Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What's a Racist?

Probably a Racist. Can't Be Completely Sure, Of Course.
This New York Times Magazine article has an interview with a woman who was "for Obama" and then soured on him--and then voted Trump.
When Obama was elected, she hoped he would “bridge race relations, to help people in the middle of Iowa” see that black people “are decent hardworking people who want the same things that we want.” She said people in rural Iowa often don’t know many black people and unfairly stereotype them. But Obama really turned her off when after a vigilante killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin, he said the boy could have been his son. She felt as if Obama was choosing a side in the racial divide, stirring up tensions.
On Twitter, a few days ago, The Omnivore tweeted: "Nobody knows what a racist is anymore." It's true--they just know it bloodly well isn't them. Everyone else though? Well, inside our own heads, we know what a racist is. It goes, roughly, something like this:

  1. I hate niggers and other non-whites and I want them to die -- I am a racist (and proud)
  2. I don't want to live with niggers (etc.). I'm ethnocentric. If  you call me a racist, I'm . . . okay with that.
  3. I think black people and white people would do better living apart. That's my experience. I guess if you want to call that racist go ahead. You live with 'em.
  4. I'm accept that as a whole whites do better--but a lot of that actually is merit based. Blacks commit more crimes for whatever reason--I think genetics has something to do with it probably. I'm a race realist. Call me racist and I'll say you're uneducated.
  5. I want everyone to have the same opportunities--but aren't a lot of black people are behaving badly with the Black Lives Matter thing. That's just like (kinda like?) the Klan, isn't it? Why can't all lives matter? Maybe black people have it rougher--but I and the white people I know have it rough too. Call me racist and I'll vote for Trump.
  6. I'm totally not racist. I have black friends, after all. Maybe even some black family--but I've had it with all this institutional racist crap and this innate-racist crap and people trashing the police when it always comes out the guy who got killed was resisting or otherwise doing something they shouldn't have. Call me racist and I'll tell you that you're why we can't have an honest conversation about race in this country.
  7. I'm totally color-blind. Not racist at all. Why would you think that. If you point out something I did that seems racist HOW DARE YOU!!??
  8. I'm totally racist--as a white guy my patriarchal upbringing and the white over-culture mean that I'm racist by nature. Sorry about that. I'm working on it.
Everyone agrees that 1-3 are at least very likely racist. They mostly accept it themselves. After that, it gets dicey. Most people probably think everything one or two levels below them are racist.

Does This Cover Everyone??

Of course not. This is making a point--that there are a lot of ways to "be racist" (and this applies with slightly different terms for sexist or Islamophobic or homophobic or transphobic or whatever). We don't have a real standard anymore. Maybe we never did--maybe it was always 1-3 and after that it was always dicey?

Who knows? The point is that there's no longer a good way to talk about this in anything approximating a productive manner. Every term becomes a bludgeon (see what happened to 'privilege' once it escaped from a corner of academia and went running around biting people like the infected monkeys in 28 Days Later).

So What Does This Mean?

The Omnivore is going to tell you. Straight up: you're racist. Yep. Even if you're black. You're racist. Forget about that sociological institutional black-people-can't-be-racist bullshit. Okay. With The Omnivore so far?

Let's go to step 2: You are actually racist. Not in the "hard-coded-into-my-genes" or whatever meaningless way that we're all racist. No, you are racist in ways that matter. That goes for sexist, and so on. You don't get a pass on being "racist"  because everyone is. 

So This Is Lefty Liberal Bullshit?

Not exactly. The deal is that racial tensions despite what we've wanted to tell ourselves are real. They didn't go away and they can and do color everything we perceive. These prejudices or lenses mix with other similar ideological lenses to make our ability to have a solid appraisal of reality very difficult.

When Obama was asked, off the cuff, about the Trayvon Martin shooting and his comment was that if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, a lot of people saw that as choosing sides. Some people saw that as emphasizing with the family that just lost their son. Some people saw it as a random remark that just came to mind.

