Race as Political Project

Race as Political Project…”As if one can call black culture pathological and defective and yet remain something other than a racist.” Sometimes the act of denial is the thing that condemns you.

Posted on August 20, 2015 by Tim Wise at timwise.org

It simply gives away too much, suggesting that it was intended more to convince the one issuing it than the one to whom it was offered. And so, when addicts insist to their interventionists that they haven’t a drug or alcohol problem, we generally know where things are headed.

So too, we can tell by the ferocity of the proclamation that the addict isn’t much concerned about whether others believe them. The thing is to reassure oneself. Perhaps it is demanded out of shame or guilt—a glimmer of recognition that indeed one has a problem and really should get help—or perhaps the speaker truly believes it. But whatever the case, it is nothing if not wholly unconvincing.

The same dynamic is readily visible in the case of white Americans who insist that we “haven’t a racist bone in our bodies,” even as we proceed to cut loose with any number of vile and demeaning statements about people of color. As if one can call black culture pathological and defective and yet remain something other than a racist. As if one can insist that “most Mexican immigrants” are rapists and murderers and yet avoid the label “bigot” in the process. Racial stereotypes and generalizations—like black tar heroin to the junkie—remain so ubiquitous as to give the game away, no matter the earnest disclaimers of the prejudiced.

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This morning offered yet another glimpse into the Alice-in-Wonderland thinking of such folks, embodied by an e-mail sent from someone who, despite echoing Donald Trump’s exhortations against Latinos and Bill O’Reilly’s claims about the cultural depravity of African Americans, promised me he wasn’t racist. To wit, his penultimate paragraph (right before the part where he told me to go to hell):  “And just so you know, I’m no racist! I support Ben Carson and would vote for Allen West in a heartbeat!”

Although altogether unoriginal in its proclamation of cross-racial conservative unity, it’s the kind of statement I’ve heard often from white folks on the right: their very own version of “some of my best friends are black.” It’s not unlike the iteration offered by white liberals, to the effect that somehow a vote for Barack Obama proves their own anti-racist bona fides.

And yet, the idea that one’s willingness to vote for a black person, or the actual having of a real black friend, provides ablative protection from the charge of racism could only be believed by someone who fails to understand what racism is and how it operates. Just as men can obviously be sexist even if they date women and ultimately marry one, so too can white folks manifest racism no matter our willingness to play poker with a black buddy or support a candidate for office whose melanin levels far exceed our own.

Racism—even on the personal level to say nothing of the institutional—never required whites to hate black people, let alone all black people. It never required a total-izing and unanimous antipathy towards persons of color. No doubt there were white folks during the days of enslavement who were genuinely fond of those whom they held in bondage (the latter were helping to make the former wealthier, after all, by doing all the hard work), and yet, said affections hardly altered the fact that by enslaving black bodies they were, by definition, engaged in an act of white supremacy. Their every comfort was derived from racism, every aspect of their being was bound up with the racist subordination of those deemed the “other.” The white slave owner’s very existence as such was racist to the core.

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So too, I have little doubt that there were white folks who felt admiration for indigenous persons even as they participated in (or passively accepted) their displacement from their lands and even campaigns of extermination against them.

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