Thursday, May 29, 2003

The Weak in (National) Review - Jay Nordlinger's most recent Impromptus touch on the issue of race in the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times. And it offers a revealing, if unintentional, glimpse into Nordlinger's own color-tinged world view. Before going any further, I want to be very clear that I do not in the least think that Nordlinger is racist. Quite the contrary, his earnestness in promoting a color-blind world is very honest, sincere, and real; but, like Howell Raines and all of us other white supporters of Affirmative Action who are painfully conscious of the need to address the awful legacy of racial discrimination, Nordlinger cannot escape the fact that his world view IS shaped by race - as much as he'd like to think and hope that it is not. The sad thing is that Nordlinger doesn't see this in himself. And this is clear in his column. For instance, as he deals with the issue of race in the Jayson Blair affair, Nordlinger writes:

[T]he idea that the Blair case had nothing to do with race and affirmative action is nutty. I wish it were otherwise. If it weren't for affirmative action, it would be just another personal tragedy, or a crisis for a newspaper. Instead, it is a national tragedy. This is what affirmative action does. No one should blame people like me for pointing it out. Race preferences are a poison that infiltrates the workplace, the college campus — America itself. Remove this poison, agree to equality of opportunity, decide to judge people on qualities other than skin color, and we can all be something more like human beings, instead of pawns in a racial game.
A few sentences into the very next paragraph, Nordlinger continues with this theme:
Obviously, the affirmative-action issue arouses a lot of hurt. But the blame should be placed on affirmative-action policies themselves, not on those (of us) impolite enough to bring them up. And who knows? If we had more discussion of affirmative action and its consequences — for blacks and whites alike — we might all be better off, even if there is great discomfort in the short run.
Clearly, Nordlinger is troubled by the fact that skin color does matter; and he wishes it weren't so. Nordlinger pines for a society in which judgments of people are made "on qualities other than skin color." But the very next paragraph in his column shows precisely how impossible it is to avoid "judgments" based on skin color. He writes:
Look, I feel tremendous sympathy for black journalists. I wish Blair had been white (and for that matter, I wish Willie Horton — the murderer, not the ballplayer — had been white; it was a good and defensible issue). No one should have to live with the burden of race; we should be free to live as individuals.
It's very subtle, but Nordlinger's "sympathy for black journalists" - no matter how you slice it and dice it - plays directly into the race issue. My question to Nordlinger is what does this "sympathy" lead him to do, how does it condition or change his own behavior? Does Nordlinger just shrug this sentiment off? I don't see how he can "suffer with" black journalists - precisely because they are black - and just "leave dumb ol' pigmentation behind."

Nordlinger's single-minded opposition to affirmative action has really blinded him to the fact that racial difference exists and that this difference has meaning. The issue is how we grapple with this difference and the meanings attributed to it. It seems to me that Affirmative Action embraces the reality of this difference and attempts to deal with what this difference has meant. Nordlinger's antipathy to Affirmative Action is tinged with a color-blindness that seems, essentially, to reject the reality of this difference and its meaning.

Nordlinger is not a racist, but he is white - and this means something. One of the things it means is that he is on the giving end of sympathy to black journalists. And he can't escape the fact that only white (or perhaps better-said "non-black") journalists can occupy this position. His skin color matters, and his very own comments emphasize this point.

No comments: