Saturday, April 14, 2007

"So who's next?" - This is certainly the question on many lips in the wake of the firing of Don Imus. To be sure, the self-appointed vicars of race know that there is blood in the water; as they press their attack against "hate speech" as they alone define it (i.e.: shock jocks will be as shrimp on the barbecue, while rappers will get a pass), their efforts and enthusiasm will only be heightened in the days and weeks ahead. Similarly, some among the liberal elite will see all of this as an opportunity to advance against "intolerance" in a more general sense. It is more than coincidence that efforts to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine have intensified in recent days.

In my experience, the Left is no more transparent in its behavior than in its dealings with African Americans. Progressives seem incapable of fully acknowledging the humanity of African Americans, preferring to see them as shadow people, perfectly servile, easily manipulable and eternally supplicant. Indeed, liberals are at best unfailingly patronizing, and at worst more racially prejudiced against African Americans than they would acknowledge. As mentioned elsewhere, they are certainly unwilling to police their own ranks to ensure that their friends and colleagues demonstrate anything approaching appropriate behavior towards blacks.

Unfortunately, the Imus episode is not the first time that progressives have failed their black constituents. A June 8, 2006 Washington Post article confirmed this tendency by referencing a study by conducted by Stanford University professor Shanto Iyengar and Post reporter Richard Morin. The study was designed to evaluate "whether public outrage over the governmental response [to Hurricane Katrina] was mitigated by frank coverage of the demographics of the victims." Roughly 2,300 people participated in the study, with the sample "skewed heavily in the direction of Democrats and liberals," and 84 percent having at least a bachelor’s degree.

The study itself utilized mock news reports, some of which contained information about a fictional displaced Katrina victim, along with a headshot. The researchers were able to "manipulate" the name, ethnicity, complexion, marital status and number of children, and occupation (school custodian, factory worker or real estate agent) of the victim in order to determine "whether the audience responded differently to efforts to help the entire class of Katrina victims when they were presented with a specific case of an African-American, Hispanic, Asian or white victim," as participants were also asked to indicate how much assistance a hurricane victim should receive per month and for how many months. (Participants could award from $200 to $1,200 per month for a minimum of three months up to a maximum of eighteen months.)

While the average amount of total assistance recommended was $1,500 with the average length 12 months, the researchers found that the perceived skin color of a recipient played a significant role in the amount of assistance that was recommended.

In fact, the impact of skin color manipulation on the level of recommended financial assistance was striking. When the hurricane victim in the news was a dark-complexion white, the amount of assistance for hurricane victims actually increased…But for every other ethnic group – blacks, Hispanic, or Asian – the effect of skin color ran in the opposite direction. When people saw a dark-skinned black, Hispanic, or Asian, they recommended lower levels of financial assistance. This divergence in the effects of skin color was statistically significant.
It cannot be overstated that the study participants were by and large self-identified as Democrat (88 percent) and well-educated (84 percent with at least a bachelor’s degree.) In addition, 86 percent of respondents were critical of President Bush's handling of the aftermath of Katrina. The report describes many of the study respondents as "[living] in and around the nation's capital, one of the more racially diverse and cosmopolitan areas of America." Without benefit of Howard Dean's Rolodex, one would be hard-pressed to find a more typical group of liberals.

Despite their abundant progressive credentials, the participants were unwilling to react in a color-blind manner when confronted with a decision regarding dark-complexioned minorities. Similarly, respondents were much more likely to award a significantly longer period of assistance to white Katrina "victims." Professor Iyengar and Mr. Morin also found that gender and occupation were seen as determining factors in the decision-making of study subjects. Participants were more likely to recommend higher levels of assistance to people who were identified as mothers and real estate agents.

Although the researchers concluded that "participants responded more generously…when they encountered a victim who was white," Mr. Morin charitably attempts to displace the onus of racism and complexion-based bias from the participants to the media by commenting "news media coverage of disasters can shape the audience’s response." (In retrospect, it is evident that much of the reporting on Katrina and its aftermath was sensationalist, and grossly distorted the scope of the disaster and the behavior of the survivors.)

But more correctly by my lights, it is the Left's insistence that racism is "someone else’s problem," particularly if that someone is conservative, that renders them most susceptible to yielding to their own stereotypes about race. Although this study was not powered to assess the conduct of liberals versus conservatives, it should put to rest the pernicious notion that racism is a behavior that is unique to Republicans.

As discussed elsewhere, racist behavior on the part of individuals is in no wise evidence of persistent and pervasive racism on the part of America as a nation, lest anyone conflate the two. Taken in toto, America's response to both the Katrina disaster and the remarks of Don Imus demonstrate this nation's overwhelming generosity and compassion towards those perceived to be innocent victims, irrespective of whether they are victimized by man or nature. We would all do well to remember this, especially when some among us attempt to convict America as an intrinsically racist society.

No comments: