Horton Hears a ‘Why’…FINALLY!
And thus, another layer of the racism onion conundrum is peeled.
I have wondered for years, nay, decades why racists disavowed racism. I just could not put it together. It took me about half a century to realize that racism was a power game, and not about misunderstandings about levels of humanity, or competencies, or whatever. Race and racism are social constructs, and the understanding of our mutual humanness can be observed. The confusion sets in within the game of culture.
Racism, to which I have never been an adherent, is a playground game carried forward into adulthood. You are either in the club, or you are not, and membership has its privileges. Principle is lonely and difficult to bear. You must be willing to lose in order to maintain a principle. Principle is not about winning rewards. Principle is about principle, and it becomes heaviest when it is in conflict with the playground mob. I knew a kid when I was growing up whose father was a pacifist. The kid, my best friend, Ryan, was also a pacifist. As soon as a mob of kids knew that pacifism meant that a person would not fight back, the mob would test it. It starts with a few insults. The mob spokesman wants to pick a fight. The pacifist doesn’t respond. Next, the spokesman attempts a physical altercation. He gets in the path of the pacifist kid. The kid wont respond, but rather stops and goes around. Then the slaps, kicks, and punches begin, to the extent that they can through the one or two kids who try to defend the kid.
You may be thinking, I’ve seen Black kids bullying a White kid before. Yeah, yeah, racism, so what? Well, this wasn’t…and isn’t about race. These where White kids bullying another White kid. (The Black kid was trying to protect him). This wasn’t racism at work, this is about how and why racism works. It is about being different. The lesson is for the members of the mob who may have never said anything, never tried to trip the kid, never threw a punch. They just walked along with the mob until they got to their home. The spokesperson for the mob, and a few of his acolytes, are constructing the ‘you don’t want this to happen to you’ discipline that makes racism useful. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc, are all very useful, unless you have principles against that sort of thing.
So, as kids, we all got lessons on the power of the mob, and hopefully we also learned some of the costs. Membership dues call for you to sell a portion of your principles. If you sell yourself out, you will feel it. It took my life, until recently, to understand that the mob aspect of racism was not about a common understanding, or misunderstanding about who the ‘others’ were, but rather, it was about keeping members in line. It is about the implied threat of ostracism.
That being the case, I always wondered why racism, for the racist, was not expressed as a principle, and conceded. If one would act like a racist, why not just claim it as a principle? It seems like that would eliminate a lot of confusion and effort. Those in opposition could agree to disagree and go about their separate ways. If I were racist, I’d just say so. It would eliminate most of the hassle. What I missed, and what I have come to learn is often the missing element in not being able to grasp an elusive, mysterious concept is the invisible middle. Few things default to a binary, on-off, or either-or paradigm. The case of the invisible middle was explained beautifully by Greg Sargent of the Washington Post.
Those who outwardly claim racism are much like the pacifist. They are resigned to having outsider status. They are attacked from all sides for being wrong, if not merely different. They are willing to take that loss because they value racism as a principle. People like David Duke or Woodrow Wilson come to mind in this category. While they are different from one another, they are alike in declaring their racism. They hold it as a principle. This is the rare racist. The more common racist, like Donald Trump, must give signals, or gesture towards others making racist demonstrations. They wont openly claim it as a principle for fear of losing the members of society who walk along without saying anything one way or another.
I have a great deal of admiration for Jimmy Carter, but Carter was once in this large, silent group. While in government in Atlanta, Carter never once met another resident of his city, Martin Luther King Jr. This aspect of Carter’s character disappoints me, but I know this fact because Jimmy Carter brought it to our attention, by way of confession. This aspect of Carter’s character I find admirable. But, today is a good day. One more confounding riddle is forever solved for me thanks to Greg Sargent. All those who play footsie with bigots, whether they are anti LGBTQ, or misogynists, or racists, or whatever, even those who claim to be slow or late adopters of a notion, like many Black Christians were against gay marriage, all of them are playing to the silent middle for approval for themselves.
Whew! One less thing.
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