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Jewish World Review March 21, 2000 /14 Adar II, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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A friend like Iago -- AS POLITICIANS SCRAMBLE to get votes this election year, those seeking the votes of blacks are pulling out all the stops in denouncing "racism" and promoting paranoia. If they cannot find enough racism for their purposes in the present, then they go back into the past, reliving the march to Selma or even resurrecting racial grievances from World War II, more than half a century ago.

The point of all this activity and rhetoric is to show that liberal Democrats are friends of blacks, so that black voters will be friends of liberal Democrats on election day. However, these politicians are being friends to blacks in a way that is too much like the way that Iago was a friend to Othello -- feeding his suspicions and promoting his paranoia. Iago's purpose was to lead Othello to his own self-destruction, while liberals want no more than to get out the black vote. However, the difference in intentions does not mean that there is likely to be a corresponding difference in results.

No one who encourages you to look backward when there are unparalleled opportunities in front of you is really a friend. Nor does a friend encourage paranoia or belligerence that is likely to make you worse off than if you put your energies into something more likely to improve your own wellbeing.

Make no mistake about it, there have been real grievances for blacks, just as there have been -- and continue to be -- grievances for all sorts of groups in countries around the world and down through history. But those groups which have risen from poverty to prosperity have usually done so by promoting their own productivity, not by parading their grievances. In fact, it is hard to think of a single group anywhere that has realized its potential by denouncing other people's sins.

It is not just minorities who can be led to their own self-destruction by demagogues playing on their emotions and stirring their resentments. Hitler appealed to the wounded pride of the German nation as a whole over the way it was treated by the Western Allies after its defeat in the First World War. Luring them on by heady talk of their being a "master race," Hitler used millions of Germans as cannon fodder for his own military adventures abroad and imposed total tyranny on them at home.

Racial hype has an unbroken record of tragedy around the world, whether it has been practiced by a majority or a minority.

The island nation of Sri Lanka, off the southeast coast of India, was once held up as a model to other nations because of its good intergroup relations when it became independent in 1948. At that time, relations between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority were better than relations between blacks and whites in the United States have ever been at any time in our history. Yet, just a decade later, political leaders fanning the flames of ethnic and religious differences had polarized the society, leading to mob violence and then to outright civil war that continues on to this moment.

Among the many atrocities that have occurred in Sri Lanka was the action of a Sinhalese mob which dragged a Tamil woman-- chosen at random-- off a bus, soaked her in gasoline, set her afire, and then danced around her in the streets, clapping their hands while she died in agony. We in the United States are still a long way from that level of hatred and animosity. But we need to understand that Sri Lanka was an even longer way away from that kind of atrocity before its politicians took them down the road of polarization.

Currently we are just at the point where race hustlers and mob inciters like Al Sharpton are being embraced by white "friends" of blacks like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. We are at the point where every leftist judge nominated by the Clinton administration who is rejected by the Senate brings charges of "racism" if that nominee happens to be a member of some minority group.

We are at the point where Supreme Court decisions outlawing racial preferences and quotas are being disregarded by the Clinton administration, producing minor benefits for a few blacks and major benefits for white hate groups, who capitalize on the resentments created by double standards and double talk.

In short, we have not yet reached the point of no return. But we need to be aware that there is such a point -- and that we would be very wise to stop before we find out where it is. Blacks don't need friends like Iago and American society should not be subjected to the risks created by their insidious words and deeds.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate