Friday, August 7, 2009

Is “Racism” dead?: An in-depth conversation with America’s most inflammatory and most misunderstood word



Don’t ever say that we don’t deliver. The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) has scored an exclusive interview with Racism…Yes, the actual word Racism.

Enjoy!


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WARNNN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Racism: Thanks for having me.


WARNNN: You’ve been extremely busy over the last few weeks or so.

Racism: You have no idea.


WARNNN: And actually, the last year must have been a whirlwind for you, right—what with Obama’s election, all this post-racial talk, and the backlash from the right?

Racism: Definitely. It’s just been too much. I all but shut down in the months running up to the election, and just when I thought I’d recovered, I get hit with this wave from the Right: Tea Parties, Birthers—it just never ends.


WARNNN: So how are you feeling now?

Racism: Frustrated, spent.


WARNNN: Why?

Racism: I still get national headlines, maybe even more than I used to, but I feel empty. I fear that I’ve become a shell of my former self. Scratch that—I don’t fear it; I know it.


WARNNN: That’s a pretty bold statement. What’s behind these feelings?

Racism: Popular race discourse in America has never been more uncritical and simplistic as it is right now. I mean, it’s certainly less explicitly hostile and bigoted than it once was, but what passes for discussion of racism today is pathetic. They've flattened me to the point where I have no meaning.


WARNNN: I assume you’re talking about some combination of white people and the mainstream media.

Racism: For the most part, yeah. White people aren’t alone, of course, but, by in large, whites have driven this process. But this isn’t to say…It’s not that white people are inherently bad or stupid or anything; they’ve dumbed me down strictly as a defense mechanism, as a response to threats against their interests—both material and psychological. And the corporate media have their own set of interests, as you know.


WARNNN: There’s just so much to unpack in that answer…I’m not sure where to start. OK, let’s bracket the media thing for a minute. First let me ask this: what exactly do you mean when you say that you’ve been “flattened” and “dumbed down?”

Racism: I really just mean that the criteria for what qualifies as racism has been changed to benefit white people: the bar has been raised impossibly high for whites, lowered for everyone else.


WARNNN: In what way? Can you elaborate?

Racism: Nowadays, only biological white supremacy, racial slurs (especially the “N’ word”), and explicit racial violence will get a white person labeled a racist. Therefore, many whites respond to charges of racism by saying things like, “I’m not a racist…Some of my best friends are black…I’ve never enslaved any black people or terrorized them with dogs and firehoses…I’ve never burned a cross on a black family’s lawn or called anyone ‘Nigger.’” You see? Nazis and Klansmen are the only racist whites from this perspective. This isn’t the only view, but it’s been the default for decades.

On the other hand, look at how conservatives have co-opted Civil Rights language to depict members of the black left as “racists.” I mean, in just the last week, these people have charged Obama, Sotomayor, and Skip Gates with racism. In some formulations, merely mentioning race and racial injustice gets you slapped with the racist label. Think about how, in the eyes of most whites, the Panthers, Malcolm, Reverend Wright—indeed, all blacks who offer savage critiques of white supremacy—are racists on par with David Duke.


WARNNN: Divorcing you from structure seems to be at the heart of this flattening.


Racism: Exactly. They focus on individual attitudes—racially hostile attitudes—so as to limit the scope of racism to the hearts and minds of benighted souls. Not systematic discrimination in housing, the criminal justice system, education, employment. Not racism with any kind of heft or history to it, but just attitudes. That way, anyone can be racist and all racisms are equal. They can say, “Hey, racism is a 2-way street!” That’s their new favorite saying.


WARNNN: That’s a great way to segue into your family, particularly, you younger siblings, “Reverse Racism” and “The Race Card,” both of whom have had quite a bit of success in their own right. How are they doing these days?

Racism: In all honesty, we don’t talk that much. We were never really close, but it’s hard to forgive the two of them for getting into bed with the lowest right-wing scum.


WARNNN: Your brother “The Race Card” is still wildly popular across the board, but your little sister “Reverse Racism” has fallen on hard times. Conservatives seemed to have abandoned her for you. Is there any truth to the reports that she was a prostitute for the Republican Party?

