American race relations, ever nasty, will not improve as lon as the noxious notion of "rational discrimination" is extant. It is an idea -- like drive-through prostate exams -- whose idea should never have come.
"Rational discrimination" is the latest boil on the rump of the American body politic. It sorely needs lancing. Conservatives will have to confess that this revolting "rational discrimination" development began in their camp.
The rational discriminator argues thus: Cab drivers are justified for not picking up young black men since most armed robberies are committed by young black men. White women are justified in clutching their purses when they see young black men #i approaching. Nervous whites who lock their car doors at a stop light have good reason to do so.
It's safe to assume such, the "logic" goes, because the crime statistics tell us so. Conservative Dinesh D'Souza argued the rational discriminator's case strongly in his best-seller "The End of Racism," (The Free Press. 724 pages. $30). The term has since become a conservative mantra, linked with the results of Charles Murray's and Richard Hernnstein's "The Bell Curve" (The Free Press. 869 pages. $16). as a double-edged sword wielded in a kind of psychological warfare against black America.
Conservatives fill the air with such invidious racial invective -- stigmatizing blacks as both stupid and criminal -- and then proclaim they want to end affirmative action programs in the name of color-blindness. Lordy, Lordy.
Trying to convince rational discriminators of the error of their logic is akin to growing hair on a cue ball. But one man -- a brave soul who's an associate law professor at the University of Pittsburgh -- has decided to have at it. Jody David Armour's "Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America" (New York University Press, 204 pages, $24.95) will hit bookstores soon. Rational discriminators should be forced to read it. At gunpoint, if necessary.
"Careful analysis will reveal," Armour writes early in the book, "not only that 'rational discrimination' is not reasonable, it is racist."
"Careful analysis" isn't needed for that, of course. We all remember one of the first lessons we were taught as children: that it is wrong to judge all members of a group by what a few members of the group do. Such people are called bigoted and prejudiced and racist. That lesson seems to be the first one rational discriminators forgot.
But Armour brings his own statistics into the debate. In 1994, for instance, black males arrested for violent crimes accounted for only 1.86 percent of the black male population. The majority of those arrested for violent crimes are white, according to FBI reports. Crime rates among the black and white middle class are virtually identical.
But rational discriminators don't read such reports, Armour argues. Most get their impressions of blacks from mainly one source: television news. Citing a 1994 Los Angeles Times article in which 65 percent of respondents to a survey indicated they received their news about crime from television, Armour decided to conduct a test with his law school class. Based on what they saw on television, most of the students thought the overwhelming majority of people arrested in the 1993 Los Angeles riots were black. Actually, 60 percent were Latino and 12 percent were white.
One indignant rational discriminator wrote to Armour, who included the mephitic missive in his book. Judging from the tone, the letter was written just after the writer went into an apoplectic hissy fit, charging that blacks commit "75 percent of the crime and ... about 95 percent of the street crimes. Just turn on the tube at night and see where the crimes are being carried out and by who ..."
Mr. "I-never-met-a-black-who-didn't-try-to-mug-me" continued in this vein.
"Once, I would like to hear a black say he understands why whites feel the way we do. Please clean up your own home before you try to tell us how to think."
Armour's book, stripped of its lawyerese, simply tells this one rational discriminator that if he won't judge all blacks by those blacks who are muggers and robbers, we won't judge all whites as if they're potential Jeffrey Dahmers.
Quality of life poison
But rational discrimination, for now, seems to carry the day. The affliction even affects police officers, who stopped a black man in a business suit one May day in 1995 at New York's Grand Central Terminal and searched him for a gun. The officers told the man they were looking for a black man with short hair. The man told them the description narrowed their search "down to about two million people in the city."
The man was Butch Graves, son of Black Enterprise founder and publisher Earl Graves. The elder Graves recounted the incident in his book "How to Succeed in Business Without Being White" (HarperBusiness, 295 pages, $25) to show that even affluent black businessmen aren't immune to the effects of rational discrimination. But Graves, too, has no problem seeing rational discrimination for exactly what it is: racism.
"Racism continues to poison the quality of life of African Americans of all classes, professions and educational levels," Graves said in reaction to his son's arrest. "What white people don't realize is that it is poisoning their lives as well."
Graves has dealt with such racism firsthand in the business world. Some white businessmen are quite blunt about it. Justin Gerstle, a senior vice president for an advertising agency and a longtime Graves friend, told the Black Enterprise staff just what white businessmen thought of African-Americans:
"The white advertising community sees black people as drinking half-pints of liquor and driving used cars," Gerstle said. Another white business associate Graves did not name told him, "In my business black people are still considered svartze -- niggers -- and in order to do business with us, you are going to have to overcome that."
'Thirty percent nuisance'
Graves said whites who own large corporations have their own unique brand of rational discrimination.
"Their vision of the black community," Graves writes, "is generally limited to the inner city and to low-income housing." It's a worldview not much better than the one possessed by the man who wrote the letter to Armour. But Graves did not become successful by whining about racism. "To preserve my sanity," Graves claims, he chooses to view white racism for what it is: not an obstacle, but a nuisance.
"I call racism the '30 percent nuisance factor' because in my sales presentations ... the problem of race generally takes up 30 percent of my time."
The rational discriminators among us who like to throw around crime statistics to justify their racism will probably have no use for Graves' data, but here it is:
Since he started Black Enterprise in 1971, the number of black businesses in the country has grown from 45,000 to 621,000. In the 1990s alone, black businesses have grown by 46 percent, surging ahead of all new businesses by 20 percent.
Black business sales for the last 10 years have risen 63 percent. The top 100 black businesses have annual sales of $12 billion.
The young black man behind some rational discriminator at an automated teller machine might well be an executive at one of these companies. But the rational discriminator doesn't see young black male business executives on the TV news. Hence, in his or her warped racist mind, such men don't exist.
But that's the problem of the rational discriminator. Earl Graves urges us not to let them make it ours.
Greg Kane is a Sun news columnist who writes frequently abou race relations. Before that, Kane, who grew up in West Baltimore, worked as a police reporter at The Sun. Pub Date: 7/06/97