The Left’s Congenital Racism
Overwhelming obligations and only mild interest have limited the attention that I’ve paid to the JournoList controversy with which readers of the national conservative blogosphere will surely be familiar. Now that the discussion has transitioned into one of the semantics of racism, however, a brief comment is irresistible.
By way of background, New Republic publisher Marty Peretz is currently under fire for referring to the “congenital corruption” of Latin American countries. His detractors declare the phrase to be racist — imputing corruption to Latinos, I suppose. Having become entangled in the spat, Jonah Goldberg posted the following email earlier today:
The people who think that “congenital corruption” is racist are just showing their own ignorance of the meaning of the word. It has two meanings, 1)from birth, 2) essential nature. Describing Latin American countries as congenitally corrupt is absolutely accurate and has nothing to do with race. Corruption in those countries is systematic and endemic (essential nature) and that state has existed since those countries’ independence (from birth). While many assume that a congenital birth defect means a genetic disorder, the term congenital includes both hereditary and environmentally caused disorders.
Peretz’ critics are dangerously close to “niggardly” territory.
As accurate as such semantic analysis may be, I don’t think it quite captures the underlying error of thought, which ultimately exposes the congenital racism of liberals. In short, they believe race and ethnicity to be much more determinative than do conservatives. One cannot, in their view, declare the political tendencies of a region to be hopelessly and pervasively corrupt at their very core (i.e., congenital) without its being a statement of genetic qualities of the people who inhabit the region. One hears a similar ring in declarations that democracy will never work in the Middle East; it’s not put forward as a statement of cultural habit, but of personal capacity.
It’s this same racist impulse that raises cultural sensitivity to the status of a high ideal. An observation of foolishness in another’s culture is cast as an attack on their innate intelligence, because they are assumed to be capable of intellectual disassociation from those practices. Standing firmly astride one’s own culture (as with crucifixes in the classrooms of a Catholic university) is said to be an affront to non-sectarian students, because the uninitiated are presumed not to have the maturity to tolerate pluralism.