Friday, February 27, 2009

The Recrudescence of "Respectable" Racism

The press, the cable, and the culture, too, lately have been full of reports of irruptions of racist bile from if not unlikely, then unexpected sources: the leader of a state GOPuke party organization, the (GOP) mayor of a small California city, among others. The dead chimp cartoon, the magic negro song, and the WhiteHouse watermelon-patch card have achieved due prominence. The frankness of these expressions has only been equaled by the protestations of the perpetrators of the purity and innocence of their intentions.

And as they have done so, there has arisen a discourse which seeks to 'understand' and, to me it seems as much, to excuse these wretched excesses. Because, of course, each is but another window into the depths in the national character at which are cemented these really unpleasant, demeaning, embarrassing, hurtful, divisive (and therefore, to some people, really useful) demons of race.

I am not certain of the exact psychological mechanism, but it seems (counter-intuitively?) that Pres. Obama’s election actually seems to have liberated a strain of bigotry and invective that had, until relatively recently, lain pretty silent if not exactly dormant in the USer public psyche. In a way worth figuring out, I thingk, Obama's election has conferred a kind of 'popular' legitimacy on this kind of ‘humorous’ bigotry. His very public persona is somehow seen, by that segment of the culture which practices such things unashamedly and unabashedly, to make their slurs ‘acceptable.’ This is indicated in their apparent surprise when folks are offended by, and raise objections to it.

I suspect that, in each of these instances, the frisson of having “said what needs saying” (as whites in Louisiana claimed David Duke did) is all the incentive that was need. It would have been similar had Hilary been elected: just, instead of racism, the knuckledraggers would have spread sexist slurs, gay-ron-TEED, chers.

The following, which is part of a colloquy i conducted with a commentator on TP, today, may be illustrative of the issue. Previously the commentor, nymmed "backup" had been asserting that it was necessary to tolerate racism of the kind exemplified by the WhiteHouse melon-patch image and its dissemination by a public official if "we" were going to have any 'uncowardly' discussion of race. He urged that if such matters were met with hostility, or if the perpetrators of such acts weere going to suffer real consequences for their acts, the 'cowardice' would continue. I called bs, and more ore less accused him of both sophistry and 'genteel' racism. He replied:
Tokin. (or anyone). please cut and paste a statement I’ve made that you consider racist.
But that is not the issue, as I pointed out. He WANTED me to personalize it, but the roblem is not individual, but systemic. I said:
you are a talented sophist, i’ll give you that.

but your innocence is another camouflage. you are clever enough to have at least heard–even if you did not believe–that racism is not even particularly about individual acts or words. Racism is a system of arrangements and agreements and understandings among the dominant culture which permits, even encourages those individual acts of terror to achieve the larger social goal of retaining the current imbalances–which are always profitable for the majority, and almost always exclude the minority.

Obama’s election has provided that system with a certain challenge, even though he is not a member of the ‘class’ with which the requirements of justice and equity are associated. He is nevertheless the most prominent AVATAR of those interests. I hope, actually, that the persistence of that rational racism, that ‘respectable’ racism garbed in ‘humor’ may eventually propel Obama to assume the burden of King and others to compel white folks to genuinely apologize, and to finally remove the barriers that still stand between them and us.

The major one of those barriers is economic. Black households own less that 40%-by value, per capita--of those resources designated as wealth and owned by whites. Black America was not ALWAYS poor. It is not wholly so now, though poverty is ever more visible. And devastating. No. Whites conducted a number of race riots in the early and middle years of the 20th Century which, if they were not aimed at the black middle class, certainly had the effect of exterminating it and impoverishing them. Read up on Greenwood, OK, 1908.

You may never have owned slaves, nor your family; but-–depending on where you live–-there’s a pretty good chance you know somebody who’s related to somebody who did a lynching, sometime. There were a LOT of lynchings, and they occurred in some unexpected places. And there were innumerable acts of other kinds of savagery carried out on black folks by whites: beatings, rapes, torture.

What I refer to as your racism comes in your seeking to excuse, somehow to mitigate, and find an excuse for the evidently racist affront Grose committed.

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