John Leo

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., knows how this game is played: "I don't think he's a racist, but at certain instances, I don't think he has shown enough sensitivity ..." This, of course, allows the connection between the words "Ashcroft" and "racism" to linger in every mind, though the connection is piously denied. It also indicates a way for worried conservatives to clear themselves of the potentially career-killing charge of racial insensitivity: just abandon opposition to the alarming racial plans of the left (quotas, preferences, identity politics, hate crime laws). Nobody who favors quotas has ever been accused of racial insensitivity.

Sometimes it seems as though the Democrats are intent on racializing every issue in sight, from the environment to health care. Ted Kennedy, in Los Angeles to support a janitors' strike by mostly Hispanic workers, said, "This is a civil rights issue." No, Ted, it was a union issue. You can be for or against the strike without being racist. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People counts congressmen as voting against civil rights if they voted for Bill Clinton's impeachment. Bill Clinton was quick to categorize the Ronnie White case as a racial offense. And party leaders decisively moved to racialize the Florida election, arguing that blacks (not poor voters or voters in Democratic areas) were consciously singled out for unfair treatment. If there is any clear evidence of this, apart from stray anecdotes, it has yet to surface in the media.

Also under the heading of the racialization of everything comes the current fascination with "subtle racism." As racism fades, those who can't accept the good news are sure that it is still there, just below the surface, posing as welfare reform or color-blind politics. The New York Times, a frequent carrier of this message, ran a recent Page One article on welfare reform headlined "A War on Poverty Subtly Linked to Race." A long sympathetic article in the Los Angeles Times features an "expert" on subtle racism, David Wellman, who explains that lower rates of granting tenure to black professors is one of nine telltale clues to the condition.

A study last year at the University of Michigan, where affirmative action is under intense fire, announced that whites who think that blacks, like people of all races, should work their way up through hard work and achievement are actually racists of "the subtle, contemporary kind." This is not what mainstream social science is finding, but if a janitors' strike and environmental policy can be adapted for racial politics, why not research too?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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