Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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A Ballad of Fallen Choices

“O thou man of God, there is death in the pot.” –2 Kings 4:40

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” –Genesis 50:20

"Whether they're a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?"

“Whether they’re a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?”

Long ago, in another era of acrimonious government, there was something of a moral (or at least political) consensus in America that held the willful destruction of a human life, whether developing in the womb or already bequeathed into the world, to be a terrible act. Among conservatives and a great many liberals and independents, this conviction manifested in the pro-life movement. For Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, the homage that abortion advocacy paid to life, even as the once and would-be future First Family barred a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat from that party’s convention for his pro-life views, was the now tatterdemalion campaign facade of, “Safe, Legal, and Rare.” Even Barack Obama echoed that throwback mantra as recently as 2010.

Whether 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will maintain the old formulation or condemn it with the extreme prejudice she has shown so many of her husband’s political stances remains unclear. After all, it has been absent from the Democratic Party platform since the Obama era, to the bemusement even of Democrats who consider themselves “pro-choice but not pro-abortion.” Yet it seems that pro-choice and pro-abortion activists are marching “forward” and taking public offense at the once quotidian supposition that abortions should be rare.

Whether the formerly bipartisan moral consensus among the officeholders, activists, and Very Serious People of those antediluvian, “fewer abortions, please” days was genuine or an instrumental facsimile maintained and then terminated for political expediency is anybody’s guess. But in any case, though public opinion on abortion has not changed much in decades, the ancient consensus has gone the way of the nephilim.

Nowadays, the strident champions of unfettered abortion access cannot even, as my home-state lawmakers discovered recently in Tallahassee, acknowledge that a child who survives a botched abortion should receive medical care rather than be killed should either mother or doctor wish it. The Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee even went so far as to fein insult at the contention that a fully-formed, almost-born baby should not be dismembered. Somehow, it seems that defending the notion that unborn children who could survive outside the womb should not be summarily killed is enough to trigger liberals to cry havoc and beckon the dogs of the so-called “war on women.”

This all brings us to my friend Josh Hammer, who is a law student and Federalist Society member at the University of Chicago. We do not agree on everything (well, actually, we agree on most things, but all that philosophical concordance is less interesting to talk about), but I have always found his impressively bookish legerity to be rivaled only by his assertive passion for conservative values. As any self-respecting citizen (and academic) ought to be, Josh is intellectually curious and eager to engage with people who disagree with him. So he went to a campus event featuring a late-term abortion provider to discuss that provider’s contention that his Christianity inspired his peculiar line of work.

To summarize what transpired: Josh refused to shake the man’s hand before engaging in respectful if heated conversation, was chastised by pro-choice activists, and then found that a heated argument he had with another attendee over his presence had been publicly broadcast in a naked attempt to shame him and potentially assault his employability. Because, apparently, it is a newsworthy horror that a Jewish law student would argue the case of the majority of Americans who oppose late-term abortion (likely out of a general opposition to killing innocent children) to a late-term abortionist speaking on campus.

It is understandable that some would tut-tut Josh’s refusal to shake the hand of the late-term abortionist—after all, Winston Churchill (one of Josh and my heroes) famously said of his decision to employ full diplomatic courtesies in conveying a declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador in December 1941, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” Of course, Josh is not the killer in this situation, and it is far more impolite to attempt to professionally ruin a disagreeing interlocutor than it is to spite a hand that exalts in the abolition of the unborn with claims of divine inspiration.

It is likewise rather indecent to prestidigitate away the gruesomely rational line from late-term abortion to “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide) when pro-choice extremists and their Democrat enablers (like Barack Obama) are, as mentioned earlier, assailing laws that would protect infant survivors of abortion. One almost wonders how long it will be until these enlightened advocates of “reproductive freedom” push to reclassify Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as “after-birth miscarriage.”

