Malkin, Racism and ProfilingChris Bray has said that Michelle Malkin “drank from a poisoned well,” by gleaning her argument from the research of racists. I intend to make his argument more concrete. Malkin’s reading of evidence is similar to the way Dwight Murphey has read evidence both on sabotage and internment and on lynching. The deeply flawed way Murphey reads the evidence, leads one to conclude that his methodology must be informed by racism or he must be extremely naïve. Malkin makes exactly the same mistake on internment that Murphey makes both on internment and lynching. This mistake informs most of her analysis and in the end undercuts her argument for “reasonable” profiling measures today. How can we trust the advocates of profiling measures to be “reasonable” when they fall victim to pseudo-academic and racist propaganda?
I’m not calling Malkin a racist. Indeed my argument presupposes that she isn’t. What makes the point so devastating for the profiling position is that she has fallen prey to the mistakes of racism without being racist herself. She demonstrates that otherwise reasonable people are easily influenced by the propaganda surrounding race.
Any serious historian must in the course of their analysis engage in serious questioning of their documents. What kinds of biases are built into a particular source? Who is recorded in this document and whose views are left out? How was the document produced? These are just some of the questions one must ask when reading a document.
For illustration, party sources during Stalin’s dekulakization campaign (which starved 4 million people to death) are going to complain about the figure of the kulak. The kulak they will say is undermining the process of collectivization, a process that will be good for all of Russian society including the peasants. It would be a mistake to infer from this that a) the kulak (a supposedly bourgeoisie peasant) existed or that b) resistance was due to false consciousness created by kulaks. When one reads these documents, one must understand the bias inherent in them, and try to adjust for it.
Dwight Murphey doesn’t appear to do this in his book on lynching. I say appear, because my library doesn’t carry his book (the press that published it isn’t very good—more on that in a bit) so I’m relying on a review. According to the reviewer:
It is easy to lose sight of another important aspect of lynching – that it was by no means random killing but punishment for specific crimes. Many participants knew the accused and could determine his guilt. Even opponents of lynching rarely argued that the victims were innocent; only that courts rather than mobs should enforce the law and that lynch mobs could commit unspeakable cruelties.
Of course, historians of lynching know that African Americans were almost always accused of a crime, quite frequently the rape of a white woman, before the lynching began. It’s a major logical leap to conclude that either a) the rape actually occurred or that b) the supposed rapist being lynched was actually the guilty party rather than who the community wanted to be guilty. The closeness of the relationships within communities would tend to create more not less prejudice as jealousy over successful blacks who didn’t “stay in their place” was frequent. In short that conclusion only follows if we take the evidence at face value, ignoring all the problems with it, and ignoring other evidence (like the context of racism).
Why would Murphey (and his reviewer) be so dense as to argue for such a reading? One answer is that they are both incompetent. Another (perhaps not exclusive) possibility is that they are predisposed to believe such a reading. The group that published Murphey’s book, the Council for Social and Economic Studies is listed right next to American Renaissance where the review is published by the Southern Poverty Law center for web sites that legitimate racist thinking. The center has a full article featuring American Renaissance. The Southern Poverty Law Centersummarizes an article by Richard Lynn:
Blacks are not only less intelligent than other races, Lynn asserted, but also "more psychopathic." Putting a new twist on the "science" that once supported slavery, Lynn concluded that because of their "psychopathic personalities," blacks are more aggressive than other races, less able to form long-term relationships, and more sexually promiscuous, reckless and prone to lying.
If Murphey believes that African Americans were pre-disposed to rape, he might very well take the evidence at face value, and ignore previous scholarship that doesn’t share his assumptions.
The argument for internment rests crucially on the MAGIC cables. These cables were decrypted transmissions sent from consulates back to Japan. There are a number of potential problems with these cables:
1) It’s not clear which, if any cables, relating to domestic sabotage the key figures were reading and when.
2) Those responsible for recruiting spies tend to exaggerate their progress. The cables are very vague as to what exactly has been done. Consequently, it seems likely that vaguely positive language like the statement that “we will continue to keep contact” with the Nisei is purposefully evasive for the purpose of seeming to do more than is actually being done.
3) These documents were all translated, and obviously any translation ought to be checked, particularly if the entire argument rests on the veracity of that translation.
4) They are not consistent with the rest of the evidence we have including the lack documented acts of sabotage and by the lack documents found in the archives in Japan outlining American espionage and sabotage organizations.
Yet Malkin chooses to ignore these problems. She reads the MAGIC cables just like Murphey reads accusations of rape. She reads them uncritically and without substantial evidence from other documents (other than a few anecdotes). She neglects to inform the reader of the massively documented racism at the time, and she fails to address previous scholarship in a meaningful way.
These errors combine to produce her factually inaccurate contention that internment was “not based primarily on racism and wartime hysteria.” I don’t have space to entirely debunk that claim here, but luckily Eric Muller and Greg Robinson have already done so more than adequately.
But remember her larger goal is to convince people like me who are on the fence about the issue of profiling that it is in fact sensible. I worry that race is a category we have a tendency to abuse and consequently I wonder if I can trust those who want to use it to do so responsibly.
Malkin has managed to convince herself that the eviction and incarceration of 112,000 Japanese Americans was a legitimate use of profiling. She has done so by mimicking the arguments published by racist organizations. She has done so by reading the evidence in a way that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. She has done all of this without being a racist. She has done this despite apparently being intelligent.
Can I trust someone like Malkin to responsibly profile? If I can’t trust her, whom can I trust?