra suspicion, extra fear, and in some cases, extra violence because of the color of their skin. Derbyshire's version of "The Talk" explains to his white children how any black person they haven't put through a careful screening process is likely to rob or kill them.

But the thing that's the most problematic about Derbyshire's post is the exact same thing that makes his post completely in line with the National Review's ideology. Because Derbyshire, being an academic bigot, provides citations. For example. when he gives advice like "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 (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).", he includes a link to an article from 1987 where one black guy shot one other guy of unspecified ethnicity at Six Flags Great America in New Jersey.

The advice "Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of black people", similarly, is paired to an article detailing three shootings in the vicinity of the Indiana Black Expo in Indianapolis.

And while this sounds shocking and awful, it's no different than hundreds of articles in the National Review, and by National Review contributors, about Muslims after 9/11. Bad thing happens. Bad thing caused by member of group X. Therefore, I am completely justified in being afraid of all members of group X, and treating them differently, and it doesn't make me racist to do so because I can point at a bad thing that happened.

For fuck's sake, the conservative white paean from the last few weeks of "why aren't they worried about black on black crime" is the semantic clone of the post-9/11 "why don't these so-called moderate Muslims denounce terrorism?" They are. You just don't know about it because these events have a lot of black people at them, and therefore, by Derbyshire's own rule, you're not actually attending or paying attention to them.

My favorite part of watching people depend Derbyshire, though, is how legions of conservative racists leap to defend him on the grounds that what he's saying is "true", and that he's proven it's true because he's "backed it up with facts". And technically speaking, Derbyshire did back his points up with facts. It's just that he, and you, missed an important step in the process. Let me demonstrate using the Black Expo example above.

The point is that events with large amounts of black people are likely to be dangerous. The citation is to a shooting tied to the Indiana Black Expo. Yes, the IBE had large numbers of black people present. Yes, shootings are dangerous. But even if you could use this one data point to establish a correlative link to support your rule, let's take a look at how the linked article actually describes the shootings.

"Nine people were injured at three shooting scenes near Circle Centre mall Saturday night, shocking people and disrupting traffic in a Downtown full of visitors, including those attending Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration."

The attendees of the IBE Summer Celebration were not the shooters, nor were they shot. Their event was in the same downtown Indianapolis as the shootings. My workplace is in the same downtown as a strip club, but that doen't mean I shake my titties for tips.

You can back up your point with facts all you want, but if the only way your facts support your point is if they're interpreted in that way by, well, fucking racists, then those facts do not actually absolve you of racism, Also telling is that Derbyshire's most blatantly race-bating point doesn't even have a citation to back it up:

"A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us. A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event." This "fact" is cited by a link to a YouTube video of one black guy saying he wants to kill all white people. No support is given for his numbers. The idea that one in twenty black people is "ferociously" (nice loaded word there, by the way) hostile to whites is Derbyshire's guess, and the fact that one in two will follow along in this ferocious hate if led? Even Derbyshire keeps that number as far away from "his experience" as he can. So, yeah. In an incredible shocker, science and reason once again do not actually work the way wingnuts think they work.

All that said, though, nobody should believe a fucking word Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, says about this case, particularly his explanation of why they called for his resignation.

"His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation."

Um, yeah. I don't know if Rich Lowry actually read what he wrote, or even wrote what he wrote, but Derbyshire spending years* dancing around the issue is fundamentally incompatible with views you'd never associate yourselves with. You're firing Derbyshire because of specific phrasing you'd never associate yourselves with unless it was about Muslims. That's the extent of it.

Technically, John Derbyshire and his supporters do not actively hate individual black people simply because of the color of their skin. They're slightly more advanced than that. They hate black people as a group because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics, sociology, and controlling for non-biological factors. They're trading in the white robes for a suit and a thoughtful look, in the hopes that their wardrobe will convey respectability. And for the most part, it's worked. I mean, look how long it took for Derbyshire to be just a little bit too racist for the National Review.

*And by years I mean the better part of a fucking decade, since he self-identified as a "racist" in 2003, albeit in one of those spiteful "I will claim the term the liberals apply to me as a badge of honor!" bullshit articles.