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Sunday, June 29, 2008

White People: The Backbone of America

White People: The Backbone of America
Image © Austin Cline
Click for full-sized Image

Modern racism in America is less likely to reveal itself in the old KKK-style of directly and openly denigrating blacks, Latinos, and others specifically for their skin color. Instead, it's more common to use relatively indirect means to attack non-whites as being inferior to whites. Behaviors and attitudes which can be found among people of all colors and ethnicities, for example, are attributed almost exclusively to non-whites if they are negative and almost exclusively to whites if they are positive.

These generalizations are presented as neutral observations when in reality they are either deliberate deception (if the person knows better) or deliberate self-deception (if the person doesn't know better). In both cases, the motivation is racism: either the person wants others to think that non-whites are worse than whites or the person already believes it and is all-too-happy to accept a rationalization, justification, and confirmation for latent prejudice.

This allows people to wallow in racist politics and policies while denying their own racism. After all, they regard non-whites as inferior not because of skin color, but because of demonstrably inferior behavior. They aren't burning crosses in the yard of their new black neighbors, they just treat those neighbors with suspicion because "everyone knows" how blacks behave. They aren't trying to get all Latinos deported, just the "illegal aliens" because "everyone knows" how those Mexicans carry diseases. What, don't you watch Fox News regularly?

The fact that it's consistently non-whites who are treated this way isn't the fault of whites and it must just be a coincidence. Or maybe it is their race after all, one secretly suspects, but doesn't say aloud except through anonymous comments on blogs — unless your someone like Rush Limbaugh or Lou Dobbs, then you can almost say what everyone else is thinking. You can sound the dog whistle of racism, confident that audience members who know how the world works will know what you mean.

The gross differences in the reactions by our conservative government, conservative media, and conservative blogs to the flooding in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and the more recent flooding in the mid-West are an excellent illustration of this phenomenon. Granted, it's a phenomenon that happens all the time, but the differences here are so extreme and blatant that even people half-asleep should be able to notice and draw some obvious conclusions from it all.

In the wake of hurricane Katrina, the government was slower in delivering basic necessities like water and food than conservatives were in delivering commentary that portrayed black residents — and only black residents — as lawless, disorderly, criminal, and even bestial. The flooding hasn't even receded yet from the mid-West and we're hearing about how the white residents have demonstrated remarkable resolve, have gone out of their way to help each other, have demonstrated self-reliance, and have maintained law and order despite the pressures. The truth, of course, is quite a bit different — and even when there is a grain of truth, it's based on ignoring context.

Law and order? It's false that no looting has occurred during the mid-West flooding, and while it's true that there was looting in New Orleans, it's hard to fault people for looting when they lack any means of escape, have been forced to remain in the city, and have no sources of food. Self-reliance? Areas hit hardest by flooding in Iowa are no less likely to receive government assistance than were households in New Orleans — and perhaps more so if you consider farm subsidies, though few whites recognize that as welfare in the same category as food stamps.

It's merely a conceit that America is "post-racial" and "color-blind." Whereas before racism was generally accepted and could be expressed openly, today it's not accepted so has found ways of masking itself — and thus the very denial that racism continues to be an important factor in American culture has become a key ingredient in allowing racism to continue. Often, the worst purveyors of racist rhetoric and ideas are among the most vociferous in denying that there racism is still an issue. Are they truly in denial, though, or do they really know what they are doing?

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.