Is This Racist -- Actually?

May 2, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Overt acts of racism still occur – in hiring, in lending, in renting, and other areas. But people concerned about racism increasingly are concerned not with the actions of a few but with thoughts and attitudes that are more widespread, thoughts that we are often unaware of.
But you don’t need an Implicit Association Test when you have statements like this from right-wing blogger Byron York.

(Click on the box for a larger image.)

Some bloggers on the left are taking York to task over that last sentence. OK, “taking him to task” is not the mot juste. They’re calling him a racist.

York’s point was that support for Obama and his policies was much higher among African Americans than among whites. Obama’s approval rating in the New York Times poll was 68%, but the single number masks a large difference. Approval was 96% among blacks, 62% among whites, and there were similar black-white differences on other questions.*

Nobody was accusing York of using the data incorrectly. It was rather his attitude as revealed in that last sentence – “some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.” He doesn’t seem to think that blacks count.

In a subsequent post, York defends himself.
I thought the word “overall’ conveyed the idea that there was a difference between the total job-approval number and the complexities of opinion of Obama on various issues. Maybe “across-the-board’ would have been better than “overall.”
But “overall” isn’t the problem. The problem is “actually.” Actual in the sense of real. The statement assumes that only white’s opinions are “real” and that black opinions are not part of reality.

I don’t know if Byron York is a racist. I’m fairly sure he’s not a Klan sympathizer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in all his personal dealings with people of all races he is scrupulously fair. But I also doubt that he would have said JFK wasn’t “really” so popular because Catholics rated him much more highly than did non-Catholics. Or that Bush’s approval ratings were “actually” even lower than they appeared because he got very high approval ratings from fundamentalist Christians.

What’s at issue is his apparent assumption that America is “actually” white (and male), like Sarah Palin’s “real Americans.” So you can understand why people might think that he was, at some level, a racist. And that picture accompanying his article doesn’t help much either.

* These figures are from a NYT poll that York links to. But the numbers York gives in his article are different: “the Times had him at 69 percent approval,” “Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent.” Not only are the numbers different from what the Times gives, but they don’t add up. The 80% (black) and 49% (white), would not average out to 69% when weighted for population.

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