A racism renaissance?
Guest blogger Nora checking in…
I’m depressed. There’s so much stuff to talk about lately that I honestly don’t know where to begin. But it hit me, this morning as I was watching the news, that maybe I should talk about the fact that there’s so much to talk about.
Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it. We’ve got a national debate about immigration that pretty much amounts to “OMGWTFBBQ brown people everywhere!!eleventy1!!” We’ve got white presidential candidates openly snubbing debates and questions on PoC issues. We’ve got a black presidential candidate who has to be guarded by the Secret Service because he’s gotten so many racist death threats. (Meanwhile his opponents openly express amazement that he bathes and can talk.)
It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.
That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism. In polite conversation, even to acknowledge the existence of racism has become a gasp-inducing, cringe-worthy social faux pas — the new height of crudeness. Talking about race is scorned as political correctness; only comedians can really get away with it easily these days. (And, of course, we laugh at them.) Intellectuals creatively develop new ways to talk around it: it’s not racism, it’s the socioeconomolinguoxenoclassist complex! Motivational speakers and “tough talkers” cry: no excuses, enough with the victim mentality! And so on, and so on. Meanwhile, the national dialogue has all but stopped.
But of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.
I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual. But at least I’m not the only one who’s noticed how our national dialogue on race has been gradually suppressed, whatever the result. There’s a new book out right now called Race Relations: A Critique, by Stephen Steinberg. I haven’t read this yet — there’s a waiting list at the library — but I just saw this review today. Some excerpts:
Steinberg insists on exposing the hypocrisy, careerism and outright dishonesty of much of the field of sociology, and identifies the individual and organizational offenders. Arguing that sociology has long provided “legitimacy for a racist order,” Steinberg shows how politicians like Bill Clinton touted questionable studies arguing that the African-American community needed only class, rather than race, based solutions.
Steinberg notes that subsuming race to class served the interest of both the left and right. Much of the left prefers class-based solutions, and views racially-specific programs like affirmative action as dividing the working class.
The review goes on to explain more of what’s in the book, which apparently also contains a powerful condemnation of the rhetoric about immigration and assimilation, and how discussion of ethnicity has been suppressed in service to that political cause. But perhaps because the book’s author is a sociologist, he saves his most vehement criticism for the science — and politics — of sociology itself:
Steinberg sees the sociology field as facilitating what he calls “wishful thinking” about assimilation. This phrase might have become the book title, as Steinberg conclusively shows how elite “wishes” for a racially just society have become a substitute for the concrete actions necessary to achieve this result.
Obviously this book is now going to the top of my “to read” pile. I’ll report back once I’ve had a chance to check it out.
So anyway, here’s the question(s). Am I the only one who’s feeling that things are getting worse? Have any of you noticed an uptick in racism — the old-fashioned, impossible-to-rationalize kind — lately? What about an upsurge in other “isms”? Are things no worse than they’ve always been? Or are your Spidey Senses tingling too?
40 thoughts on “A racism renaissance?”
What the heck is going on?
ABW – Have you seen this? I am actually sick to my stomach.
That is every evil all rolled into one.
ANYONE even remotely associated should not see the outside of a jail cell, EVER>
Yes, that would be the “racially-motivated rape/torture” that I referred to in the second paragraph. Like I said, there’s so much going on right now that it’s hard to pick something to be most outraged about.
It needs to be called a racially motivated rape/torture – MURDER – that was only prevented by a tip to the Sheriff. They HAD to be planning to kill her.
I have been reading some reviews on Steinberg’s work. My own coursework in Sociology gave only superficial treatment to this issues that Steinberg examines.
I am plowing through a very thick Cornel West Reader as well as Race and Resistance: African-Americans in the 21st Century. I have benefited greatly from reading about Historical and Sociological issues these perspectives. Tim Wise’s work has been beneficial too.
I am thankful to God that I have been given opportunity in life to “wake up and smell the coffee” on many issues presented in this forum and elsewhere. For what it is worth, this white man is appreciative of your reflections and those of ABW.
Interestingly, this forum set up by ABW has been motivating for me. Right now, as I write this, I am brainstorming ways I can bring issues like these to the forefront. I am thinking of writing to my local paper to start with.
All the best,
Mychel Bell in Jena was just put back in jail. It’s a runaway train. I’m very sad tonight.
