Hurray, there’s no more racism in the South. Surely this will come as a relief to southerners. But that’s America for you, one day you’re struggling to survive oppression and the next day someone tells you that’s not what you’re doing. Just like when we won thein 1991 under Bush. Then again under Bush Jr. in 2003. And then we won it again under Obama. If we win the war three more times we get the seventh one free.
So, the voting rights act was gutted by the Supreme Court today for those who have not heard. Not a surprise really. I’ll even say that I get the argument against the act. No one who has the vaguest clue what it was like in the South those few decades ago can have any illusion that things aren’t a lot better now. However, better though they may be, fixed they are not. And, if the last election proved anything, the system is at risk. The Republican Party is split in its strategy. Pander to minorities or simply try to squeeze growing numbers of people out onto the periphery.
Racism (and in the larger picture bigotry/discrimination in general) is a tough subject to even bring up, much less deal with in any substantive way. Old white people are in denial, young white people (like all young people) are narcissists and only give it lip service, and each minority group is often an island unto themselves fighting for their own unique rights. The funny part about all the old, establishment white men in this country who are afraid and distrustful of minorities, and especially immigrants, is that many of them are from European ethnicities that were once discriminated against as well. Part of the problem is that there are no ethnic backgrounds on the Earth that don’t come with the weight of history attached. So, while being Anglo-Saxon in America was once (and may well still be) the best seat in the melting pot, had that same person ended up in France instead, they would have been one more dirty Englishman stranded out of country with questionable loyalties to a foreign crown.
I see racism as a symptom of an underlying condition in humankind. Racism is what a nation generates against newcomers, outsiders, interlopers and infidels. It’s as simple as majority versus minority. In each nation, it’s somebody different. However, the racism that rarely gets addressed isn’t national. It’s endemic to humanity. It crosses all borders and all languages. It’s fear of the unknown. Just because you’re in a minority yourself, doesn’t mean you don’t discriminate against other peoples. Bigotry and discrimination are rampant and widespread.
I don’t know how it is for other people, but I’ve found that once you’ve known a person long enough, any person, you find out that there’s whole groups out there that they don’t like. It might not be so strong that they’ve never liked anyone from that group, but they judge those people immediately and it can take a lot to break through that. Genetic discrimination is only one form of that.
My mom grew up with racism. It was part of her family and her environment. They weren’t the violent brand of racists. They wouldn’t hurt a person because they weren’t white. But they believed strongly that the only way everyone could get along was if they all stayed separate. My grandmother told my mom that she should never be mean to the black kids at school, but that she should never touch them. Don’t touch things they touched. When they came by trick or treating on Halloween, she would give them candy and then wash anything they touched and her hands with bleach. She said that they were unclean and carried diseases. It wasn’t their fault, but it was the way of things.
My grandfather would have denied being a racist. He would pay people compliments like “He’s really smart for a black man.” A lack of general awareness in his statement. Later on he would become good friends with our black neighbor, who occasionally called him on his ingrained bullshit. He even laughed it off when he found out my grandfather regularly referred to him, his white wife and their daughter as pepper, salt and cinnamon. Was he still a racist when he died? I can’t honestly say. It was part of his programming, but had his brain made workarounds to accommodate his new view? Doesn’t really matter. When he died he had a whole stash of child porn and torture films of women, so racism was the least of his demons. The neighbors still worship him. They don’t know his dark side and he was the friendliest neighbor you could ever have. So much that you could ignore the cracks creeping up the facade.
My mom thinks that her mom’s brain would have burst had she known that in school she shared an ice cream cone with the black girl in her class. I wonder where that difference comes from. One kid grows up in a racist home and learns to hate what their parents hate. Another kid knows from the start that their parents are wrong.
So, you’ve got these two racists living in a house with no exterior walls in the back woods, insulation hanging out in the weather. A bunch of Welsh-Irish, dirt poor, blue-collar, unwashed social rejects with 30 cats who a lot of people looked down on for being poor and uneducated with no sense of style or fashion. My grandfather never completed school. I think it was the 6th grade where he dropped out so he can spend more time smoking, drinking and standing on his motorcycle as he raced down hills. Sitting on their nicotine stained couch, staring out the holes in the wall and judging black people because of the way they talked and acted and lived and looked. Sometimes striking the mirror is the only way to get back at it for showing your reflection.
Nowadays the Republican Party deals with near constant accusations of being racist. It’s simultaneously well-deserved and unfair. Republican stereotypes, like any stereotype, are founded on a kernel of truth, but they aren’t a homogenous group. Tons of Republicans are just old fashioned fiscal conservatives who don’t like Obama because he’s nothing like Bush. He hasn’t spent anywhere near as much money as Bush or started as many wars. The problem for the Republicans is that they’ve got wolves in really crappy looking sheep costumes. It’s a great haven for racists because it’s primarily white and it’s opposition is minority heavy.
