Joanna Schroeder wonders to what degree a publication is responsible for the reprehensible behavior of its writers.
Should a writer be fired for publishing racist work?
If you’re not familiar with John Derbyshire, he’s a relatively well-respected writer and contributing editor at National Review. He recently published a piece in Taki’s Magazine called “The Talk, Non-Black Version”, in which he shares the advice he has given his children about how to stay safe. From black people.
Here are a few gems from his list (these are the sub-points to his point #10). I’m going to paraphrase here, because Taki’s doesn’t allow for “cut and paste”… But trust me, click on over there and you’ll see I’m not misrepresenting him.
- Avoid black neighborhoods.
- Plan your trips to beaches and amusement parks for times when there aren’t going to be a lot of black people.
- Don’t move to a neighborhood where your representative politicians are black (My thought: is Derbyshire planning to move to Finland?)
- Do not ever help black people in distress, such as on the freeway.
- Scrutinize a black politician more harshly than you would a white one.
There are so many other racist, dehumanizing references to black people in Derbyshire’s article that I have to just stop myself here before I recount the entire thing point by point with fuming rage.
But that’s not even the point of what I’m writing. We know there are racist people in the world. I’m not telling you anything new. But what matters here is whether Derbyshire should be fired from National Review, as many are demanding. Forbes‘ Josh Barro who published a piece yesterday called “Why National Review Must Fire John Derbyshire“, is one of such writers.
Barro explains why Derbyshire should be fired in the context of another piece written by National Review editor Rich Lowry. Lowry’s article points out that while Trayvon Martin’s death was a case of non-black-upon-black crime, the biggest problem young black men are facing is black-on-black crime. Lowry was called a bigot for this piece.
Barro doesn’t think Lowry’s piece is necessarily bigoted, but he says this:
…this is the problem for Lowry and other conservatives who want to be taken seriously by broad audiences when they write about racial issues. Lowry wrote a column containing advice for black Americans. Why should black Americans take him seriously while he’s employing Derbyshire? If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.
Beyond trying to gain credibility in the black community, NR should decide what to do about Derbyshire based upon what’s right. I know that’s subjective, but every publication draws its line somewhere. Why not here? Derbyshire is advocating for racial profiling and behavior, which, in the context of the profound systematic racism young black men are facing, cannot be seen as anything other than overtly racist, dangerous behavior.
Why is it dangerous? Because propagating the idea that we should be afraid of black men, of black people in general, makes this world dangerous for innocent Americans, as gun-toting fear-motivated people (civilians and police alike) who think this is the Wild Wild West—shoot first, ask later—are going to keep killing innocent people.
Despite the fact that Derbyshire’s piece in question was not published at National Review, as an editor—and even as a writer—he represents what values they espouse.
So how about those who think he shouldn’t be fired? In my curiosity to learn why people think he should keep his position, I discovered this piece by Slate.com writer David Weigel.
In it, Weigel seems to make the argument that Derbyshire shouldn’t be fired due to the fact that he’s just one of many who feel as Derbyshire does:
There’s a sort of micro-movement building to shame National Review into firing Derbyshire. Why would they? Derbyshire is saying something that many people believe but few people with word-slinging abilities know how to say: There are differences between the races, and whites should watch out for blacks.
So now we have another writer saying that white people should “watch out” for black people?
Slate.com published this?
Let’s follow Weigel’s logic here: It’s okay if you say something, as long as you’re not the only one who feels that way…
You guys all know what they say, right? If you meet someone who says, “I’m not a racist, but…” you can bet your ass that whatever comes next is going to be some seriously racist shit.
Weigel’s entire piece is basically one, “I’m not a racist, but…” and I’m here to clarify something for Weigel: I don’t know you in real life, but in reading this piece, it seems you just might be a racist, pal.
The trick is that very few people actually think they’re racist, including the woman who sold the “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012” anti-Obama bumper sticker. But just because a person doesn’t think they are racist doesn’t mean that their actions and words aren’t harming others.
The idea of doing what’s right gets to the root of why a publication cannot allow a racist to continue to represent them. When people who have prejudicial or racist thoughts or tendencies read stuff like this, they think, “Yeah, I feel that way too. I’m so relieved I’m not alone. Maybe that thought process isn’t really racist, maybe I’m not really bad at all…” When in fact, racism is not “normal” and editors and publications should never allow propaganda like this to be published. If and when it is published, and the writer is exposed as a racist, the writer must be fired in order to show the world that this sort of thinking is not right, it is not normal, and it is not okay.
So if National Review should fire Derbyshire, do you think Slate.com should fire Weigel?
On a much bigger level, even if both Derbyshire and Weigel are fired, are we doing nothing more than treating the symptoms and ignoring the disease? For the publishers of both NR and Slate, it seems that right now that disease is alive and thriving.
What do you think? How responsible is a publication for the words of its writers?
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Saturday, Weigel posted a second, clarifying piece, “Derbyshire Again” in an attempt to better explain his views:
There’s been some tsuris about my Friday post on John Derbyshire’s Taki magazine essay “The Talk: Nonblack version.” It was written in a pretty dry way, so I never ended up saying the obvious: People, the essay was disgusting.
photo: raphaelstrada / flickr