Well, here we go again. Just weeks after Paul Ryan inflamed liberal opinion with his observations on the deficits of inner-city culture, some self-appointed “civil rights activists” are back in their preferred state of high dudgeon. Their (rather unexpected) target this time is basketball great Kobe Bryant. His sin? Asked while being profiled by The New Yorker about Miami Heat players donning hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin, Kobe expressed disappointment at the rush of so many blacks to side with Martin simply out of racial solidarity. “I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said, adding that if we’ve “progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right?”
The Ryan and Bryant cases have one important thing in common. Both men were absolutely, inarguably right. Indeed, that it is presumed to take courage to publicly say what they did—that doing so is almost sure to lead to denunciation by defenders of the lamentable racial status quo—says way too much about why we continue to make such pitiful progress on racial issues.
Yet equally telling is the way the two cases differ. When Ryan spoke on Bill Bennett’s radio show of a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work,” the full-throated cries of “racism” from the Left came in a rush. “Offensive and racially charged,” thundered Representative Barbara Lee. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’” Paul Krugman also heard in Ryan’s words—what else?—a dog whistle, while ThinkProgress (“Paul Ryan Blames Poverty on ‘Lazy’ Inner City Men”) and Politico (“Is Paul Ryan Racist?”) simply let their headlines say it all.
In contrast, the Bryant case has provoked only a modest kerfuffle. While it surely surprised many, and especially his fellow blacks, that Kobe wasn’t entirely with the program, only a handful of activists have made an issue of his supposed race treachery. And, indeed, one black commentator, ESPN’s idiosyncratic Stephen A. Smith, actually supported him. The most pointed denunciations have come from unknowns. Jamilah King at Colorlines.com called out Bryant for his “stingy insistence on clinging to a ‘post-racial’ identity, this very old, conservative notion that black people should not be treated differently in this country—despite all of the evidence, like Martin’s death, that they are.” The Urban Daily opined, “Over the span of Kobe Bryant‘s career . . . we’ve seen him do and say some very smug, cavalier and even cornball things at times but the comments that he made regarding the Miami Heat’s support after Trayvon Martin was killed . . . by far takes the cake!” And does anyone seriously expect that the boycott of Bryant merchandise called for by Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., for the star’s failure to “identify with the struggle that our African-American youth face nationally,” will have the slightest effect?
At this writing, not even Al Sharpton has weighed in, let alone Paul Krugman. It’s not quite as easy for the Left (and especially white liberals) to demonize a prominent black man given to independent thought as it is to criticize one of the usual suspects—like, for instance, a recent Republican vice presidential candidate or an avowed black conservative.
Of course, Kobe Bryant said nothing wrong. To the contrary, what he said was in the best American tradition. Indeed, if Bryant and Ryan are guilty of anything, it’s of trying to placate the bullies by seeking to “clarify” words that needed no clarification. Bryant sent a tweet indicating that he believed, based on the “facts,” that Trayvon Martin had suffered a miscarriage of justice. Far more wrong are those who see what’s happening yet fail to defend those attacked for speaking difficult racial truths. Ward Connerly, the great fighter against racial quotas, tells of addressing audiences about the ills of affirmative action and seeing heads bob in agreement—until a black activist stands up and starts “going on about slavery and four hundred years of racism,” and suddenly everyone in the room falls silent, staring down at their hands.
The Ryan and Bryant episodes will blow over, but others will follow. We remain stuck in this country on race—not only afraid to tell the truth, but also afraid to defend those who do. Republicans have been especially remiss in this regard. They should discuss race frankly in every campaign—not to promote hatred and division, as the real race baiters will inevitably charge, but because it’s right.