The Left's Backward-Looking Racial Narrative
Conflating past and present is politically expedient for liberals, but it doesn’t help black Americans.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of Jason Riley’s False Black Power?
President Barack Obama traveled to Alabama on March 7, 2015, to deliver a speech marking the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 peaceful protesters seeking the right to vote were beaten and tear-gassed by mounted police as they tried to march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was one of the more symbolic moments of a deeply symbolic presidency — an opportunity to remind the country of how much racial progress had been made over the past half century. But Obama was interested in more than just commemorating a turning point in the civil-rights struggles of the mid-20th century. And so a speech rightly honoring “the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod” and “keep marching towards justice” was laced with Democratic talking points and comparisons between the problems that blacks faced during legal discrimination and the problems they faced five decades later. To that end, Obama’s remarks invoked “unfair sentencing” and “overcrowded prisons” in the criminal-justice system while making no mention of black-white disparities in crime rates. He also suggested that voter-identification laws threaten the black franchise and suppress turnout. Yet in 2012, blacks voted at higher rates than whites, including in states with the most stringent voter-identification mandates. And in 2014, voter turnout among all groups was slightly higher in Texas, which has a strict voter-identification law, than it was in New York, which does not.
Parallels between America under Jim Crow and America under a twice-elected black president and two black attorneys general may be tortured, but Obama also knew that such rhetoric plays well politically for the Left and distracts from liberalism’s poor track record in helping the black underclass. The goal is to keep black voters angry, paranoid, and content to put the onus on others to address racial disparities and negative black outcomes. The identity politics practiced by liberals today treats blacks not as individuals with agency but rather as a group of victims who are both blameless and helpless. “Liberalism in the twenty-first century is, for the most part, a moral manipulation that exaggerates inequity and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs,” explained the author Shelby Steele. This liberalism is....
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.
This piece originally appeared in National Review Online