Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Racism dead?

The US Supreme Court Thinks Racism Is Dead. What Planet Do They Live On?

From AlterNet:

First, facts that are 40 years old are still facts, and 40 years is not a long period of time when dealing with a centuries-old problem. Apartheid, whether in the US or elsewhere, is a recent phenomenon. Its direct beneficiaries and victims are still alive. Roughly one in five Americans were born after the voting rights act was passed. Deen, who was raised in the deep south, was married that year.

On the rare occasions when my six-year-old son asks questions about the civil rights era, I can point him to his grandparents, who lived through it into adulthood. Nor are its defenders part of some bygone age. Even as the lofty eulogies are prepared for an ailing Nelson Mandela we should not forget that former US vice-president Dick Cheney branded him the leader of a terrorist group in 1986 and the year before his release David Cameron went on a sanctions-busting trip paid for by pro-apartheid lobbyists.

Second, segregation has a legacy – not least because it was so recent. Quashing racist laws does not eliminate racism, only its explicit and codified enforcement. The past has consequences that directly impact the present. History does not just stop because a memory is inconvenient.

More here.

I take white Americans at their word when they tell me they believe that racism is a thing of the past.  Not that I think racism actually is a thing of the past, mind you, only that a lot of white people really do believe that such is the case.  They're totally wrong, of course, and there are butt-loads of evidence right in front of everybody's faces that these race-utopian white Americans are wrong.  I mean, considering the incarceration rate of black Americans in itself is slam dunk evidence that racism, extreme and damaging racism, is alive, well, and omnipresent in the United States today.  So there's really no need at this point to pen a screed countering such mistaken attitudes among white Americans.  They're just wrong, and that's that.

But, like I said, they believe they're right.  They really believe it.  In spite of all the damning evidence, large numbers of white Americans believe that racism no longer exists.  So what's going on here?

Well, obviously, it's complex, and I could go in a lot of directions with it.  But for my money, the biggest part of it has a lot to do with psychology, and how easy it is for human beings to allow their emotions to interfere with their intellectual processes.  In short, these white race-utopians have, very likely unconsciously, so limited their definition of the word "racism" that it removes all personal responsibility.  That is, "racism" is about how you, the individual, treat people who aren't white.  If you're willing to sit down and have a beer with a black guy, how can you be racist?  And if all your white friends are willing to share a table with black people, then all your white friends can't possibly be racist, either.  And if it seems pretty clear that most white people have no problem working, socializing, and sharing the nation with black people, why then, racism must be a thing of the past, over and done with, a relic from forty years ago.

And, bloody hell, a black guy occupying the Oval Office MUST mean that racism is done.  Case closed.  I don't care if you're black, white, brown, green or orange.  I'll have a beer with you.  (Okay, I'm well aware that there are no orange or green people.  Just stay with me on the example here.)  In my heart, I know it's wrong to dislike people just because of the color of their skin, and most everybody I know agrees with me on this, so racism is DEFINITELY over.

At least, that's how I imagine the psychology goes: white race-utopians define racism as an individual thing, and as long as they and their white associates keep up this "have a beer with" attitude, there can be no racism.  Of course, it's all a total delusion.  Racism is alive and well and omnipresent.  But if you define it in a way that excludes institutional manifestations of racism, in a way that equates racism with a white hood, and only with a white hood, then it becomes really easy to look the other way when evidence of racism is shoved in your face.  That is, if "racism is over," then problems African Americans suffer continually must necessarily be THEIR FAULT.  If you have an incredibly disproportionate number of blacks caught up in the criminal justice system, it must be because MORE BLACKS ARE CRIMINALS, not because the criminal justice system serves as the main institutional method for oppressing blacks in the US.  And so on.

Really, the whole "racism is over" attitude simply breeds more racism.  I mean, if racism is a thing of the past, it becomes much easier for whites to ask "What the hell is wrong with black people?  Why don't they just get a job?  What the hell is big-mouth Jesse Jackson going on and on about?"  So these white race-utopians walk around with their smug and self-righteous outlook, voting for politicians who routinely pass legislation that keeps black people down, the whole time being certain that they can't possibly be racist, and both perplexed and angry that blacks continue to assert that racism continues to oppress them. 

At least, I think that's what's going on.  Willful ignorance coupled with some dishonest conceptualizing as a device for avoidance of responsibility.  But like I said, there's probably a lot more to it than that.  I just think this dynamic is at the heart of it all.