Racial Thoughtlessness

Speaking for me only

Brad DeLong is a great progressive commentator on matters economic. But, for a second time that I know of, DeLong has demonstrated a thoughtlessness about race issues. The first, in which he was joined by Matt Yglesias, involved a defense of Bill Bennett's offensive remarks regarding fighting crime through termination of African American pregnancies. (See also Nathan Newman's great piece on the subject.) Today, in pointing out factual errors in a Bob Herbert column (Herbert erroenously confused the Consumer Price Index with the core inflation rate and confusingly used the technical term recession when making an argument about our skewed economy), DeLong, in my view, innocently but insensitively, asked:

How has the New York Times managed to pick Bob Herbert out of the 75 million liberal adults in America? It is a mystery.

Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion about Bob Herbert. Mine is that he is a national treasure. Certainly NOT liking Herbert is a respectable, though wrongheaded opinion. But surely DeLong SHOULD have known what his comment would invite.

For example, "respectable" champion race baiter, Andrew "Bell Curve" Sullivan wrote:

A question only a left-liberal could ask:
"How has the New York Times managed to pick Bob Herbert out of the 75 million liberal adults in America? It is a mystery." Is he kidding me?

Get it? It's because Herbert is black. Ha! What a funny racist idiot Sullivan is. And make no mistake. Andrew Sullivan is a racist. More.

Sullivan is not involved in my point here. My point is our progressive discourse has continued to be, in my estimation, incredibly insensitive to race questions. DeLong did not consider what a race baiter like Sullivan could do with what he wrote? Did he read his comment thread? Might a clarification from DeLong have helped? A word of rebuke about what Sullivan wrote in response would help.

And I have seen similar insensitivity in other good people. When I read Sullivan and saw from whence the thought came, it was like a punch in the stomach to me. I KNOW DeLong does not think like Sullivan. I know other good people do not think like that. But they seem oblivious to the existence of such feelings in others.

What can we do about this problem?

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  • Display: Sort:
    I don't get it. (4.00 / 1) (#3)
    by manys on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 10:06:40 PM EST
    Is this a non-story? I can't figure it out, but it seems so.

    Tulia and patronizing (3.00 / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 10:34:44 PM EST
    Clarence Thomas would hate this.  Bob Herbert earns a lifetime column on the NY Times regardless of his merit because he wrote a fine series on racist events in Tulia?  Most people get lifetime columns because they are good or entertaining, not because of a series which fits the correct political thinking.  
    Many people find Maureen Dowd to be entertaining and buy her books, read her columns, etc.  It doesn't matter what color she is.  
    I don't read that much Bob Herbert, so you tell me-if he never wrote about Tulia and were white, would he have a column in the Times?  If so, then the case is closed and Sully is wrong.

    Freeing 46 people is a PC column? (none / 0) (#6)
    by jerry on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 02:08:55 AM EST
    Is there something you think about what happened in Tulia that is not documented at the wikipedia or in this excerpt from truthout?

    Near as I can tell, most people would agree that as a result of Herbert's columns 46 people were released from jail and a cop was convicted.  How is that merely a series that fits the correct political thinking?

    That's a tough list, but at least one criticism--that Herbert doesn't do much reporting--is untrue. Many of Herbert's columns are based on extensive reporting, some of it tenacious. In 1999, a rogue cop in Tulia, Texas, orchestrated a supposed sting that sent forty-six of the town's residents (thirty-nine of whom were black, about half of Tulia's black males) to prison on bogus charges. Herbert, tipped by journalists from the Texas Observer, traveled to Tulia in 2002 and penned ten columns on the subject, eventually helping to get most of the men released. In just the past few weeks, he's reported from Chicago, Boston, Newark, and Las Vegas.

