The kerfuffle over John Derbyshire’s racist screed and his subsequent dismissal from National Review came and went so quickly that it was over and done with before a lot of people got a chance to post much about it.
To catch you up, Mr. Derbyshire, who has a history of writing such things, wrote a column for Taki’s Magazine (I know; I never heard of it either) in which he took a white man’s spin on “The Talk” that black parents give their children about living in the white man’s world. The column is full of racial stereotypes and offensive characterizations of African Americans. By last Friday evening, after Mr. Derbyshire confirmed that it was not satire but social commentary, the outrage and embarrassment had spread back to the National Review and the National Review Online where he was a contributor, and by Saturday, Rich Lowry, the editor of NR, terminated the magazine’s relationship with Mr. Derbyshire.
There will probably be a few rumblings about freedom of speech and the First Amendment from the idiots who don’t get the fact that the Constitution doesn’t protect you from getting fired from a magazine for writing crap any more than it protects you from getting hounded off the radio like Dr. Laura. And for what it’s worth from me, Mr. Lowry did the right thing by getting on this and getting him out. Of course, since Mr. Derbyshire has been writing crap like this for as long as he’s been writing for NR, one could say it’s about damn time, but hey, why be churlish?
Here’s why: The National Review has always had a racist tone to it, but they do a very good job of couching it in the restricted-country-club manner. They would never be so gauche as to actually use the N-word, but they write in such a way as to make it very clear where they’ve stood on race relations throughout their history. The fact that they do it while sipping bourbon on the patio overlooking the eighteenth green at Augusta rather than wearing hoods at a cross-burning gave them an entry into the “thoughtful conservative” meme rather than the lynch mob, but the effect is the same. Mr. Derbyshire’s transgression was like someone getting drunk at the Memorial Day Tea Dance and jumping naked into the baby pool: it’s all too embarrassing to be seen in public and something had to be done. NR had the good luck of it happening on a holiday weekend while everyone was tuned into the Masters.
I doubt that the incident will lead to any soul-searching at the magazine because, for one thing, you have to have one to search in the first place. Second, it wasn’t what Mr. Derbyshire wrote at another magazine that got him fired; it was that he was so graceless as to actually write it in a way that everyone could see the racism behind it. Rule #1 at the country club: never draw attention to yourself so that you’re seen in any part of the paper other than the society pages.