Part 4—The quality of our discourse: We wouldn’t have written Joe Klein’s piece ourselves. In fact, we didn’t write it.
That said, it isn’t gigantically hard to see what Klein was saying. For background, see yesterday's post.
We’d say that Klein made two different points. Given the way our discourse works, that’s often one too many.
We’d say that Klein made these two claims. We’re paraphrasing:
Joe Klein’s two points (paraphrased):Uh-oh! As everyone knows, you aren’t allowed, in certain precincts, to make anything like that second statement. That said, this is the part of Klein’s column we’d paraphrase that way:
1) The story of Michael Brown’s death is more complex than it seemed at first.
2) There are cultural problems in black America which need to be addressed.
KLEIN (8/21/14): [W]e have developed new historic truths over the past 50 years. A great many bodega owners won’t see Michael Brown as a metaphor for anything. They see potentially threatening customers every day. Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks. The facts suggest that history is not enough to explain this social disaster.In that passage, Klein refers to “a debilitating culture of poverty” within “the urban underclass,” and to “the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation,” apparently within that lower-income subpopulation. That’s why we paraphrased Klein as referring to “cultural problems.”
Race remains an open wound. There is a new generation of black intellectuals who are raising the issue in thoughtful, provocative ways. “The Case for Reparations” by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is compelling, even if the case is not a particularly strong one. We’ve had 50 years of drastically improved political, educational and employment opportunities for blacks, which have produced a burgeoning middle class, but a debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement. These problems won’t be solved simply by the recognition of historic grievances. Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they won’t be solved at all.
Personally, we don’t have a giant problem with references to “cultural” problems within some part of black America. Here’s why:
There are obvious cultural problems within white America, as modern liberals often note, perhaps without using that term. Unless we’re mistaken, there are cultural problems within every society and every population, all over the world.
Given our nation’s brutal racial history, it would be odd to think that black America was the one population on earth within which there were no “cultural” problems, shortfalls or imperfections. But that bit of tribal scripting has seemed to emerge in parts of the “left” in recent months.
This may help explain one hapless reaction to Klein’s imperfect essay, in which he repeatedly cited the brutal racial history of the past 400 years.
That reaction was authored by Melissa Harris-Perry. It came to us in the form of an open letter to Klein, a letter delivered from Nerdland.
Harris-Perry was writing from Nerdland! That humble-brag peeped over her shoulder as she delivered her rebuttal to Klein on her MSNBC program last Saturday.
The tape and transcript of her rebuttal are available here, with an additional link to Klein’s column. Harris-Perry called Klein’s column “cringe-worthy.” We’d call her rebuttal “much worse.”
In our view, here’s why:
In our view, Harris-Perry’s attitudinal delivery was unfortunate, given the importance of the topics under review. Like her pitiful reference to Nerdland, it represented a bit of cable show business.
It was designed to pleasure us the rubes—us the liberal rubes.
That’s our view on Harris-Perry’s tone and trappings; your mileage may of course differ. With that in mind, let’s consider what the professor said.
Throughout, Harris-Perry read chunks of what Klein said, then offered rebuttal or comment. Below, you see was the first chunk of her rebuttal.
We’d have to say she’s already lost, or at least pretending to be, perhaps for tribal effect:
HARRIS-PERRY (8/23/14): You write:Coming from a university professor, we’d have to call that sad. Sad, and just a bit Ukrainian, in the sense we’ve been exploring over the past three days.
“At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back.”
Joe. When a community is reeling from an unarmed teen shot to death, when his body was left for hours in plain view of the community, when no arrests have been made for his slaying, when those who are protesting the killing are met with militarized local police force and tear gas–it is not a metaphor.
The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person. They are responding to actual events and actions taken by the local government. That this death and those actions are consistent with a long history of similar deaths and actions makes them historically rooted. Not metaphorical.
It’s certainly true—Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That’s the point Klein seemed to be making with his repeated references to our “400 years of oppression.” (Klein: “black women have been casually violated by white men in America for 400 years.” Also: “all too often in the past, we’ve exonerated racist thugs who were clearly guilty” in the killing of blacks by police.)
Plainly, Michael Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That doesn’t mean that the killing can’t also be a “perfect metaphor” for those centuries of brutal conduct, in the way Klein used the term.
That said, not every shooting is an act of oppression or even injustice. Klein’s point in discussing “perfect metaphor” was fairly easy to discern:
According to Klein, the initial description of Brown’s death made it a remarkably clear-cut example of heinous injustice. As more facts have surfaced, the nature of the killing has become less clear.
