The September 7 issue of New York Magazine featured an interview with outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that I’m guessing you’ve heard about. In it, Bloomberg accused Bill de Blasio, the Democratic frontrunner in the current mayoral primary, of running a racist campaign because some of his ads feature his black wife and bi-racial children…seriously.
It’s a case of the salt calling the pepper white that would be funny is it wasn’t an example of colorblind racism, the prevailing racist logic of our supposedly post-racial age. Here’s what I mean.
Bloomberg’s accusation imposes a double standard on de Blasio and anyone who has a mixed race family. If not for the double standard, it would be just as legit to accuse white candidates of racism when they feature white family members. After all, in 2011, a national poll showed that while an overwhelming majority of Americans approve of interracial marriage, only 27% of Americans think such marriages are “good” for society. But, to Bloomberg, the racism isn’t being committed against de Blasio, it’s being committed by him by violating that double standard.
That kind of logic is increasingly popular among a growing number of Americans, especially whites, who believe we live in a post-racial society. These post-racial apologists claim that simply raising the issue of race, even indirectly in the manner of candidate de Blasio, is racist because race is no longer a factor in determining social outcomes. That accusation in turn makes it impossible to address racial inequity without being accused of racism.
I call this colorblind racism. After all, if race is no longer a factor, how do we explain the fact that the unemployment rate among black people is almost twice that of whites? How do we explain the racial wealth gap that exists between black and white people, and between whites and all people of color for that matter? How do we explain wildly disproportionate rates of incarceration of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and, increasingly, Southeast Asians?
If racism isn’t the cause of the high black unemployment rate, isn’t the logical next step in our reasoning that black unemployment is the result of black laziness? And isn’t determining the work ethics of groups by race just plain old racism? The same holds true of rates of incarceration. If black males are 9 times more likely to be incarcerated, doesn’t it follow that, if racism isn’t a factor, black males are 9 times more prone to criminality? But we all know this isn’t true. And if we aren’t doing much if anything about these disparities, doesn’t our inaction reinforce racist beliefs by promoting an approach to public policy that assumes that what happens to people of color suffering in these conditions doesn’t affect the rest of us? I mean, if we’re not connected, isn’t race what separates us?
Yet these problems of booming incarceration rates and high unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity in communities of color do, in fact, have broad societal implications. Exploding corrections budgets are crowding out school funding in many states, and sub-prime mortgages are at the root of the mortgage crisis, contributing both to the creation of the real estate bubble, and to that bubble eventually bursting, and in all of our faces, regardless of race.
Sub-prime mortgages are products that were originally created and marketed to black people because racist practices like redlining, which excluded many black home buyers from obtaining conventional mortgages, made those home buyers vulnerable to this sort of predatory lending. These same lenders also targeted black homeowners with sub-prime home equity loans because the high black unemployment rate made many desperate for money. Yet, even as we clean up the economic mess that these injustices led to, we claim that race is no longer a factor in America and act as though what happens to people different than us by race will somehow only affect them…and that if this is the case it’s okay to just let people suffer. Again, all examples of logic based in racism.
But, Bloomberg takes this racist logic even further. His term as mayor will probably be remembered most for the fact that over ten years of his term, the NYPD has conducted more than 5 million stops of New York residents more than 85 percent of whom have been of black or Latino. The ostensible reason for all these stops is to reduce gun violence by cleaning the streets of illegal guns. But, whites, who are the majority of New York residents and more likely when stopped to have illegal weapons, are grossly under-represented among those stopped. That makes targeting black and brown people both arbitrary and counter-intuitive. Arbitrarily targeting of people for police stops by race presumes a relationship between criminality and phenotype. That’s just racist.
But, according to Bloomberg his stop and frisk policy isn’t racist at all, I suppose because he’s colorblind. Bill de Blasio having his family members appear in campaign ads, on the other hand, well…
That’s the logic of colorblind racism.