The Root

Speaking of launches, today also marks the debut of The Root, a new online magazine that has the very good fortune of being run by Lynette Clemetson, a tremendous reporter and an unusually generous and cool person to boot.

But I hope that Kai Wright’s short piece on “A Colorblind America” isn’t representative of what’s to come. The best magazines are provocative, which doesn’t mean offensive (necessarily) or vapidly contrarian (one hopes), but interesting and offbeat and unexpected enough to give you a jolt. Wright’s essay strikes me as drearily conventional. Given that the The Root is aimed at a youngish black audience, a critique of colorblindness that takes aim at Ronald Reagan and Republicans seems a more than a little like preaching to the choir.

It comes as no surprise that it was the Republicans who first pushed racially transcendent blacks to the upper ranks of government. Their real differences and sparkling talents aside, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and Clarence Thomas share a role as not just balms for white guilt but, more importantly, as beacons of white hope, too. Like Obama, they have the power to turn fiction into fact.

If they can rise so high, people believe, we can dismiss the fact that a whopping 48 percent of working-age black men in New York City were unemployed in 2003.

The causes of this extraordinary fact are maddeningly complex and difficult to disentangle — I don’t even know what it means to “dismiss” this fact because Wright presents “this fact” unmoored from any context. But I’m interested in the rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Who are these “people” who believe that we can dismiss the relevant fact? I’m sure these people exist. Perhaps I, by virtue of asking for context, am one of them. But can we have some names or examples? My old boss Jon Chait always makes a point of identifying actual people who make actual arguments he finds distasteful — he thinks it is a valuable discipline, and I think he’s right. I can impute all kinds of motives and thoughts to those with whom I disagree, and I do it all the time. But you should know that when I do so I am fulminating, and everything I write or say in this vein should be taken with a grain of salt. Wright continues.

If they can be so healthy, we can overlook the 40 percent black-white mortality gap. If they can be so sharp, we can shrug off the still-separate but unequal public school system. All of these things may be tough public problems, but they are not racism. Race, as Obama’s giddy throngs told us, doesn’t matter.

I know a few people I think of as right-wing caricatures, and even they wouldn’t be caught dead saying anything like this. It could be that Wright has divined some deeper truth. But do we have any evidence for this?

Wright’s essay is less an argument than a pose, and kind of a tiresome pose at that. (It goes: beware Obama or any figure like him. She or he promises hope or transcendence or progress, but in fact we should be constantly wary of the structural racism that lies beyond every displeasing statistic, etc.) Fortunately, The Root has Terence Samuel, a terrific liberal columnist, on board, so we can expect better things.