The Omnivore will say it clear and say it cold: it was NOT off the cuff (Obama had certainly thought about this prior to his unrelated speech) and it was an amazing attempt to bridge the gap between black and white perceptions of the event. The fact that it alienated people should be seen as horrible--not evidence that Obama is polarizing.


Well, for black people the killing of Trayvon Martin was seen as unnecessary, a miscarriage of justice, and evidence of the system (the police) supporting a white vigilante. For white people it was seen as a guy defending himself and, otherwise, behaving reasonably in defense of his neighborhood. (The Omnivore is generalizing here--clearly some people saw it differently on both sides).

What Obama did was emphasize with the black people who felt loss and outrage--while making making explicit comments that we should wait until the investigation concludes (that's the rest of his quote--you can go look it up).

The fact that a lot of people saw this as a moment of racial polarization (and in this case, we'll generalize to "white people") is fucking tragic. Yes, he could have said nothing. Yes, he could have said something with zero empathy for the African American community--but as the first African American president, why would you want him to do that?

If you are one of those people who felt that Obama's comment was divisive there, that is a, let's call it a racial factor. It maybe does not rise to racism--but it's a damaging racial influence.

The lady in the above quote is doing it. But don't you DARE call her a racist. Right?

But wait, that's fine--fucking everyone is doing it. You're doing it. The Omnivore is doing it. Everyone. Is. Doing. It. Not just with race--but everything else

But it's real. It's not in the margins. It's has actual consequences (we may be about to see some of 'em. The Omnivore hopes not though).

The point is: if you think the rise of the Klan under Trump isn't real--or isn't a big deal? You're wrong. Dead wrong.

On the other hand, if you think that anti-Trump voters marching in the streets--which inevitably leads to violence isn't real--or isn't a big deal? You're also wrong. Dead wrong.

But chance are you think one and not the other--or you think both--but you're too forgiving of Islam's repeated excesses and the growing pattern in Europe. Or you're -- whatever. Nobody's perfect.

That's the point.

You're not perfect. That's the bigger point.

What Do You Do From Here?

Once again, The Omnivore will say it clear--and say it cold: if you voted for Trump you have voted in the guy least likely to be a good president in, most probably, our history. While you may not think of yourself as a racist, sexist, Islamaphobe, or whatever, like the woman in the opening quote, those factors are still at work in all of us. All the time. In some cases they don't make a difference. In some cases they do. This may have been one of them.

So's The Omnivore--but look: almost the entire republican National Security apparatus warned us about Trump. Newspapers who had never endorsed a Democrat endorsed Hillary. The top brass at the Pentagon is very wary of Trump. This isn't about gravy-train guys trying to protect their status-quo. These people are deep patriots who spend all day thinking seriously about pertinent issues.

So look, don't worry if someone calls you a racist (The Omnivore desperately hopes someone will tell him to check his privilege some day)--but if you felt Obama was divisive and political correctness has gone too far and some [ nonsense about the economy which Trump has never seriously addressed either and which you're fooling yourself about anyway ]--then you are making decisions that have real and serious impact on some fairly baseless stuff. If you believed a slew of fake news because the mainstream media was biased? You're kidding yourself. If you think Hillary was just as likely to make catastrophic mistakes as the head of state? Sorry--the odds are not in your favor. If you listen to Fox News all day--or CNN--try listening to some of the other stuff for a while . . . just to see.


  1. I'm pretty sure at some point I've told you to check your privilege :)

    But, race and gender color everything. We're always looking through a lens.

    That said, some lenses have a wider field of view. Some show crisp detail. Others are blurred.

    To switch metaphors, some maps are better than other maps.

    1. Some maps are better than others, yes. People who are upset about being called racist need to not worry about being *called* racist and be more concerned about racial/etc. bias in their thinking.

      I did check my privilege--I'm full up!