I think talking about race has become a social faux pas like religion and politics. Most people don’t want to bring it up because conversations can become heated and tense very, very quickly. If you’re out having fun with friends, an intense debate can ruin everyone’s good time. So not only do people not want to talk about race, they don’t want to discuss politics (presidential candidates, Iraq, foreign policy) for fear of breaking the fun vibe in the air.
It’s a shame because these issues need to be discussed, but at the same time it can be very tiring trying to make sense of it all. Morgan Freeman made the statement recently that the only way racism will go away is if we quit talking about it, which is blatantly false. I found a lot of people online (mostly white males) agreed with it.
I think Gary Peller’s Race Consciousness is on target.
Then again, he was my prof last year, so I am a bit biased.
I just realized a lot of you won’t be able to access the article.
Anyway, he essentially argues that “race has been understood through a set of beliefs — what I call ‘integrationist’ ideology — that locates racial oppression in the social structure of prejudice and stereotype based on skin color, and that identifies progress with the transcendence of a racial consciousness about the world” (i.e. “color-blindness”)….”Along with the suppression of white racism that was the widely celebrated aim of civil rights reform, the dominant conception of racial justice was framed to require that black nationalists be equated with white supremacists, and that race consciousness on the part of either whites or blacks be marginalized as beyond the good sense of enlightened American culture.”
In other words, the concept of color-blindness allowed America to view white supremacists and black nationalists as flip sides of the same coin. Further, I don’t think Peller addresses this point in his article, but I think the conceptual unification keeps white people feeling comfortable because it insulates us from our white privilege.
Yeah, I just heard. ::sigh::
So, the question: Is this part of an increase in racism lately?
I have been noticing this phenomenon in language. Have you noticed that the word “racist” has been replaced with the word “racial” in terms like “racist remark” or “racist incident?”
I have been seeing this all over the place, and while it’s often not deliberate, it does seem to be a trend. I read it as a strategy to:
– minimize racism by conflating a racist act with one that simply mentions race.
– make it bad manners to discuss race because of the conflation of “race” and “racism.”
What do you think?
I know all of my conversations or need for dialogue about Racism in San Francisco. Racism in the LGBT community has been shut down on social network boards that I am on. That is why I support this blog and others. We are basically going to have to start the same campaigns of our recent ancestors..
We are being forced to confront our history. Most of us are ill prepared. I am like Fannie…I am keeping my eye on the prize.
The terms “racial” and “racially aware” or “racialist” are nothing more than euphemisms coined by white supremacists sevearl years ago to attempt to appear more “mainstream.”
Talking about race and the issues surrounding racism has definitely become something that makes others very uncomfortable. Yet the only way to ameliorate racism and racist actions is to shine a bright light on it and confront it at every turn.
Lately, because of so many things being in the news, we have seen more and more blatant racism than we have in a long time. That’s why I think we have to talk about it, examine it, and expose it where it lives.
In response to your question: “Is this part of an increase in racism lately?”
I am not sure.
I tend to think that we are seeing more because of the speed of visual and written communication as opposed to 10 years ago.
I heard a leader of an NAACP chapter in my area say that the situation in Jena finally made it to the mainstream because of the internet and all the blogs and forums that were tracking the situation.
I think Bell’s story and the circumstances that surround it is representative on many levels of the systematic (and brazen) injustice toward people of color.
As grateful as I am for alternative modes of communication, I tend to think each of us bear the risk of more heartbreak and frustration with the increase in information at our disposal.
As a parent raising three children, I get depressed (and frightened) too when I consider the toxic climate of the United States.
As I reread your post, Nora, I was reminded of the cry of King David in Psalm 63:
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.
I will stop here.
