Wednesday, January 31, 2007

David Horowitz and the Race Question

If you really want to piss off David Horowitz, call him a racist. Nothing makes him hit the roof faster. A few years ago at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Horowitz was outraged at a flyer calling him “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay.” Horowitz wrote: “I didn’t regard this as speech so much as a gesture like kicking me in the groin. It seemed extremely perverse of her to be defending her right to slander me to my face. So then and there -- in front of her and the university official -- I ripped down her sign.”

When Jack White wrote an opinion column calling Horowitz “A Real, Live Bigot” in Time magazine, Horowitz reports that he contacted Time’s publisher Walter Isaacson and falsely threatened to file a libel suit. Isaacson turned out to be a Horowitz fan, and Horowitz reported that Isaacson “sent columnist Margaret Carlson as an intermediary to an event I was holding in Colorado over Labor Day weekend. Our meeting led to a phone call from Isaacson and a meeting with Time’s editorial board.” Isaacson then ordered Time’s editors to run a review of Horowitz’s book Hating Whitey. (Not surprisingly, Time published a glowing account of Horowitz’s book soon after getting marching orders from the boss.)

When Miriam Golumb, a University of Missouri at Columbia professor, put together a flyer with other faculty that included the Time “bigot” quote, Horowitz was outraged: “As soon as I arrived in Columbia, I had the students take me to the university office of the Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs. I expressed my outrage at being slandered by Professor Golomb and wondered whether this treatment of a visiting speaker was appropriate to an institution that billed itself as one dedicated to the ‘higher learning.’ Astonishingly, Horowitz claimed that allowing professors to criticize him was “harmful to the principle of academic freedom” because it would cause a “stigma” toward the students who invited him. Horowitz was disappointed that top administrators merely “listened sympathetically” to him but failed to promise that “any action would be taken.”

Horowitz’s online magazine,, once posted a photo of comedian Al Franken with the word Racist printed across it in large black letters. This seems to be part of a larger pattern. Horowitz has a conspicuous record of freely applying the racist label to a wide variety of people and organizations, including Franken; Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai; the Democratic Party; the Huntington Beach, California, school district; civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition founder Reverend Jesse Jackson; former Democratic presidential candidate Reverend Al Sharpton; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and United Nations World Conference Against Racism.

So, you might think that a man who likes to call people “racist” but is so damn touchy about being called a racist might make some minimal effort to avoid racially incendiary language that invokes incredibly dumb stereotypes. Not David Horowitz.

At his DePaul University speech on January 24, Horowitz made his usual arguments about how slavery in America wasn’t so bad: “American slavery was different from Brazilian slavery, the American conditions were decent enough” because most slaves survived. That’s sort of like dismissing every other genocide on the grounds that wasn’t as bad as the Holocaust was. He absolved America by declaring, “We inherited the slave system” and, of course, he denounced Muslims, “Islam being the only religion that totally approves of slavery.”

That’s pretty routine stuff for Horowitz, albeit controversial and bizarre to most sensible people. But Horowitz went on to focus on the Duke lacrosse rape case, which he described in racially incendiary language as “a public lynching” of white men.

Horowitz then declared, “Now recall Kobe Bryant’s case.” Horowitz noted that in Bryant’s first home game after the rape accusations, the Lakers crowd “gave him a standing ovation.” This was remarkable, Horowitz said, because at Lakers games the “audiences are 90% white.” Perhaps suddenly realizing that this comment undermined his argument that we have racial equality in America, Horowitz then declared, “don’t tell me it’s because black people have no money” for a basketball ticket, claiming that “it’s a third of what Nikes cost.” (For the record, Lakers tickets three levels up from the floor start at $78.50 each, while courtside seats can reach $2,500 per game. My pair of Nikes cost 25 cents, used.) I wasn’t aware that all black people own a pair of Nikes, which apparently they buy instead of a Lakers ticket.

