Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Indifference to Ranting White Teens Online: I Take White Racism to Be a Standing Rule and Not an Aberration



"If it bleeds it leads" is both an observation and a rubric for those who work in the traditional news media. Ultimately, bad news is good news because it ensures that viewers and readers get hooked by the first story of wanton disaster, rape, suffering, or human loss, and stay tuned in for the remainder of the show. Those who write about race online, and especially on blogs (or other types of social media), are often governed by a similar rule: talk about racism, practice some variety of "racism chasing," or search out the newest instance of racial injustice or grievance and the readers and the "hits" will come.

The Internet is a big place. I therefore do not begrudge others their proclivities and/or interests--as long as they allow me the same latitude. Writing online is a game of sorts. You can go for the link bait, be sensationalistic in order to help a post go viral, or parrot what you see and read elsewhere in order to be assured of getting at least some residual traffic. In all, I always try to be myself and to follow my own interests. Consequently, some stories just don't move me.

For example, I have little to no interest in the litany of "stuff [insert random group of fools say online] videos." I just don't. I also do not comment on the New Age race minstrelsy of shows like the Basketball Housewives of Atlanta and other such hot garbage. Once more, there is no accounting for taste. However, there are quite a few folks whose work I do find of interest that are compelled to comment on what appears to be a never ending trickle of (white) people behaving badly videos. This has forced a moment of critical self-reflection as I have come to ask myself, "why do I not find these performances--and yes they are performances--at all compelling?"

My answer to this question is one rooted in cynicism. I take white racism to be a norm and not an aberration. Of course, the United States has undergone a radical transformation from a regime of de facto white supremacy to one where there is a black President, and an increasingly diverse middle and upper class. Since the end of World War 2 and the beginning of the Cold War, American elites have worked at moving social norms away from white supremacy (as it did not serve the country's national interests in the struggle against the Soviet Union). This does not mean that the hearts and minds of white folks (and others) in mass were radically transformed.

As sociologists like Omi and Winant have observed, race and racism are trans-historical concepts which are evolving, changing, and adaptive. If racism and racial ideologies were static, they would not continue to over-determine life chances to the advantage of whites, and to the disadvantage of people of color. And just because the expression of white supremacy is now couched in the rhetoric of "colorblindness" and "post-racial" America, does not mean that it no longer exerts power in the service of the racial state and white Power.

The Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video is instructive. It is a rich example of the dual concepts of frontstage and backstage racism wherein whites as a group have learned to perform a public script of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism, while keeping their real feelings safe and secure in private. Moreover, the video reinforces Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's observations that one of the ways that white supremacy is reproduced, and its lessons learned and taught from one generation to the next, is through humor and joke telling. I would include online rants and Youtube promos in this same genre and family of performance.

The refrain of "we were just kidding," is a common denial and defense mechanism for white racists in the post civil rights era. It is also a skillful deflection. Instead of being forced to confront their own moral defect of white supremacy, the onus is now put on those who are offended by these displays of racism: the objectors are now "too sensitive," "too politically correct," or denying white folks their "freedom of speech."

Whiteness is skilled (usually, but with some exceptions) at being polite in "mixed" company. Whiteness is also honest and open with its racism around those assumed to be of the same race or ethnicity, or like minded politically. The Internet has broken down these barriers of private and public. The white bigotry on display in the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video happens everyday in this country. It is a common script.

There is a decades-long resource called the General Social Survey which is of great help in explaining my relative indifference to the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video. Emotions matter. However, I am also an empiricist. As such, the General Social Survey is a powerful barometer of how American racial attitudes have changed from the civil rights era up to the present. White beliefs in "biological" or "natural" black inferiority have diminished significantly over the last several decades. There have also been positive increases in a general sense of social and racial egalitarianism, as well as a rejection of de jure racism in employment, housing, and politics.

However, blacks and whites still live hold radically different perceptions of how close America is to achieving racial equality. For example, in keeping with the theoretical framework known as symbolic racism, significant numbers of whites still believe that African Americans are perennial complainers, could "achieve" if they wanted too (just like white ethnic immigrants), and that institutional racism is a thing of the past.

Of particular relevance to understanding the persistence of day to day white racism (in the frontstage and the backstage) as evidenced in both the the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video, and Tea Party GOP's pathological hostility to Barack Obama, is a sense of social distance from, a lack of concern about, and a paucity of shared empathy with African Americans. In short, racially resentful whites do not believe that black people are "real Americans." The latter are somehow on the periphery of the American story as understood by a significant percentage of the white American public.

