Anyone with access to the Wall Street Journal should hasten to read Shelby Steele’s article today, “The Exploitation of Trayvon Martin,” and if you don’t have access you should borrow it somewhere.
Most impressive, I think, was what Steele sees as one of the saddest lessons of this tragedy:
Before the 1960s the black American identity (though no one ever used the word) was based on our common humanity, on the idea that race was always an artificial and exploitive division between people. After the ’60s—in a society guilty for its long abuse of us—we took our historical victimization as the central theme of our group identity. We could not have made a worse mistake.
Blacks were not alone in making that grave error. They had plenty of company from white liberals, who abandoned their formerly fundamental principles so precipitously after the 1960s that they kept tripping over their old arguments. If you ask a liberal today whether she believes in civil rights, she’ll look at you like you’re crazy to even ask. Next, ask her if she believes Americans have a right to be treated by their governments without regard to their race and see if she still thinks the question is silly.
As I wrote here nearly a decade ago,
From the 1830s through the 1960s people who opposed slavery, segregation, and discrimination were firmly committed to the principle of colorblindness, i.e., that everyone should be treated “without regard” to race, ethnicity, religion. Indeed, this principle was widely regarded as the most fundamental of American core values, what Gunnar Myrdal called “The American Creed.” Then, in what historically was the blink of an eye at the end of the 1960s, most liberals abandoned that principle and adopted “race-conscious” remedies as necessary to achieve racial equality.
And again, in “The Degradation Of American Liberalism” back in 2006,
For most of its recent history — for virtually all of its 20th Century history — perhaps the two most fundamental, core commitments of American liberalism were its devotion to free speech and its determined opposition to racial discrimination.
Notice I said “were” rather than “have been,” because unfortunately both of those twin, identifying principles have been largely discarded….
In short, where liberalism was once all but defined by its support for free speech and its opposition to racial discrimination, the thrust of liberal scholarship for the past generation has been to tear down the wall that protects speech from government regulation [“hate speech” and campaign finance “reform”] and to build up the defenses that protect official racial preferences from the sorts of arguments liberals used to make, such as the argument that individuals should be treated “without regard” to race, creed, or color.
Aside from the merits of any particular restriction on speech or any particular protection of racial preferences, what is now left of liberalism as a coherent political philosophy?
And again in 2009:
For almost the entirety of its history in this country liberalism has stood proudly and firmly in favor of free speech and colorblind racial equality. This generation of liberals, however, has discarded both of those principles and now spends most of its academic time inventing new ways of trashing them.
What a mess of liberalism they’ve made.
Are there any elected Democrats in the United States today who will say in public that they believe in colorblind racial equality — not as an abstraction, not as some ideal, pie-in-the sky future goal, but as a principle that should prevent the federal and state governments from treating some people better and others worse because of their race? If so, please point them out.