Thursday, April 30, 2009

Byron York needs black people to have non-actual modal parts

This Byron York post is being linked everywhere because it contains one of the most fascinating comments I've ever heard on race. It's not a throwaway line -- it's standing right there in thesis-statement position at the end of the first paragraph:
On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.
"more popular overall than they actually are"? Usually, racism doesn't push people to say things that are flatly contradictory. Though we might be able to make it consistent if we take a racialized version of Brian Weatherson's view and assume that black people have non-actual modal parts while white people are wholly actual. It'll be hard to reliably poll people's non-actual modal parts, but that's never stopped Zogby before.

The real issue here is that York doesn't regard black people's input in the political process as having the same legitimacy as white people's. That's the only way you end up saying crazy stuff like that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know who this York guy is, but maybe he thinks a lot of black people uncritically approve of Obama just because he's black, so their approval of Obama is to be taken less seriously than their opinions on other things.

Aidan said...

I'm not remotely defending the content of anything York says, but I'm not seeing the flat contradiction. What's contradictory about suggesting that Obama's positions "appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are"? The passage seems perfectly intelligible to me. Am I missing something?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Ah, okay Aidan, the contradiction wasn't just in the part I quoted at the end. Let me try this again.

"his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are."

Sky-high ratings among a certain group don't just contribute to appearances of public opinion. They constitute a part of the reality of public opinion, proportional to the size of the group. That much is implicit in the notion of sky-high ratings among a certain group. If you use this notion, that's what you're talking about.

But then York comes back and says that they don't constitute part of the reality of public opinion, proportional to the size of the group. He claims that they appear to do that, but they really don't.

So you have black support contributing in a certain way. But not contributing in that way.

Anonymous said...

We could turn it around and say that white people uncritically disapprove of Obama just because he's black, so their disapproval of Obama is to be taken less seriously than their opinions on other things. It seems like York thinks only black people can be uncritical.

-Jonathan

Neil Sinhababu said...

Uriah Kriegel just pointed out the Obama himself / his policies distinction, which removes the contradiction.