Racism: I’m not going to get into all of that. It’s a shame how they used her. That’s all I’ll say. She brought most of her problems on herself, but believe me, I take no joy in the fact that conservatives dropped her and are using me now. Both my brother and my sister are tragic figures.


WARNNN: Let’s go back a second. How do you combat the argument you just stated, namely, that anyone can be racist, that, that all racisms are equal? How is it not racism when people like the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Brother X Squared, and any number of black prison philosophers on public access TV go beyond a critique of the institution and ideology of white supremacy to espouse a hatred of white people?

Racism: Yes…yes. Great question. Racial hatred, regardless of its source or its victim, is deeply destructive. It corrupts the soul and dehumanizes those who are subject to it. This should go without saying. But if I am to have any real meaning, racial animus by a subjugated group cannot be placed in the same category as a system of racial disenfranchisement and generations-long second class citizenship—hell, second class humanity!


WARNNN: Switching gears a bit—Isn’t it somewhat unfair to attribute this dumbing down to white people as a whole when, from what you’ve been saying, the process is driven by Frank Luntz-inspired, conservative newspeak?

Racism: Hold on, now. Wait a second. I’m glad you said that, because it gives me an opportunity to clear up a big misconception. While conservatives have done immeasurable damage to my image by denying that I exist and/or conflating me with critiques of white supremacy, it would be dishonest to pin this all on them. When it comes to dumbing down “racism,” white liberals have been right there on the front lines with their conservative enemies.


WARNNN: And what do white liberals have to gain from this?

Racism: The same thing that white conservatives have to gain: absolution. They get to convince themselves that their success is due entirely to their own hard work; that they possess no unfair advantage over their darker brothers and sisters. They get to live their lives without confronting the most uncomfortable aspects of racism, namely, its real world consequences and legacies. Again, material as well as psychological interests.

I also want to make it clear that black people have enabled whites in their effort to flatten me. Like I said, it isn’t just conservative whites; it's everyone.


WARNNN: How have black folks aided the processes?

Racism: Blacks embraced the platonic ideal of racism: The American South. The South, the fetid asshole of Jim Crow, was the perfect embodiment of what I should stand for: corrupt institutions and ideologies reinforcing and sustaining one another to create a semi-permanent underclass. In many ways, the decision to emphasize this most unmistakable form of racism would seal my fate. Focusing on the Bull Connors, the Faubuses, the George Wallaces, gave whites a convenient villain upon which to project their racial anxieties. But it made blacks sympathetic. It left no doubt as to the justness of their struggle. Blacks were helped tremendously by the focus on redneck crackers, but it came at a great cost in the long term.


WARNNN: Hmm. We just can’t win, can we?

Racism: {laughing} It appears that way.


WARNNN: Any parting words?

Racism: All I’ve ever wanted was to be a fully drawn, complex semantic being. There are people from all backgrounds fighting the good fight, in academia and in communities, and I never thought that I’d see the day, but we now have a President that speaks of me in nuanced terms. My days are numbered, however. I have no idea how long I have or how I will go, but then again, I’m not a political theorist or a linguist; I’m just a word.


WARNNN: We didn't even get to talk about the media's role.

Racism: {laughing} Perhaps another time.


WARNNN: Thank you again for joining us.

Racism: It was a pleasure.


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7 comments:

Dawn said...

I absolutely loved this! Very funny and how very true.
I'm a black woman who has been called a racist every time she talks about race...

A. Spence said...

Excellent interview. and here I thought Racism would be more angry. Whens the interview with Stereotype coming?

R-SON said...

AMAZING!!

Bana said...

This was much appreciated.

Thrasher said...

Superb

T.A.N. said...

Solid work.

I would like to see an interview with sexism, I bet she's a lot hotter.

White Dude said...

Part of the problem is that whites have been conditioned to look at the world through the lense of the self or individual. Being part of the majority culture means that one doesn't have to think about what it means to live as "the other". One can just basically ignore systemic viewpoints, and, as you mentioned, reside in the mantra of the individuals that one personally knows. This is the major divide, as I see it, that has to be crossed... How can we get white people to move beyond the locus of their individual selves and first notice, then understand, the true nature of the world, and the country, in which we all live?