[SL: After a lengthy discussion with Legal Eagle and DeusExMacintosh, we have decided to revise our earlier 'girls only' policy and invite Lorenzo to be one of our writers. He has written half-a-dozen superb pieces for the blog over the last year, and if I see one more piece on his own site that makes me think 'gee, I wish that were on my blog' I think I'll scream (it was the 'moral adults' piece that did it, I'm afraid). Please make Lorenzo welcome -- I'm sure he'll add a little about himself on our 'About' page in the next day or so].
If a private publication sacks a writer because they do not wish to be associated with his declared opinions, this is not a free speech issue. It is a branding issue, it is an employment issue, but it is not a free speech issue.
This is particularly true of a publication that is explicitly ideological in its role. (Using ‘ideological’ in its most general sense of having an explicit normative view of the world.)
If Derbyshire were to be prosecuted for publishing the article, that would indeed be a free speech issue. But National Review deciding that it does not wish to be associated with particular opinions, that is a matter of branding, of ideological identity, not free speech (as is, for example, being claimed here).
The politics of race are endlessly fraught in the US and deciding that American conservatives are ipso facto racist is a common conceit among American liberals (using ‘liberal’ in its peculiar American usage) and folk further left. (That sometimes reaches the level of deciding that conservative support for black figures, such as Condi Rice, Justice Thomas or Herman Cain, is itself a manifestation of racism.) Without getting into the history of American conservatism and race, there are certainly historical reasons why the National Review might have some sensitivity on such matters.
There are also generational shifts. Younger conservative activists are post-civil rights folk. They accept civil rights as a positive feature of American history and are usually very against revisiting opposition to civil rights: young conservtive bloggers actively campaigned against Senate Majority leader Trent Lott after his implicit endorsement of Strom Thurmond’s opposition to civil rights, which led to Sen. Lott’s resignation as Senate Majority Leader.
Either way, the National Review’s decision makes perfect sense. Particularly when leading the ideological assault on a serving black President.
So, what’s wrong with Derbyshire’s article?
A pretty standard thing: a statistical tendency is not a defining characteristic. It is perfectly true that the homicide rate among black Americans is much higher than it is among other Americans. This is primarily a problem for other black Americans.
It is true that more American whites are murdered by blacks than blacks are murdered by whites. But if a minority group has a much higher homicide rate than a much larger group, it is to be expected that more members of the majority will be murdered by members of the minority than vice versa.
So, Derbyshire has a point then? No, Derbyshire is a statistical illiterate. The chances of any particular black person being a perpetrator of homicide is extremely low. A propensity to violence is not a defining, or even a likely, characteristic of any given black person; particularly a black person who is not young and male. But even a young male black is far more likely to be no risk than high risk. (Their high incarceration rate has everything to do with the insane war on drugs—the systematic, and grievously failed, attempt to deny people dominion over their own bodies—very little to do with any tendency to violence.) Indeed, young black males are far more likely to be the victim of homicide
than a perpetrator [than any white person is].
Even if one accepts a genetic explanation for higher rates of hyper-aggressiveness in African and African-migrant populations, it is still not a likely characteristic of any given African or person of African descent. (Yes, I know we are all ultimately of African descent; I mean descended from folk who were not part of the prehistoric out-of-Africa diasporas.) It is Derbyshire citing averages, when the issue is likelihoods, that demonstrates his statistical malfeasance.
Focusing on someone’s blackness is not focusing on a risky characteristic. It is actually very bad advice to give a young person.
Which is another reason for National Review to sack Derbyshire.