    Tulia, Texas

    The Tulia drug sting incident

    Tulia gained notoriety following a drug sting in July 1999 that rounded up 46 people, forty of whom were African Americans. The remaining detainees were white people known to have ties within the black community, and in fact lived in the black part of town. [2] Nearly one in two of Tulia's black males were arrested, about 15% of the town's black population. All charges were based on the word of undercover officer Tom Coleman, a so called "gypsy cop" who made his living travelling through impoverished rural Texas offering to work undercover cheaply for short periods of time for underfunded police departments. Coleman claimed to have made over one hundred drug buys in the small town, essentially an impossible feat for an undercover officer working alone. He never recorded any of the sales, but claimed to have written painstaking notes on his leg under his shorts and upper arm under his shirt sleeve when nobody was looking.

    During the roundup, no large sums of money, illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, or illegal weapons were found. The accused drug dealers showed no signs of having any income associated with selling drugs. The drugs Coleman claimed to have bought from the accused did not have the fingerprints of the accused on them or their baggies. No independent witnesses could corroborate Coleman's claims. In his testimony, Coleman gave inaccurate descriptions of the "dealers" he had allegedly bought cocaine from. One suspect had his charges dropped when he was able to prove he had been at work during the times he had supposedly sold Coleman cocaine. Another produced bank and phone records indicating she was in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the time of her alleged crime. Many of the accused, however, seeing the long sentences dealt out by all-white juries in the earliest cases, pled guilty in return for lesser sentences, despite their proclaimed innocence. The remaining defendants were convicted solely on the basis of Coleman's testimony. The state attorney general, John Cornyn, awarded Coleman a prize for being "Lawman of the Year."

    Eventually the case became a cause célèbre, and money was raised to legally challenge the cases. Many had already served several years in prison when this process got down to business. By 2004, most of the "Tulia 46" had been freed, and a $6,000,000 collective settlement was reached to avoid further litigation in civil court. Local authorities remain defiant, promising their town will not become a "slot machine" in the face of a new lawsuit stemming from an incident of police brutality during the sweep by a man who was not charged.


    freeing 46 people (1.00 / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 08:28:03 PM EST
    If Herbert were a white man whose columns led to the freeing of 46 whites in Texas, would that entitle him to the same accolades and what one poster suggested was a "lifetime column in the Times"?  Or would he get his Pulitzer and move on with his life at a smaller paper?  I am not judging either way but asking those who read his work regularly.

    We all have our blind spots, but I disagree that (none / 0) (#1)
    by jerry on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 09:28:32 PM EST
    Brad should have worried about what Sully others would say.  I think a lot of problems with our leaders is that they worry too much about what the other side will say or do with their statements.  I think Brad is very mistaken about Herbert, but if that's how he feels then I would rather he write that that second and third guess what the response will be.

    However, an update or rebuke of Sully's response is not uncalled for.

    As far as I am concerned Herbert earned a lifetime tenure with the NY Times with his series on Tulia.  I would love to be involved with one event 1/10th as socially useful in my career.  (How on earth did he not earn a Pulitzer for that?)

    I found it interesting that Anne, in her rebuttal found many more of his stories to concentrate on, and she could be right.

    innocent means not nocent (none / 0) (#2)
    by chemoelectric on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 09:57:02 PM EST
    If the problem is that someone set up Andrew Sullivan for a racist statement, and then Sullivan went with that, I think Brad's "problem" is so little as not to warrant attention. I wonder how much Andrew Sullivan's behavior has "pre-colored" the reaction to Brad's seemingly entirely non-racist and inoffensive statement (inoffensive unless you are Bob Herbert, of course :) ). I would say that what we should do about it is learn not to "pre-color" our reactions that way.

    I don't buy it (none / 0) (#4)
    by Lora on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 10:25:20 PM EST
    Surely there are scads of Blacks among the 75 million liberal adults referred to by DeLong.  Which renders Sullivan's comment totally silly.

    Sullivan's a prick, (none / 0) (#7)
    by BlueLakeMichigan on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 06:18:53 PM EST
    So he really would go off about anything. It's more a matter of time than of any other circumstance.