Who Cares About John Derbyshire?
After two days of outrage over John Derbyshire’s outrageously racist rant, National Review announced that it was “parting ways“ with the writer. Rich Lowry wrote in a post this weekend that the piece was “nasty and indefensible” (interestingly, he didn’t call it racist) and that Derbyshire wouldn’t be writing for the publication anymore. That’s all well and good—but does it really matter?
It’s easy (and correct) to criticize Derbyshire—his article was explicitly, unabashedly racist and hateful. Frankly, it was a gift to conservative writers. Because now they get to shake their heads in disappointment and condemnation, patting themselves on the back as non-racist by comparison. By holding Derbyshire up as a real bad guy, conservatives are hoping that people will ignore their own racism—not just the content of their media but their ideological principles and the policies they support.
A blogger at RedState, for example, described Derbyshire’s racism as “breathtaking,” writing that Derbyshire should be fired: “Derbyshire’s screed was so contemptible, especially in light of his lengthy history, that I cannot imagine a reason that Derbyshire should not have been summarily dismissed within the hour.”
This is a blog in which a search for the dehumanizing racist term “illegals” brings up 6,440 results. It’s a site that has carried headlines like “Are Blacks Oblivious to Their Obvious Problem?” (See Melissa Harris-Perry’s guide for talking about race: “Black is always an adjective, it’s never a noun.”) RedState even defended Newt Gingrich’s comment that if he were to speak at the NAACP he’d talk about why “the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” (And this is just what I found doing a ten-minute search—I’m sure it’s the tip of the iceberg.)
The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis wrote that the piece was “indefensible,” yet the same site has been attempting to disparage Trayvon Martin’s character by peddling in race-based victim blaming for weeks.
Before firing Derbyshire, Lowry came out against the piece in a one-sentence disclaimer and other writers and staff tried to distance themselves from his piece. For all the blustering, you would think that this was the first time Derbyshire had written something racist. Far from it. In 2003, he self-identified as a racist. He has defended Mel Gibson’s racist comments. This past summer he said in a National Review podcast that he is “on the same page“ as Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Even though National Review has fired Derbyshire, the conservative media outlet can’t outrun its own racism. Lowry himself, for example, has called Hispanic voters “gullible and naïve.”
But this isn’t just about who has written what—it’s about the intensely racist policies that are par for the conservative course. Some people would like to believe that racism is just the explicit, said-out-loud discrimination and hatred that is easily identifiable. It’s not—it’s also pushing xenophobic policies and supporting systemic inequality. After all, what’s more impactful—a singular racist like Derbyshire or Arizona’s immigration law? A column or voter suppression? Getting rid of one racist from one publication doesn’t change the fact that the conservative agenda is one that disproportionately punishes and discriminates against people of color. So, I’m sorry, folks—you don’t get to support structural inequality and then give yourself a pat on the back for not being overtly racist.
© 2012 The Nation