Thursday, October 21, 2010

Race in the Age of Obama: A Conversation with an Angry White Man

We live in an age of colorblind racism, a world where racism exists, but there are no racists. True, we see the echos of bigotry on a frequent basis as the election of Barack Obama, changing racial demographics, and the Great Recession have brought the tea party brigands, the nativists, and the violent extremists out of hiding. But, there is little debate that the racism of today is structural, often impersonal, and more benign than in the dark days of Jim Crow.

For those activists, educators, journalists, policy types and other fellow travelers, this can make conversations with the post-Civil Rights multicultural generation on these matters quite difficult. Even when faced with the realities of racial inequality in housing, health, wealth and income disparities, incarceration rates, and other life indicators, the facts are often dismissed as "big" concepts that do not seem "real" or "personal." Thus, they are rendered untrue. When shown a vast literature that clearly demonstrates the realities of enduring racism in the Age of Obama, colorblind multiculturals also make a parallel move of denial and deflection: "sure this stuff is real, but I have never experienced it."

At times I feel like I am a conductor, a teacher in front of an audience, directing a symphony for a group that appreciates the aesthetics of the music, but doesn't get its power, complexity, or how the note and the drum are commentaries on our human existence. Or alternatively, I imagine myself an intrepid explorer, looking for the dodo bird, Bat Boy, the Yeti, or The Ark of the Covenant. I know these things are real, but I need to have the proof--"habeaus corpus"--to be able to produce the body. In short, theory needs to meet practice.

As a habit I do not engage in flame wars with Internet trolls. I enjoy a good fight. But these exchanges are often a waste of too valuable time. I broke my rule last weekend. On a popular black conservative's website I had a two day back and forth with a White arch-conservative libertarian, one who recites all of the mantras of the Right and the "reverse racism" crowd (and who by the way also believes that the Nazis were in fact "progressives" and "Socialists"). At the two day mark I disengaged, exhausted from punching water.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful proof that all of our high minded talk about racism, colorblindness, white racial resentment, and the white racial frame are reflections of the real world. I do truly believe in the virtues of what social scientists call "methodological individualism," that individual cases can tell us something about the broader social world. My conversation with said angry white man has only reinforced my allegiance to that key concept.

The whole exchange is worth reading, but the following post is an ideal-typical case of the politics of anger and white racial resentment that have long been with us, and are at present the beating heart of the New Right and the frothing at the mouth anti-Obama crowd.

What follows is akin to a critical race theorist's game of "Where's Waldo?" How many white deflections are present? What racial frame is being used? How is this an example of colorblind racism (or not)? What tired tropes are being deployed?

“When white Americans find it within themselves to say ‘I must be compensated for a past injustice done to me' but the same logic evaporates when the injustice concerns black Americans, they are staring straight at bias,” Banaji said.
Banaji thinks exactly like you. Note the interesting seque from individual to group, and how he twists the issue. If you, Mr. Devega, were discriminated against by the Government, I'd be right there defending you. You've already indicated where you would be in my case, given your commentary on what I've already revealed about Governmental discrimination -- you'd be on the other side, saying "he got what he deserved because people with his skin color have been living off of the sweat of my ancestors way too long". So I do see an interesting bias -- and it ain't me.

Now, I wonder how many people Mr. Mazzocco could find to join his putative lawsuit if he stated that half of the owners of the company today avenged the shipping magnate in hand to hand combat, and suffered great harm to themselves, with many of them dying...

You see, when you try to construct a simile, you have to make sure that the simile addresses the proper aspects of the thing you are simulating.

On my side, I'll let FUBU not hire white sales reps -- if they can grow their business and become fabulously wealthy by not doing so, well -- that's all right by me. In fact, it's all right by me if they damage their business that way, because Darwin is at work here -- big time.

You have been as much a slave in your lifetime as I have -- and perhaps less, given how much less you claim to pay in taxes. I have no sympathy for the argument you present -- or, to put it another way, exactly as much sympathy for your argument as you have for mine.

My Scottish forebears lived on a small island in the north of Scotland. Their land was assigned to one of the British royalty, and their lord got it into his head that he wanted to grow sheep on their island. So he did, on every available acre of arable land. 50% of the population died of starvation, and 50% of the remainder emigrated to North America before the lord figured out that his sheep were also dying and stopped the whole thing. Now, do I have any cause for action against Great Britain for what they did to my family? Should I curse the Queen and demand redress from her? Well...when I look at the descendants of the 25% who stayed alive, and the lives they lead, I'm not about to go there. My family struggled here in the USA, but we made ends meet and then some, in the end. Yup, an anecdote -- which undoubtedly you'll find useless.

Let's go back to you. Good education. Nice computer. Good internet access. This is not the hallmark of someone who's had some slavelord over them for even the smallest fraction of their life. You have freedoms those people left back in Africa can only dream of having. Sure, things could be better -- perhaps in Africa, your family was royalty, had palaces and such and even sold slaves themselves... But I presume too much, as do you.

I'm for rights given to people in the present, and how those rights are used or abused in the present. I'm for individual causes of action, not group causes. I find it interesting what my great great grandfather and my grandfather and even my parents had to go through to raise up their children, but I don't let any injustices from those bygone eras, as they are, drive my relationships in the present.

As for the Germans and the Italians, it was merely a point to counter your point of white self-interest. If whites were truly uniformly self-interested as you posit, there would have been no major movement to abolish slavery and no question that the Constitution of 1860 was exactly correct....and the Germans and the Italians would have been compensated but the Japanese would not.

You are absolutely right -- there were so few of them -- in the low thousands, that

Given the above, you will almost certainly have to add a few more syllables to your artfully constructed name for me.

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