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.