Another Tip On Countering Racism

Ready For It?

Don’t call racists backward idiots and haters. It’s unflattering to you, and it’s bad politics.

Having a hard time with that? Hang in there with me.

While white privilege is no minor prize, I think it’s fair to say that nowadays garden variety racism isn’t exactly rational. After all, most of the rewards resulting from racism accrue to those on top of the political and economic hierarchy, making the privileges of race enjoyed by wage earning whites pretty poor consolation for being jerked around by self-centered elites deregulating finance, lowering wages, and disenfranchising us by turning our democratic republic into an oligarchy.

But irrationality is something we’re all guilty of. And where racism is concerned, matters grow even more complicated. Racism is one of the most deeply held, ideologically integrated traditions in the culture of white folks. And for most of white history, racism was perfectly rational and well within white self-interest.

So you want a fight? Treat racists like knuckle dragging neanderthals. But get ready to lose, because there are more of them than there are of us.

However, if you’re with me on this one, consider this. There’s all sorts of smart. I was raised among illiterates who could take a car apart and put it back together again without so much as an owner’s manual (since they couldn’t read it), and then turn the broken parts into furniture. But, like the conservatives whose prejudice recent studies associate with low IQs, they aren’t all that good at tests.

These same mechanical geniuses act like progressives, but won’t formally side with progressive groups. Why? Because they think progressives are a bunch of elitists. And because they’re oppressed as much by culture as by class, cultural elites look like part of the problem to them. And, you know what? They’re right. And their indignation is a distant echo of the kind of resentment we get from white folks who think that we’re calling them bad people and, worse, stupid, when we call out their racism.

So, having regained the calm. Let us proceed.

A Little History Lesson

A couple of generations ago, some folks, particularly white Northern race liberals, made a terrible mistake by trying to popularize the idea that racism was the purview of under-developed slack jawed Rebel leftovers. They did so in order to marginalize racism.

The intent was sincere, but they were twice wrong. Racism isn’t just the purview of Southerners, the poor, and the educationally disadvantaged. And their strategy backfired.

Here’s a statement you may remember from an earlier blog entry:

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP.

They didn’t reckon with the fact that, particularly in the South, for hundreds of years the “good” people were racists. In fact, racism was a sign of one’s morality, love of community, and commitment to God and country.

It polarized people across class. And that created a political opening for conservatives.

They labeled us as cultural elitists. And because so many of “us” came from colleges and were led by intellectuals, aided by the media, and, in the end, supported by the federal government, they painted academics, the media, government, intellectuals, and progressive activists with the same brush.

Conservatives, especially in the form of the GOP, were the true power elite. But they were able to deflect poor white Southerners’ anti-elite resentment off them and onto us. Not so tough to do since we were directly insulting them and their most sacred beliefs; beliefs that were, to them, a legacy of their forebears.

By 2008, the strategy had worked so well that Sarah Palin was able to make herself into a political star by exploiting anti-elite resentment through attacking government, the media, and, our intellectual in chief, Barack Obama. And the more we countered by making her out to be a low IQ, rural hick, the more popular she became. She was the symbol of their suffering and the messiah of their cause. She was a moose hunting, rural former beauty queen with a mid-western accent and a political vocabulary you could buy at K-Mart.

In Palin’s own words, the elite are “anyone who thinks that they are – I guess – better than anyone else, that’s – that’s my definition of elitism.” And as someone who comes from stock that is anything but elite, cultural or otherwise, I gotta tell you, I can’t say I totally disagree with the sentiment even if I differ with the analysis.

So word to the wise. Racism is a political problem. Let’s deal with it as such and leave the name calling to their side.

Avatar photo

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

9 replies on “Another Tip On Countering Racism”

I never really saw the democratic party or the republican party as anything different but from being liberals and conservatives. They are both racist parties. The democratic party just uses tokenism and opressed groups of people for their own political gain.

Both the left and right wing are two parties of the same anti-indigenous, pro-colonialist, pro-capitalist, racist, sexist, totalitarianist religion.

Obama is really just neo-colonialism in blackface. He’s a democratic puppet for maintaining corporate and imperialist agenda. Like allowing businesses nationwide access to overpass environmental laws, sending death squads to Columbia to protect Chiquita enslavement of Colombians, aiding Zionist Israel with military aid to help them continue to kill Palestinians, And dropping Drones on Pakistan ( at a higher rate than Bush!), and many more atrocities and acts of Anglo-saxon western imperialist dominance ( like the Invisible children scam).

I don’t think that Obama is ours.

I was trying to be funny by saying Obama is “our” intellectual in chief, referring to how the right thinks of him, or at least uses him, as a symbol of radicalism on the left. Sorry if that fell flat. And yes, I do identify with the left, warts and all, and write about the ills of racism in the hopes of building an anti-racist left. But the Democrats? They, to me, are only left of the right of a political elite that is really in the service of capital. I’m not interested in them except as a buffer between a fascistic right wing movement that is using the Republican Party as an instrument by which to advance an agenda that would make everything you said and that I, for the most part, agree with, a whole lot worse for us by collapsing any political space within which we can organize an alternative to both parties.

I’ve run into the same realization as your before, if we vote for a democratic we’re still going to fall but i won’t be as bad as a it would if it were a republican. I see what you are saying, but picking the lesser of two evils, your still picking evil.

Why not encourage people to dissent against voting, and using that dissidence as a political retaliation against the Presidential elections themselves?

We as people of color, are politically oppressed by both parties. Does is really matter whether the Drones in Pakistan are Bush or Obama drones? No, and they are actually luckier if they are Bush drones, because Obama sends 4 times that amount.

Going to bed with those in power, has been tried and tried by many leftists and radicals for a long time. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnion, trying to ilegalize pornography. Emma Goldman interacting with Bolsheviks.
Even the Civil Rights movement which ended “legal” segregation, but did not attack the true roots of oppression and heal any of those wounds.
Lol, it just doesn’t work. Those in power achieve by those means.

I’m just saying we need to think of new ideas besides voting and trying to camouflage with democrats because these methods aren’t giving us what we truly want, and i feel like we are just making excuses to postpone are so called coming insurrection.

The prison system does a way better job of terrorizing and killing black males then the KKK ever dreamed of. White supremacist groups have actually risen in the past 10 years.

And not to mention, the planet is DYING! Invertebrates are now going extinct!

The next woman to get raped, the next black man to get shot by police, the next animal to go extinct, the next Nigerian to starve to death, does the universe honestly care that I voted for Barack of Romney? No.

So that’s how I see things, and maybe because I see things this way. Maybe I’m less of a leftist than you are.

Absolutely right. My problem is, I can’t find those discussions and those groups that are organizing dissidence so it’s not just read as voter apathy. I see us, including me, being much better at criticism than at proposing alternatives. If we can create a forum for discussing those alternatives, I’m there! Thanks for your comments. I hope people read them.

Hello. Question. Are you proposing a Revolution? If so what kind? Peaceful? Or Violent? Who will Lead this take back? How will it be organized? Where will the headquarters be located? What is the Mission? When would it start?

No, I’m not. I think revolution should be the business of the people most directly and acutely affected by oppression. I’m just serving as a social observer and a critic, as I think it appropriate given my 33 years of community organizing in groups that are the most directly targeted by oppression in the U.S. One should always make sure that the privileges we have don’t end up being tools in the hands of our oppressors, so just doing my part as one who has had the privilege of traveling all 50 states and many parts of the world as a human rights activist. Will there be a revolution? Who would lead it? Will it be peaceful? Let’s let those who have the most to gain and the least to lose decide.

Comments are closed.