But since we are being polite, it costs little to charitably posit that Josh may have done something or other worse in more than a quarter century of life than refuse to shake the hand of man he believes, not unreasonably, to be a murderous religious fanatic—and many of those worse things would probably still not merit public spectacle or professional ruin. To be certain, any opponent of religious extremists killing with impunity because “God said so” should give pause before condoning, let alone celebrating, the work of a man convinced that his God of Life has called him to the grotesqueries of destroying any unwanted human children right up until—or even after—emergence from a uterus.

What skeptics and opponents of unfettered abortion should take from Josh’s ordeal is that where extreme pro-choice activists cannot avail their fanaticism against public opinion, the federal Capitol, or in most state houses, they will endeavor to overwhelm their opposition through the sociocultural cache of the Democratic Party and the elite forces—from major media outlets to law offices—that can be cowed into obeisance.

They cannot be allowed to succeed. The lives, rights, and integrity of future generations may well depend on it.

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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Racism

“It is tough to watch another person being beaten. And I’m not a proponent of what some might view as child abuse. But when the person being beaten is harming his community and his future and the person doing the beating is his angry mother, she gets no argument from me — because she was right.” –Jonathan Capehart

Thank God for a good mom!

I do not see Toya Graham as a hero. Rather, I find her ordinary, sympathetic, and reasonably enraged by the enormity of injustice proliferating around her, from reports of horrific police brutality to the arsonist riots. In short, I see her as a loving mother doing what she can in an awful situation most of will hopefully be blessed never to experience.

I can understand why many people in and watching the media have hailed her for snatching up her riotous son from his criminal path. She did a good thing, and hopefully her son will profit from her care. I cannot understand why anybody should think the celebration of Graham is the latest footnote in a long essay on “white supremacy” that apparently underlies the multicolored criticism of the Baltimore riots.

Among the many contemptible expressions that littered the reactions to the responses to the riots was this particular gem of mind-numbing inanity from Salon’s Joan Walsh:

“The hypocrisy of the white mainstream applauding Graham is sickening. Let’s be honest: many white folks are reflexive critics of the greater frequency of corporal punishment in the black community.  Witness the media horror at Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beating his young son. If Graham beat her child like that in the aisles of CVS, you can be sure somebody would call CPS.”

It is difficult to know where to begin with the things that are wrong with this paragraph (among the many other things wrong with the broader article). So for starters, let’s posit that a mother slapping at a teenage boy for participating in a riot is on a different plane of action from a professional football player whipping a small boy so viciously that the boy suffered bleeding wounds on his back, legs, and genitals. Let’s also posit that had Graham “beat” her teenage son in the aisles of CVS for attempting to burn down that CVS, nobody would call CPS, though many Americans would still call that mother a hero.

I will even go so far as to add the radical claim that many a parent would have handled themselves with considerably less self-control were their child to join a riot and then treat his outraged mother with such repeated disrespect as that teenage boy did his mother. It is unclear to me what race has to do with any of that.

In the interest of being philosophically and discursively charitable, I clicked on the link Walsh included in that excerpted paragraph and discovered another Salon article from Brittney Cooper, a biracial Princeton alumna from D.C. who now teaches middle school in New York City. The article peddles a familiar (and erroneous) trope that white people do not discipline their kids, while black people do. Moreover, it ties in the discredited myth that Michael Brown was murdered, rather than killed for attacking an officer, to suggest the purportedly broad racial disparity in corporal punishment is indicative of black parents focusing too much on “producing well-behaved children in a world that clearly hates them.”

Cooper’s article and argument are infinitely more sympathetic than Walsh’s subsequent screed, and I can certainly share her frustration at unregulated children frolicking as public testaments to infuriating parental disengagement (or worse, appeasement). But ultimately the analysis is flawed in part by presuming a dark conclusion—that the world hates black people—and extrapolating false claims—that Michael Brown was murdered, or whites are profoundly averse to disciplining their children—from that conclusion.

Spanking—or, more clinically, corporal punishment—is not a black phenomenon. It is and has been an incredibly common mode of discipline across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. While there may be some degree to which that method is declining, especially among the kind of well-to-do urbanites who comprise the media elite, corporal punishment remains far more prevalent than most media would have you believe.

