Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2003 / 7 Tishrei, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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ON RACIAL CENSORSHIP AND RUSH LIMBAUGH | It is one of the sad signs of our times that a furor was created because Rush Limbaugh expressed an opinion as to why a particular quarterback seemed to him to be over-rated. In his view, it was because the powers that be in professional football were anxious to have a star quarterback who was black.

If this was a criticism of anybody, it was a criticism of the powers that be in the National Football League. Nevertheless, people have gone ballistic, just as if he had criticized blacks as a race. But you have to twist the truth like a pretzel to reach that conclusion.

Rush's resignation from ESPN may stop the dogs from barking at his heels and all this may soon be forgotten -- but it shouldn't be. Hyper-censorship about anything in any way involving race is a danger to this whole society, on matters far more weighty than football.

When the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan first warned of the social dangers in the decline of black families back in the 1960s, and called for government policies to help deal with these dangers, he was attacked viciously for saying something that everyone now recognizes as true because the problem has grown even worse than it was when he issued his warning.

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The denunciation and demonization of Pat Moynihan marked a major turning point in public discussions of racial issues. From then on, the test of what you said was no longer whether it was true but whether it was politically correct. This silenced the faint hearted -- which is to say, most of academia and virtually all of the media.

Today, if you want to read an honest assessment of the black colleges, you have to go back to a 1967 article by Christopher Jencks and the late David Riesman in the Harvard Educational Review. If you want to read an honest assessment of the black middle class you have to go back to a 1962 book, "Black Bourgeoisie" by E. Franklin Frazier, one of the leading black scholars of the 20th century.

So enshrined has racial censorship become that it can literally become a federal case if you want to give IQ tests to black children. Professor Nathan Glazer of Harvard has suggested that research on race and IQ should stop.

A long time ago, it was said that the truth will set you free. But today the idea seems to be that only the right spin will set you free. And the right spin of course means the left spin.

Facts can be ignored but their consequences cannot be escaped. If the facts don't matter, this means that the people who are going to have to pay those consequences don't matter.

None of those who demonized Daniel Patrick Moynihan has paid any price. But the black community has paid a terrible price because the problem he tried to point out was swept under the rug. Broken homes and children raising children have produced poisonous consequences, from educational failures to drugs and murder.

A highly developed and highly rewarded racial grievance industry benefits from its ability to intimidate, silence and extort. But there is always a price to be paid. That price is paid by American society as a whole, but especially by minority communities that the grievance hustlers claim to be helping.

In the current tempest in a teapot over what Rush Limbaugh said about the National Football League, neither ESPN nor Rush himself will pay any serious price. He doesn't need the job and apparently feels he doesn't need the hassle.

The question of the validity of what was said has already been lost in the shuffle. In a sense, that doesn't matter. What matters enormously is whether or not people lose the freedom to say what they think. That loss is a loss to all of us, those who agree and those who disagree.

Even wrong ideas have a contribution to make, when they provoke open discussions and investigations that end up with our knowing and understanding more than we knew or understood before. People's lives are being saved today by medicines based on a knowledge of chemistry that developed out of alchemy, a centuries-old crazy idea of turning lead into gold.

What contribution has the enforced silence of censorship ever made?

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)


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