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Racism is not colour blind

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TORONTO —In a recent National Post column, Dan Delmar asserted that Quebec racists are more likely to be separatists and American racists are more likely to be Republicans. On the latter, he added this flourish: "And it’s also a safe assumption that the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan isn’t a Democrat."

Historically speaking, that’s a curious assertion. Take the late Senator Robert Byrd. A powerful and esteemed member of the Democratic leadership until his death in 2010, Byrd was an active Klan leader in 1940s West Virginia. And given the Klan’s geographical distribution during the years when it was influential, it’s a reasonable bet that its membership was largely Democratic.

For decades, the Democrats could count on the overtly segregationist Solid South. Indeed, white southern voters were a key part of John F. Kennedy’s victorious 1960 political coalition.

Or take the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Congressional opposition to the measure was primarily Democratic. As for the lengthy Senate filibuster, that too was a Democratic production with the aforementioned Senator Byrd playing a key role.

Of course, the point can be made that then was then and now is now; that the parties have changed significantly since the 1960s; and that white southerners now vote mainly Republican. All of this is true.

But Delmar’s argument also makes the implicit assumption that only whites are likely to be racists. After all, if racists are Republicans while blacks are overwhelmingly Democrats — which they are to the tune of better than 90 per cent — then it follows that blacks, by definition, are unlikely to be racists.

In other words, being racist isn’t a matter of belief or behaviour, but rather a (reprehensible) category that’s essentially reserved for whites. To put it mildly, that’s a logically dubious proposition.

But dubious or not, it’s a perspective that permeates the discussion of issues in the public media. For instance, when a segment of the American white electorate is unenthusiastic about Barack Obama, it’s invariably put down to racism.

However, when black Democrats who had previously been overwhelmingly in favour of Hillary Clinton suddenly — and disproportionately — dumped her for Obama during the 2008 primaries, hardly a peep of criticism was heard. But can anyone seriously doubt that the tug of racial solidarity played a major role in their conversion?

While Delmar’s contention was iffy, another Post columnist — John Moore — produced a truly eye-popping effort. (No, we’re not picking on the Post, which is a fine newspaper that features a broad range of opinion in its columns.)

Writing about the Chick-fil-A controversy, Moore lambasted the embattled fast food chain and its supporters. Because the chain’s owner, Dan Cathy, contributed to the campaign against the legalization of same-sex marriage, he was "a promoter of intolerance and an enabler of hatred." And while ostensibly recognizing Cathy’s right "to do with his money what he will," Moore was emphatic that Cathy would have to accept the consequences.

The problem was that there was no specification of what those consequences were. In fact, anyone relying on Moore’s column for an understanding of the controversy would have come away singularly uninformed.

It took another Post columnist, Chris Selley, to subsequently draw attention to the elephant in the room. As a consequence of Cathy exercising his right to free speech, his business had been threatened by politicians in San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Suggesting that licences will be withheld or withdrawn for political reasons is really a gross abuse of power.

Moore also fell into another trap which those of us who support same-sex marriage would be well advised to avoid — specifically, the impulse to brand everyone who disagrees with us as a homophobe and a bigot. To be sure, some opponents are. But by no means all.

Take Barack Obama. Until a few months ago, he was opposed to same-sex marriage. Does that mean he was a bigot? And given that Dick Cheney came out in support well ahead of Obama, does that mean he’s less of a bigot than the president?

One doubts that such was Moore’s intent. But it’s the kind of thing that happens when selective indignation and ideology gang-up to mug common sense.

 

Pat Murphy is a Troy Media columnist.

 

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