Insofar as there are demographic differences, spanking is exceedingly common in the South, regardless of race or class. A Time article on a Dallas study from 2011 documented several dozen families in which spanking small children, even for petty misbehavior, was so common and “normal” that the presence of recording devices in their homes did not keep parents from doing so.

“The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.”

Relatedly, Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight took an extensive look at the General Social Survey’s findings about opinions of the acceptability of spanking. As of 2012, the GSS noted the highest levels of acceptance of corporal punishment among blacks, Republicans, born-again Christians, and Southerners—each at about 80 percent. The nation as a whole was at 70 percent (about where whites are generally).

As interesting as the racial disparity may seem (10 points), it’s smaller than other disparities—regional (more than 15 points between South and Northeast), political (about 15 points between Republicans and Democrats), and religious (10-15 points between born-again Christians and everybody else). Moreover, blacks are famously more likely to be born-again Christians than other American racial groups. Likewise, most black Americans live in the South, and many of the minority who don’t have deep roots in the region. Similarly, Republicans—notably underrepresented among African Americans—are also more likely to be born-again Christians and live in the South, and as mentioned above, all four groups accept spanking at roughly equal rates.

As far as actually spanking children, beyond just accepting the practice, an ABC poll on the topic also found a pronounced regional disparity:

“Among Southerners, 62 percent of parents spank their kids; that drops to 41 percent in the rest of the country… The U.S. Department of Education has reported that school-sanctioned spanking is most prevalent in Southern states – Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.”

Taken altogether, the relatively higher rates of approval for corporal punishment among black families is not quite as dramatic or distinctive as some media would have you believe. In all likelihood, the cultural differences between white Southerners—who are mostly Republican and largely evangelical—and black Americans—who are mostly Southern and largely evangelical—are simply not remotely as large or profound as some might think.

I’ve bonded with many fellow Southerners, black and white, over being sent out back as children to “pick a switch” and the various ways we would try (in vain) to find one that would not hurt much. I’ve also heard permutations of that singularly haunting phrase, “I thanked my parents for every spanking/whooping/beating I ever got,” with eerily kindred pride from countless people (most recently a young, Yale-educated, middle-class white woman from Mississippi) across the spectrum of color.

The experiences of fellow Southerner Elizabeth Spiers is an insightful example of the broader cultural point:

“My parents are Southern white fundamentalist Christians, and we grew up in a working class community where nearly everyone else was a fundamentalist Christian and about 65% of the population was white. I don’t think I can recall a single person I knew who didn’t get spanked as a kid. I also went to school for twelve years at a tiny segregation academy* that was not parochial, but still had teachers who felt comfortable reading Bible stories in class and taught Creationism as a competing theory to evolution. There were 32 kids in my graduating class and no black students. Corporal punishment was doled out as a response to any sort of misbehavior and the principal would even spank 16 and 17 year old guys who were on the football team.

So spanking was part of life–at school, at home and throughout the community. I got spanked and slapped across the face as a kid, and so did my brothers. And the fact that my parents did this made them no different from anybody else’s parents.”

The demographic peculiarities of her community and school aside, there is not much in that description of the pervasiveness of corporal punishment in Southern Christian life that would not strike many a black person in America as intimately familiar.

There are many problems that disproportionately plague black America, and there are various remnants of racism that make the struggles of life harder than they should be. But noting that black people are known to spank their kids or pretending that white people either revel in that violence or disdain it in racial snobbery is perhaps even less productive or valuable than arguing over the imaginary racism of describing looters and arsonists as “thugs.”

In closing, I should note that nothing written here should be construed as my endorsing corporal punishment. Having grown up in a world inundated by the crack of the disciplinary belt (and a legion of other objects)—like Spiers, Cooper, and so many other Americans—I wholeheartedly agree with Spiers’s take on the subject:

“That said, I can tell you right now that if or when I have them, I will never hit my kids. I don’t believe in it morally, philosophically–and I don’t believe it works.”

Amen to that.