Racial Attitudes: A Matter of Perspective?

By John "Birdman" Bryant


The division between liberals and conservatives on race issues generally, and black-vs-white issues in particular, is not a difference over facts so much as a difference of perspective: The conservatives judge individual blacks on the basis of the characteristics of their race as a whole, while the liberals believe that each man should be judged on his individual merits, which may be totally different from those of his race. The difference may perhaps best be exemplified by considering the different attitude of conservatives and liberals to hiring blacks in consideration of the fact that blacks are nine times more likely than whites to be involved in crime: The conservative would say that, because the probability of a black being a criminal is so much higher than that of a white, it is simply too risky to hire blacks; while a liberal would say that a blanket refusal to hire blacks is unfair because each person is different, and thus a blanket refusal would entail the refusal to hire many worthy people.

Now the curious thing about these two perspectives is that, in a sense, both are perfectly correct: The difference lies in differing assumptions about the amount of information available to make a decision. In particular, the conservative makes his judgment based on the assumption that he will have no other information than that of race, while the liberal assumes that information on the individual can be obtained which will make the racial information irrelevant. This, then, means that both liberals and conservatives err when their informational assumptions do not fit the facts: The liberal errs by assuming that information on individuals will always be available when in fact it often is not; while the conservative errs when he judges a person on the basis of race alone when information on this individual is in fact available.

But if we are correct in having identified the great divide which separates liberals and conservatives on the issue of race, and if we are also correct that there is no argument between one view and the other in that these two views are mutually compatible, then this suggests that the battle between liberals and conservatives over race is without substance, in the same sense that arguments about taste are without substance. This of course is not to say that the alternatives which have been offered by liberals and conservatives respectively have been without consequence, for this is obviously not so; it is rather to suggest that these differing alternatives would never have been offered up in the first place if liberals and conservatives had had a clear understanding of their differences.


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