So are Duke lacrosse players as black as Obama?

Jon Sanders
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Posted: Dec 12, 2007 1:00 PM
So are Duke lacrosse players as black as Obama?

Suffice for it to say that American "liberals" have some very strange ideas about race and gender.

For example, when civil-rights activist and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, who is black, can argue that Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is white, is more qualified for president than Sen. Barack Obama, who is black, on the basis that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who is white, is "as black as Obama," and this entire exercise in race equivocation is taken by his audience as a compelling argument in favor of a candidate for president – well, this was already bizarre enough before Young made his crack about Clinton (Bill, that is) probably having "gone with" (in the beyond-intern sense) "more black women than Obama." At that point a marker was laid down in American racial-politics silliness.

One hopes it was the nadir, the point of terminal battiness beyond which things can do nothing but improve. But so far every time it seems we've finally reached the bottom, we haven't.

So even if this isn't race-silliness rock bottom, what are we to make of the idea of the black man who isn't blacker than the white wife of the white man who's "gone with" some black women? This notion seems to be a (pardon the expression) whitewashing of the old anti-miscegenation "one-drop rule"

such that now one rumored tryst makes a white person black, an idea that is then imbued with transitive properties.

It seems so, but is that actually the case? Would Young also have joked that the Duke lacrosse players accused in the infamous hoax were "as black as" Obama, or nearly so, given that they had hired a black stripper? Because last year, Duke visiting professor and author Timothy B. Tyson wrote in The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., that "regardless of the truth of the most serious charges," the "spirit of the lynch mob" had lived in the house of the notorious party – that being "rich white boys hiring black 'exotic dancers'," the lacrosse players were upholding a "racial caste system" just like when "white men kept black concubines and mistresses and raped black women at will."

No, surely not — no one would say the lacrosse players were "as black as" Obama, let alone that Clinton harbored "the spirit of the lynch mob." Instead, a shifting standard seems to be operative, which must have mutated out of the Left's racial politics over the past few decades, which is derided by the well-known term "the race card." As we all know, nothing can trump the race card, which is usually just fine to liberals playing games with other people's lives and careers, but what to do when their political opponents hold it?

Initially that proved no problem. A black person who wasn't a political liberal was simply disqualified from being black. Feminists adopted the same practice to disqualify conservative women.

This approach colored American liberals' view of diversity — race, gender, etc. as proxies for political liberalism — which they began enforcing across the nation everywhere they held power. Anyone who opposed the quota mentality this approach fostered was accused of racism, sexism, ad nauseam (that is, hit with the respective trump cards). It was tidily done, disposing of their criticisms without even having to touch on the challenge that diversity ought to include diverse ideas.

It worked until this campaign season. Both parties field arrays of candidates exhibiting their approaches to diversity. Republican candidates differ on the proper roles of government, differ widely in religious belief (frontrunners include a Catholic, a Mormon, and a Baptist), but they all happen to be white men. Democrats have nearly indistinguishable philosophies of government but are a mix of races and genders.

Of the Democrat frontrunners, Obama holds the race card, Clinton the gender card, while John Edwards is left trying to play a class card. Supporters of each are struggling against the new reality that the favored old disqualification tack doesn't work, since they're all liberals. Trying to navigate this awkward political reality without dashing the diversity canards has led to moments of high comedy: Young arguing for Clinton being "as black as Obama," Michelle Obama touting her husband as a better candidate for women than Clinton because he's "a man comfortable with strong women in his life," and John Edwards' supporters touting him as potentially the "first woman president."

A revelation of Edwards' bona fides as a black woman seems inevitable. In the meantime, suffice for it to say that American liberals have some very strange ideas about race and gender.