Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar of military history and longtime National Review foreign affairs columnist, has a habit of dipping his toes into racially uncomfortable water. In a past column, for example, Hanson accused President Obama of attempting to victimize white people for political gain.
His column today, however, directly echoes the now-infamous piece by self-described “race-realist” John Derbyshire that National Review deemed a firing offense. Derbyshire’s TakiMag piece, the conceit of which was that the author was giving a white equivalent of “The Talk” that black parents give their children about racism, included gems like “avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally,” “stay out of heavily black neighborhoods,” and “if accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.”
The thrust of Hanson’s argument — black men are criminals and you should stay away from them, my son — is largely indistinguishable from Derbyshire’s. “Be careful if a group of black youths approaches you,” Hanson quoted his father as saying before a move to San Francisco. “After some first-hand episodes with young African-American males,” he continued, “I offered a similar lecture to my own son.”
Hanson’s piece included some weak caveats seemingly aimed at distinguishing himself from Derbyshire. “Note what [my father] did not say to me. He did not employ language like ‘typical black person.’ He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young…In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.”
This is bollocks. Hanson, like innumerates Richard Cohen and Kathleen Parker before him, is relying on a common mathematical fallacy, called the base rate error, to draw fictitious conclusions about the danger posed by black men. Even if black men are more likely to be violent, and that’s a big if, it still doesn’t follow that all others should avoid them: because the absolute rate of crime is extremely low, any individual black man is almost certainly not going to be a criminal. But, as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it in a sterling critique of Hanson, “one of the effects of racism is its tendency to justify stupidity.”
The point, then, is that any supposed difference between Hanson and Derbyshire is a smokescreen. Both improperly manipulate crime statistics to make incorrect generalizations about the criminality of entire groups of people based largely on the color of their skin. The fact that Derbyshire is blunter about it makes no substantive difference.
When National Review editor Rich Lowry dismissed Derbyshire, he wrote that Derbyshire was advancing views with which “we’d never associate ourselves.” But Wednesday morning, they did just that.