When the data from the General Social Survey is combined with other findings, the story becomes even more damning and complicated.

Conservatism as a political personality type has been repeatedly linked with authoritarianism. There is now strong evidence that conservatism is linked to racism and low IQ. The popular and much discussed Implicit Association Test has reinforced the power of internalized white supremacy on individuals' decision-making.

As a complement, psychologists have found that whites who subconsciously identify black people with monkey and ape imagery are significantly more likely to support the death penalty for African Americans. And coming full circle, public opinion research on white racial attitudes in the years following the election of Barack Obama suggests a sense that many whites now feel "oppressed" by blacks, that anti-white racism is a great social ill, and that white people are somehow disadvantaged in what they see as a "zero-sum" game of racial progress.

The Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video is a typical story. Whites in the Age of Obama may like individual blacks, but not Black People. White folks have historically loved black culture, but they have possessed a deep disdain for black humanity. The teenagers making racist jokes and rants about African Americans in the above video most certainly have "black friends." Provocatively, I would not be surprised if they emphatically support President Barack Obama.

My what a mess this race-making and racism-undoing business is.

For years, the General Social Survey has contained a wonderfully appropriate question, one which I suggest is an especially accurate and valid measurement of racial progress in the post civil rights era. It asked respondents, "how many friends of another race do they have?" The followup question then asks if they had this person over the house for dinner. Predictably, there was a huge gap between the first question and the second.

My instinct would be that the post-racial generation, as embodied by those two young women featured in the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video, would answer "yes" to the first question at significantly higher rates than their parents. They would likely expand it to include their "friends" on Facebook. But the second question, the real giveaway, would likely not be too much different. Many post racial, post civil rights white folks love to claim people of color as friends. But, how many of these white folks have had black and brown folks over for dinner? And as I like to ask--and what I take to be a true measure of intimacy--how many of those same white folks have let their friends who happen to be people of color use the bathroom?

You may not be able to add that question to the General Social Survey. But, you can use it as a personal litmus test for friendship, the ties that bind, and the denseness of social ties.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Black crime shapes white peoples opinion more than some implied trans-generational anti negro conspiracy. Black people around the world are viewed by not just Whites to be a rather violent and untrustworthy people. Switzerland has a Black poupulation of 2% yet make up over 15% of the prison population. The teens in the video were merely ranting about something they know very well. Something they witness every single school day! Black behavior.
You can call it what you will and make excuses for it all you like, until there is a paradigm shift in the way Blacks as a whole conduct themselves opinions will remain unfavorable.

fictional eyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CNu said...

Racism ain't have nothing to do with this 2nd/3rd line inheritor multigenerational epic fail, but I'd willing to bet that lazy, excuse-making racism-chasing has had A WHOLE LOT to do with it....,

CBid said...

Ever notice how 'anonymous' commentators comprise about 90% of the most baseless, uninformed, and ignorant attempts at provoking people in forums and threads such as this?

If you're going to believe in stupid shit and spout off about it, at least own it. Grow a set and identify yourself, O foolish and hidden sniper...

For real. Geez..

-CBid (a.k.a. Chris Bidwell)

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Yawn. Please bring the a team and not the back benchers next time.

@Cnu. Instincts would say perhaps. But white folks have had the same tendency to reject the justice claims of black people for decades as documented by the polling data. You have about the same percentage of whites saying that race relations were good and there were not problems while black people were being shot dead in the street during the Civil Rights Movement as do today. My concern is that instead of talking about racially predatory lending policies and other substantial attacks on black and brown people, many are distracted by youtube foolishness.

@Cbid. Be nice. They need encouragement and nurturing.

Anonymous said...

@Chaunc. I like you and Brother-X-Squared. A-Team commeth!

Anonymous said...

As a 50+year old Afro Cuban descendant remembering what my grandfather told me a child "The only thing better than a black person in a white Cubans eyes was a black Cuban " but not by much. Recounting how it was how it was prior to the Cuban revolution, Havana The Capital city of Cuba where if you where darker than a brown paper bag you were barred from residing within the city limits you where allowed to work as a domestic,landscaper,entertainer and so forth, so her Rant is just an
affirmation of the white privilege and the doctrine of white supremacy being passed down to the next generations.

R-SON said...

I'd heard about this but I wasn't going to watch it. Finally broke down after your article. WOW. Humanity as a species is doomed. Keep up the struggle dude.