I think that experience -- and others -- is why [my father] once advised me, "When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you." Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like "typical black person." He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young -- or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.Hmm. When I was a child our neighborhood was terrorized by our unambiguously white neighbors, a group of young and usually drunken petty thieves who would, when the money ran short, steal anything that hadn't been glued to the sidewalks; had they been black, would that have cemented a lifetime of Victor Davis Hanson assumptions about racial predispositions? Would it have made me edgy about a group of black youths approaching me, but not edgy about an identical group of white youths doing the same thing? That seems to be the lesson Hanson gleaned from (presumably genuine) crimes against him; it is not the situation you find yourself in or the behavior of the individuals that might clue you in to their intent: You can much more easily judge your relative safety by noting the races of all involved. Group of black youths "approaches you" in the big city: trouble. Group of white youths "approaches you" in the big city: safe. A young black person tries to steal your bicycle: evidence of males "of one particular age and race" to commit violent crime. A young white person runs off with it: huh, well ain't that something. (Missing from this equation are the Brown Youths, usually a favored target in their own right—as Steve King suggests, their melon-sized calf muscles, toned from years of border drug smuggling, could probably snap your neck and your bicycle both. Hanson is getting sloppy even in his discussions of which races to be afraid of.)
It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping.
Let's ponder a bit on the central flaw of his argument, below the fold.
At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates dubs Hanson's talk as stupidity. While I would never go so far as to suggest that someone on the National Review site was in fact an imbecile, Coates does make a good case:
Let us be direct -- in any other context we would automatically recognize this "talk" as stupid advice. If I were to tell you that I only employ Asian-Americans to do my taxes because "Asian-Americans do better on the Math SAT," you would not simply question my sensitivity, but my mental faculties. […]Or one of the effects of stupidity is to justify racism—I think which is the cart and which the horse has been amply demonstrated through the years, and with a statistical clarity that even Victor Davis Hanson himself could find satisfying.
There is no difference between my argument above and the notion that black boys should be avoided because they are overrepresented in the violent crime stats. But one of the effects of racism is its tendency to justify stupidity.
Coates' broader point is that the use of race-based nationwide statistics to determine situational personal safety when approached by one or several anybodies in the fine locale of anywhere is an intellectual car wreck; it substitutes a preferred ideological preconception for daily common sense. I was once stopped on a busy street by a very large man, sweating and shaking profusely. His eyes were focused entirely on my bicycle, never on me; when they weren't, they darted to and fro, nervously marking each and every passing car as if they were hungry wolves flitting in and out of view. He stood too close—by a lot. He was obviously right in the head at that moment, and his wide eyes and not-entirely-stable stance suggested an obvious pharmaceutical explanation as to why. I kept a firm hand on the bike; I gave him five dollars for the bus, which was the ostensible reason he approached me with such vigor. We parted ways, him still looking at the bicycle and at each car as it drove past us, visibly still unhappy.
I haven't told you what his race was. If you think it matters, my crime-savvy friend, you are a bit of a dim bulb.
Closing with Coates, again:
These two strands -- stupidity and racism -- are inseparable. The pairing seem to find a home at National Review with some regularity. It's been a little over a year since the magazine cut ties with self-described racist John Derbyshire for basically writing the same thing that Victor Davis Hanson writes here. Hanson couldn't even be bothered to come up with anything new. He just ripped off Derbyshire. His editors could evidently care less.If you're going to be fired for racism in the conservative movement, it will only be because you have been staggeringly obvious about it. This is a movement that considers all well-built brown children to be probable drug mules, and we won't even get started on the obvious racial implications of hoodie-wearing or Skittles-buying. It is a movement that especially prides itself on its "intellectual" racists; if Hanson is ever someday asked to step outside the big conservative tent, it will be because he has embarrassed his peers by saying something so outlandish that it finally strips all pretense at the intellectual part and makes them all look like thick-headed morons.
God only knows what that thing might eventually be. In the meantime, we have a long history of evidence as to what sorts of things the National Review is willing to support; that's probably more telling than any possible thing he could say that they wouldn't.