The writer of this article in National Review makes some valid points. One’s personal experiences do NOT necessarily reflect objective reality. I have no argument with that. But Obama’s, it just so happens, DO, and we have known this for quite some time. More on that in a moment.
This article is a great example of a major complaint I have with not only NR, but conservative arguments in general. It comes across a bit “douchey” and defensive. Of course, in general, that’s what conservatism does — defends the status quo. That’s why it’s called “conservatism.” Its pitfall is often doucheyness, just like the pitfall of liberalism is often arrogance. In fact, conservatives reading this article will probably perceive my tone as arrogant, and liberals reading the NR article I cited above will probably perceive the tone of that article as douchey.
Now, to thoughts on Obama’s comment itself:
When a person of color says, “Here’s my experience,” the appropriate response is to say, first, “That’s a terrible experience.” Not as an off-the-cuff statement of fact on the way to invaliding that person’s experience, as this writer does, but in a way that takes the experience seriously.
The writer remarks that Obama merely takes it for granted that her feelings do in fact represent a grave public problem.
Since when do people not link their own experiences to objective realities?
Besides, it’s not Michelle Obama’s job to provide citations that prove that her subjective experience is reflected in objective reality. Those studies have been done, over and over, and there’s no doubt whatsoever, for any person open to research and reason, that the U.S. still has substantial problems with race. To disagree with this is to put one’s self in the same intellectual territory as the anti-vaxxers who keep insisting it hasn’t yet been proven that vaccines do not cause autism. The studies have been done. The evidence is in. That argument is made, over, past-tense.
Understood this way, it is not Obama’s feelings of alienation that prove there’s a race problem in America, it’s the abundant research done over generations that proves it, and Obama’s comments are merely a specific example of a way in which Obama herself experienced that problem. That the research so thoroughly supports the sense, among so many people, that there’s a race problem in America, makes the research all the more relevant and powerful.
It is precisely because the evidence is so abundant, in fact, so available for anyone seeking it and open to it, that the case doesn’t have to be made anymore. It has been made, so substantially that whether or not the U.S. has a race problem has moved out of the realm of opinion and into the realm of our “state of knowledge,” what we can reasonably claim to know. That the writer of this article, or anyone else, wants to act as if this has not happened does not change that fact.
This speaks to a deeper problem we are having with discourse in America and it’s the problem of authority. No meaningful dialogue on any topic is possible if the parties at the table cannot even agree on what constitutes knowledge to begin with. If you and I are discussing aviation, for example, and you keep insisting that gravity has not been sufficiently proven, no rational discussion of aviation can proceed from there. We have to agree on basic principles that are critical in aviation, and upon which the entire science is built, or we cannot get anywhere.
The existence of this article on Michelle Obama, to begin with, leads me to believe that the writer, Mr. Tuttle, has never truly grappled with the evidence that should have shaped his basic understanding of the race problem in America to begin with. If he had understood that research, he would have seen that Mrs. Obama was merely speaking of an aspect of her experience that we already know reflects objective reality. Instead he asks where is the evidence.