It’s a similar problem to the Catholic Church. What kind of guys want a career where they can never get married or have sex with women and spend lots of time around little boys? Also, all the emphasis on pain, sacrifice, shame and guilt probably isn’t helping much either. That doesn’t mean all Republicans are racists or all priests are child molesters, but it’s kind of hard to dismiss the criticism when it’s a constant bombardment of scandals.
Not liking Obama doesn’t make you a racist. While many might disagree with this, I do think assuming Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist sympathizer is racist. Clinton never got accused of that and bin Laden got away under his watch. Bush and family were pals with the bin Ladens and Osama was under his nose the entire time basically. Why not more accusations from the right that he was hiding him? I don’t believe he was in the least, but I make the case that if anyone looks like he was working with al-Qaeda from a crazy conspiracy theory POV it would be Bush. If Obama’s Muslim, he has a weird way of vaporizing his comrades in arms every chance he gets.
Again, plenty of people don’t like Obama for legitimate reasons. But I have seen hordes of racists pouring out of the crevices of fading history to make a final stand here against the tyranny of “reverse racism.” One of the more racist terms I’ve ever heard. It would seem to imply that being white is like the default. That’s the factory setting. Then people had to go and get all these custom skin colors and mess with God’s plan for a master race. It does sort of make sense. After all, Jesus was white at a time and place where there were no other white people, or so I’ve been told by the stained glass advertisements in churches.
In the end, their accusations fall flat. This whole “I’m just a rich white man living in a black man’s world” sounds pathetic as soon as it’s out of their pampered mouths. On the other hand, classism may well be replacing racism as the primary form of discrimination in America. Kanye West accused Bush of being racist during Katrina by saying that he didn’t care about black people. I don’t think Bush cares about poor people. It’s the color in your wallet, not on your skin that matters to him and his cronies.
Discrimination is a survival mechanism. It’s so you can recognize the people you know from the people you don’t and if we were still roaming around in the woods fighting direwolves, bears the size of tanks and tribes of other humans, it wouldn’t hurt to kill any strangers you come across. The more different from you they look, the more different they probably were. But any applicability of visual discrimination to human society is long gone. So, you have to pick: Ancient tribal factionalism versus not having to waste time and energy on trivial divisions? Old World or New World?
In the end though, it doesn’t matter how people are discriminating against others. I’ve seen people get judged by a lot of criteria. Black vs. white, nerd vs. jock, straight vs. gay, rich vs. poor, skinny vs. fat, and so on and so forth. Just about everybody has been excluded based on criteria they couldn’t control. Just about everybody has excluded another for something they couldn’t control. Luckily, for most, it’s only exclusion.
When we lived in San Diego and I was still a kid, two rival gangs staged a race war on our front lawn, the street and a few of the neighbor’s lawns. A Latino gang versus a black gang with tire irons and baseball bats and any blunt object they could find. They beat each other to death while everyone watched. Thankfully, they were respectful enough to restrict themselves to melee weapons as a hail of gunfire could easily have killed a number of families. That’s half the reason we left San Diego. The other half being that when we called 911 they told us they would send a squad car “whenever one became available.” Our respect and trust of the woefully short arm of the law eroded a little that night.
Afterward, Latinos would say that the problem was the black gangs moving in. African-Americans would say it was the Latino gangs that were the problem. Old people thought it was the inborn evil of the new generation. Young people said it was the old authorities hogging the riches of the world and leaving too many people disenfranchised. White people saw enough blame to go around to all the colors of the rainbow. Personally, I think the problem in our city was people. You can’t trust them. Savages one and all.
We segregate our love and our hate and our understanding in the same way we draw lines on maps and pretend they were always there. Indelible lines on the world and in our neighborhoods and in our blood. And we all do it for the same reasons.
Part of it is fear of the unknown, but that’s more of a criteria for selection, not the underlying cause. I think the underlying cause is a need to hate. We have to struggle against something. Finding purpose in life can be hard to do. Countless religions and philosophies, careers and paths of education, places to live and things to do. It’s far easier to define ourselves as being the opposition to another force. It allows us to find purpose and an outlet for our animal aggression at the same time. We’re pre-programmed to struggle.
It also can’t be denied that in any country in the world (historically going back forever) the powers that be promote cultural segregation, xenophobia and paranoia as a means to stay in power. The poor and powerless are too busy fearing and killing each other all over the world to see that the only real threat are the fearmongers themselves. Rwanda is a classic example of that tactic as used by the Colonial powers in Africa. Take two ethnicities you want to control, raise one up, telling them they’re better than the other and make them hold the other down until they come to hate their supposed betters.
So, how do we bridge the gulf between us? Easy. Learn to hate everyone equally. If it’s too implausible to believe everyone has good in them, it’s gotta be easy to see everyone has evil in them. We’re naturally inclined to believe the worst in one another. Admitting your species has a problem is the first step. Otherwise, you’ll just end up another pawn in their game.