But this idiotic aside by Horowitz has distracted us from the main train of idiotic thought he is offering us. According to Horowitz, the standing ovation for Kobe Bryant meant that “white America said a black man accused of rape of a white woman in America is presumed not guilty.” No, white America (or rather the small subset with Lakers tickets) said that a celebrity athlete is presumed not guilty. How often do white people give standing ovations to black men accused of rape? Could anyone possibly claim that the treatment of Kobe Bryant is exactly the same as every other black man in America receives? But that was Horowitz’s argument: “The contrast between Duke and Kobe Bryant should be burned into your consciousness.” Actually, the similarity between the two cases is more notable. In both cases, rape charges against rich, privileged athletes were eventually dropped because they had the legal muscle to denounce and discredit their accusers.

According to Horowitz, at Duke “the liberal media roasted them by printing their names and pictures.” Hmm, I seem to recall that Kobe Bryant might have had his name and picture in a few papers because of the rape accusation. This is what sometimes happens to accused criminals: they get negative publicity.

It was strange, indeed, that a prosecutor would believe an intoxicated black stripper when she accused white Duke students of sexual assault. So strange, in fact, that accusations of political motivations by the prosecutor are quite believable. Fortunately, we now appear to be heading back to the good old days when charges of rape were immediately dismissed unless the victim had the correct race, social class, and behavior.

The only thing astonishing about the Duke case is that people are now actually paying attention to prosecutorial misconduct, and speaking out to defend the rights of accused criminals who haven’t even been convicted yet. In most of America, it is common for prosecutors to denounce accused criminals in the press, to violate the rules in pursuit of a conviction, and to occasionally target an innocent person. Because most victims of prosecutorial misconduct are poor minorities, they’re lucky just to be cleared of their convictions by DNA evidence after a couple of decades in prison. But at Duke, they’ve become martyrs, even though they’ll never be convicted.

Horowitz wondered in the Duke case, “Where is the AAUP? Where is the ACLU?” Of course, the AAUP has never defended individual students, let alone those accused of serious crimes. Horowitz denounced the “totalitarians” at the ACLU because “they’re more interested in terrorists incarcerated in Guantanamo” than innocent Duke students. As they should be: the potentially innocent Duke students have received full due process in our criminal system and will never spend a day in prison, while the potentially innocent prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been denied all basic rights and may be imprisoned indefinitely.

Duke, like many universities, simply discarded due process and suspended students accused of a serious crime. And like many universities, Duke violated the rights of student athletes, in this case by cancelling the season for the entire team because a few individuals were accused of misbehaving. Many individuals at Duke believed (and still believe) the woman who accused the Duke players. That’s not surprising: most of us assume that people accused of a crime are guilty for the very simple reason that this is usually the case.

Horowitz said of the alleged victim, “she’s a protected species. Why? Because she’s black.” Beyond the troubling reference to black women as a “species,” the fact is that the woman in the Duke case has been subjected to vicious attacks from the start, and all of the mainstream press (such as 60 Minutes) have turned against her completely. The evidence against the Duke students now seems very shaky, although that certainly doesn’t prove they’re innocent or that no attack happened, since witness misidentification is common.

In reality, cases where white athletes at elite universities are held accountable for their misbehavior are extraordinarily rare. Horowitz’s belief that “minorities are superprotected on college campuses” has no evidence behind it.

Nor does it justify the bizarre racial images of a “lynching” invoked by Horowitz. The white students weren’t lynched, they were accused. It’s an insult to history when the emotional pain of white guys who won’t spend a day in prison is thought to be comparable to the vicious mob murders of black men.

So, is David Horowitz a racist? No one can read Horowitz’s mind to determine if he has some evil intent. But Horowitz certainly does invoke some odd racial stereotypes (Nikes?) and he even confessed to bigotry (he told DePaul students, “everybody has had a bigoted thought”). In some ways, Horowitz is distinctly color-blind: he hates all leftists, not just the black ones. At DePaul, Horowitz revealed that he enjoys watching “Jackass.” And sometimes it seems like he enjoys being a jackass, too, regardless of the race of his targets.

But Horowitz does have a particular venom for African-American scholars, such as his repeated denunciations of Cornel West (for “jive talk” among other intellectual crimes). When distinguished historian John Hope Franklin criticized Horowitz’s anti-reparations ad, Horowitz declared that Franklin is a racial ideologue rather than a historian and almost pathological. Those are words, however, that could better describe Horowitz himself.

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