Shades of Meaning pt 2: Racism

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When I was in New Orleans, there was a case that garnered some small amount of national attention.  A local magistrate refused to sign a marriage certificate for a mixed race couple.  He gave a list of reasons that I’m sure sounded plausible to him.  It was something about protecting future generations from being ostracised or harassed for being mixed.  Naturally, the sane world cried “Racism” and eventually the magistrate was forced out of his position.  When confronted with his obvious racism, the Magistrate said of course he wasn’t racist. He was only looking after children. In the same breath he said he couldn’t be a racist because he had “black friends”.

There are shades of racism.  When someone says “racism”, we think of Craig Cobb or other neo-Nazi/kkk/white supremacist types.  This is the most benign form of racism because it’s so obvious so let’s call them the Obvious Racists.  These are racists who are proud of their racism.  These are the folks that want to actively and violently harrass if not kill anyone who doesn’t meet their standard of whiteness.  This would also include perfectly white people who don’t hate everyone, are gay or  don’t hate gay people, or simply don’t don’t like racists.  They also passionately hate other racists who differ over minor points of hatred.  If the civil rights movement was a war against this kind of racism it won.  These sort of racists are loud but rare.  They’ll probably always be around, lurking in the back corners of the country but they’re politically ineffectual. The best thing to do, as long as they remain nonviolent, is let them be.  Any kind of hostility towards them will only strengthen their cause and give a real voice to their paranoid delusions.  But mostly these aren’t the kind of racists we’re talking about. If someone ever says your a racist it’s probably not this kind of racism we’re talking about.

Next we have our favorite Magistrate, the Blind Racist.  These are probably nice guys.  I have no doubt that he really does have black friends.  If he can manage to be civil and share a few common interests there’s no reason he wouldn’t or shouldn’t.  The classic move of the Blind Racist is, “but I have a black friend”  Just ask Donald Trump, he’s as blind as they come.  These folks are two parts ignorance, one part civility, and one part laziness.  They’re racists because they just don’t know any better and are too lazy to figure out how to be a meaningful part of a culture they didn’t grow up and help shape.  Sometimes you’ll see someone say, “he’s not a racist he’s just a man of his time”.  That man is a Blind Racist.

Next to these guys we have the extremely well meaning Helpful Racist.  The classic move of the Helpful Racist is, “I don’t see race”.  They’re enthusiastic about what they perceive is a post racial country.  They’re so desperate to put the past behind them they’re willing to lump an entire group of people into the racists own preconceived notions and ignore vast amounts of history and culture.  The Helpful Racist goes so far as to unknowingly subsume the personal identity of every member of an ethnic group into the dominant culture. These racists want to treat minorities exactly as if they were the same as the racist rather than as individuals where race, history and culture DO matter.

After that we have the Expert Racist.  This is a tricky one.  The one thing this guy isn’t is ignorant.  He’s often well traveled, well educated, and politically active and still has no idea how the policies will impact minority communities.  Moreover,  his own ideology blinds him to glaring faults. Being educated is not proof against racism. The well educated are no less likely to be racists, however they are adept at concealing racist attitudes.  This is a really positive first step towards overcoming racism.  Hopefully action will follow the enlightened attitude.  If it doesn’t though, that’s racism.  They may genuinely believe their multicultural language but fail to advance or favor any kind of remedial racial policy. They may have been there supporting minorities during their marches and struggles, they might have traveled the world trying to make it a little better for the poor and oppressed but in their self-sufficiency they do not challenge the systemic issues regarding power and privilege. They are willing to dedicate their lives to using their power and privilege working to advance the cause of minorities, but knowingly or otherwise, they’re still not willing to share.

After that you have your Confused racist. This is the one who fails to understand racial issues because he seems them not as racial issues but as an attack against him or his sense of patriotism. The classic move of the Confused Racist is, “I’m not a racist, you’re a socialist.” This one is also exceedingly likely to talk about owning the entire country.  As in, “I just want my country back” or “we’re going to take back our country”. These people or so confused they probably wouldn’t know a socialist if one slapped him across the face and said, “I am a socialist” but this is a pretty popular type of racist. If you ever here someone jabbering about how they’re not a racist and their tired of everyone calling them a racist, it’s probably a Confused Racist. When multicultural educators put together a very successful program in Southern California that addressed these concerns and celebrated the history and cultural South and Meso America, these were the racists that shut it down. For the children of course.

Then there’s institutionalized racists. These are great friends with your Expert Racists, but they’re more concerned with how the system will affect them and only them. They have the resources and the voting blocks to make that happen. Institutionalized Racism used to be obvious like the Obvious racists are. You had one policy for blacks and one for whites. Like seating arrangements on a bus or drinking fountains in the park. Now days the racism on an institutional level is more subtle and it has a lot more to do with selfishness than any real antipathy toward minorities. Sure, if you can get into my neighborhood you can go to my school but I’m going to make that difficult through redistributing, shutting down bus services, and other punitive measures. The classic move here for institutional racists is to work for “freedom!” And “smaller government” and “less regulation”. Somehow they always want the government optimized around their needs. Why should tax dollars be spent and programs created that aren’t immediately useful to them. If it’s not useful for them then it’s a waste of money.

Finally you have my favorite racist group. The lazy racist. These people don’t hate minorities, they’re just to lazy to understand them as something other than a stereotype. This is your Taco Mayor. In case you missed the story in East Haven Connecticut 4 police officers were arrested by the FBI for a string of racially motivated assaults and harassment of the Latino community. When the Mayor, Joseph Maturo Jr, was asked in an interview what he was going to do for the Latino Community he said, “I might have tacos”. Now the poor guy was probably just hungry but it was pretty insensitive all the same. We fall into these traps when we are to lazy to rise above our own ignorance of other people’s culture. Something for which multicultural lessons would be extraordinarily helpful if the confused racists would let us have them.

My goal here is not to vilify racists. Everyone will find themselves into some of these categories some of the time. Nor am I trying to set myself up as an authority on race relations. Me? I’m an expert racist. I really have a hard time caring about the issues that don’t affect me. I’m certainly not going to work to remove my own place of privilege. I like my privilege. So this is something I need to be aware of and work on. This post is how I interpret much of the race related dialogue I hear around me. I hope I made some sort of sense out of it.

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