In the aftermath of the deadliest day for American law enforcement since September 11, The New York Post decided to try to foment a race war. The front page of the tabloid today shows a photograph of Dallas Police Department officers prone on the ground, bleeding to death. The headline: "Civil War."
— New York Post (@nypost) July 8, 2016
The implication is not subtle. The Post's editorialists believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is fundamentally about revenge against white people. The assailants who methodically shot cops in the back were combatants in a conflict that pits black people against white people.
First, some truth: Despite the fact that the Dallas suspect reportedly told police that he "wanted to kill white people," there is no race war; there has not been (and probably won't be) any increase in crimes against white people because they are white; and Black Lives Matter, despite occasionally and regretfully incendiary rhetoric from a few of its members, is not opposed to the existence of the police. The Dallas Police Department's officers shielded protesters from harm's way last night. Protesters helped rush the victims to the hospital.
But it's scary enough that a universe exists where The Post feels comfortable — or even compelled — to paint the divisions between black and white this starkly. It's scary, too, that many, many Americans, and not just those who responded to a critical tweet on my feed, seem to agree with The Post.
The latest data from Pew shows that nearly 40 percent of whites believe that the country has already done everything it can to grant black people full and equal rights, both de jure and de facto. Only 36 percent of whites believe that racial discrimination contributes to persistent economic inequality between the races.
I chose these two statistics — there are many others — because their premises are easily refuted by actual experience. There's overwhelming evidence that, in the heat of the moment, police officers are more likely to shoot black people simply because they are black. (If you're a black teenager, you are 21 times more likely to be the victim of a police shooting than you would be if you were white). And racial disparities persist in employment, even when other factors, like age or education background, are taken into account.
Ah, but The Post would have you believe that these complaints are ephemeral or irrelevant. They attribute to black people an anger and a gut desire to just get back at society for mistreating them.
This narrative has been a feature of our conversation since Barack Obama became president.
It gained steam as the identity politics movement re-asserted itself on college campuses and found a voice on social media. It finds its ultimate expression in politics, particularly in the perception that Obama and Democrats have given stuff to people who don't deserve extra help, while others are left to deal with the very real challenges of life by themselves. It is not entirely without foundation, either: Political, social, and media elites have developed certain sensitivities about race, religion, and gender that anyone crosses at their peril.
Donald Trump is this narrative's protagonist. The Post loves him, obviously. Even if not explicitly racist — a debatable proposition — the way he vents his spleen and then refuses to apologize to the elites for violating their conventions — is seductive to a very large segment of Americans.
Trump has been measured, so far, in his response to Dallas, and to the shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. But that's probably because he hasn't stepped to the microphones and spoken about them just yet. When he does, I'd bet he'll join the chorus of those who blame Obama for inciting racial unrest (by... well, just being open to the reality of implicit racial bias among the police).
I mocked The Post's headline, but I sure hope it is not prophetic.