“The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person?” This is an obvious fact, but it doesn’t begin to contradict what Klein said about “perfect metaphor.” Is it even dimply possible that Harris-Perry doesn’t understand that? Assuming she isn’t just clowning around, her next chunk is deeply pathetic:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): “But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts,” you write. “The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr. ...seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video...“Those are the facts?” Truly, that’s deeply pathetic, especially from a university professor who signs her address as Nerdland.
Joe. “Seemed pretty intimidating” is not a fact.
The fact is the surveillance video shows an apparent petty crime–one that Officer Darren Wilson did not know about when he stopped Michael Brown and one that does not carry a death sentence even if a person is guilty of committing it.
“An autopsy, requested by Brown’s parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head-which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense.”
Joe. It is certainly a possibility, but let us traffic in facts:
Officer Wilson was armed. Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested. On the day that the Ferguson police finally made Officer Wilson’s name public, they also released the surveillance video you mentioned despite knowing that it had no bearing on the officer’s decision to stop Michael Brown. Those are the facts.
Those are the facts? Actually, no—those are some of the facts! More specifically, those are the facts which help Harris-Perry keep her narration a bit of a “perfect metaphor”—a simplistic story with no moral ambiguity or factual uncertainty.
In that passage, she is picking and choosing her facts. She even includes the most pointless fact of them all. (Robbing a convenience story doesn’t carry a death penalty!) She’s also evading Klein’s simple point:
As more facts have emerged, the story has become a bit less clear that it was in its initial telling, in which a “gentle giant” doing nothing wrong was “shot in the back.”
Brown’s aggressive conduct in the store raises the possibility that he may have behaved aggressively at Officer Wilson’s car. It’s also entirely possible, of course, that he didn’t behave aggressively toward Wilson—and if he did, that doesn’t necessarily justify Wilson’s subsequent conduct.
The story got more a bit complex when that surveillance tape surfaced. But, like tribal players all over the world, Harris-Perry wishes away the facts that don’t serve her preferred thesis—and she pretends she doesn’t know what Klein is talking about.
“Those are the facts”—good God! Those are some of the facts! That is perhaps the most basic distinction we can ask a person to make.
Harris-Perry makes some actual points as she responds to Klein. When Klein presented his crime statistics, we’d say he wasn’t careful enough, especially given the seriousness of what was being discussed.
Klein was discussing the lives of black kids, both in St. Louis and in Baltimore! Harris-Perry makes one valid rebuttal here, but skips past an overall point:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You cite these statistics:It’s true that Klein’s “statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9.” But the statistics cited by Harris-Perry indicate that blacks are being murdered at a much higher rate than other Americans, and that these murders are largely committed by other blacks.
“Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks.”
Joe. If you want to just cite random crime facts that have nothing to do with this case, how about this one: 83% of white victims are murdered by other white people.
Your statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9. We know who shot Michael Brown to death–and it wasn’t a black man. And how about this stat: On average, between 2006 and 2012, nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person. Two times a week. That fact would suggest Michael Brown had plenty of reason to be afraid of Darren Wilson.
The victims include a lot of black kids who are doing nothing whatever that’s wrong. It’s silly to think that a high murder rate of innocents can’t be described as a “cultural” problem, but that rule now exists in some precincts like Nerdland.
To see what we mean, read on:
At this point, the professor from Nerdland played her most pitiful card. Truly, this is low and grimy, sick and dumb, however pleasing it may seen to us the obedient rubes:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You go on.Good God! That's amazing. Just wow.
“A debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement.”
Joe. The American crime rate overall—regardless of the race of the perpetrator or victim—is higher than it was in 1960. And crime has dropped precipitously since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. It is the poverty that is debilitating because it severely reduces access to sufficient nutrition, housing, health care, quality educational opportunities, and sustainable employment opportunities.
As for the “culture of poverty,” is that American jazz, blues, or hip-hop you are referencing? Because those are some of the cultural products of the black American poor.
Again, we think Klein was careless in some of the ways he discussed crime statistics. Harris-Perry makes an accurate clarification here.
But good God! Look at that highlighted passage. Klein is talking about the culture of a very high murder rate. Pulling out her cheapest, most disrespectful card, Harris-Perry pretends that he must hate the sweaty music of blacks!
Wow! What else can be said?
We liberals watch Harris-Perry thinking we’re seeing a top-rate professor. Here’s what you can often learn from watching her TV show:
Our black professors can be as pathetic as their useless white counterparts! Especially on the TV machine, our elites are often a worthless gang of high-paid tribal clowns.
Tomorrow: Touré gets it (exactly halfway) right