I’m not sure about this, but I think all kinds of ugly come out when (white?, middle class?) people aren’t doing well economically. I know that many of the national indicators show the economy is doing well, but when you look at them more closely it depends on what your job is and where you live. I wonder how much racist/homophobic/anti-immigrant spew can be correlated to job loss in the middle class. Not an excuse for what you’ve noticed, just me wondering if we’ll see more if the economy takes a turn for the worse….
i think it’s getting worse in some ways and better in others. to anyone in their 20’s and above race is a big issue that we’ve dealt and deal with everyday but i’ve found with talking to younger people like my sister and her friends that it’s more of a class issue that will be the divider. her friends are a melting pot of races, and they seem to all treat each other fairly. but look down upon any group that’s less wealthy are dress a certain way. an example being any male wearing baggy jeans and white t-shirts who fit the stereotypical urban youth look. i found the same thing to be true with a 19 year-old friend of mine and his friends. even more so now than i’m in grad school and run into alot of kids younger than me, race isn’t so much of the distinction maker than class, i’ve discussed it with a few of them and they get just as outraged as me against blatant racism. to be honest i was surprised.
maybe this is just from my experiences but i seriously think it’s turning into a class issue with the next generation. of course there are exceptions with the rural south (jena 6) but there is some sort of improvement.
honestly i don’t think protests and marches does a good job of convincing the masses anymore. u just get labeled as a closed off group and equated to any other group with a problem whether it’s one of obvious racial discrimination or not. our culture has changed and so should our protests. i think this blog is wayyy more effective than marching. podcasts would be a great idea. making youtube videos, etc.
i think the future is in our kids so the best thing to do is target them. older guys like biden is too far gone to be helped. so keep fighting but there have been some improvements.
i have too much to say about this so i posted it instead. warning, long post:
It’s been mentioned on this site too:
“Who will benefit from all the racial hatred that is bubbling up all over the country? Personally, I think we are suffering from trickle-down hatred. There’s no reason for John Gibson, Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter making these ignorant comments unless they are trying to incite more hatred and unrest.”
So other folks are noticing the vibe too.
Sorry for the delay; been sick and busy both. I think the language is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. This is one of the ways in which it’s lately become fashionable to lump all discussion of race — both racism and anti-racism — under one uncomfortable set of euphemisms.
But my question is whether there’s been an increase lately in open, blatant racist acts. Are we headed back in the direction of the pre-Civil Rights era? What do *you* think?
That’s lovely. I confess I’m not much of a Christian, but I’ve always thought I should read the bible purely on literary terms at some point; it contains a lot of beautiful stuff.
You raise a good point. I’d thought that after the Sixties there was a decrease in overtly racist acts. Black men could date white women without getting *automatically* beaten or lynched for it; people of color could move into white neighborhoods without getting a cross burned on their lawns (though white people would flee to other neighborhoods in many cases); and so on. But maybe you’re right: these acts might have diminished but a whole lot of other stuff never did, and now we’re just hearing about it more because of the ‘net.
I don’t know which bothers me more: if we’re just hearing more about what’s been happening all along, or if more is actually happening.
Uh… what? I’m sorry, I don’t understand your point.
That’s a good point, too. I read a lot of (pop) economic theory too, and it’s hard not to notice some things — that wages have been roughly stagnant since the Reagan years, but the cost of everything else (housing, food, all the “necessities”) has gone up steadily; that what used to be grant-funded higher education has been replaced by loan-funded higher ed, which helps contribute to our becoming a debtor society (particularly now that more PoC are going to college than in the old days…); and so on. As things get worse, people who were doing well — or who think they should be doing better — look for someone to blame. Yeah, all that fits.
Still, these are old patterns reasserting themselves. Jena is a good example — it’s always been hard for black people to get fair treatment in the criminal justice system; that’s not new. It’s just that the unfair treatment is usually veiled in some way — they call it “being tough on crime”, or slap some Three Strikes and You’re Out label on it. The Jena folks didn’t even try to hide what they did; it was blatant, obvious “because they’re black” treatment. It’s the brazenness of the thing that gets me.
You’re talking about how black kids behave these days, but I’m really trying to figure out how white people behave these days. Regardless of how the kids see it, do you think it really is all just class struggle?
i was talking about how all kids behave not just black ones. and it seems that class is more of the divider with them than race. and yes with older generations, 20 somethings and above race plays a bigger issue. but since i’m borrowing an insane amount of money to go to a decent school, i see that alot of races are mixing pretty well, depending on how much money u have and how you communicate. so yeah i slowly see it turning to a class thing. even the rural south will catch on eventually.
will racism go away? no, because we’re all, at the very least a little racist, but will it get as bad as it was in civil rights era and above, probably not. the new problem will be how do we deal with the leftover stereotypes from our pasts, and defending the rights and privileges of the less wealthy class.
I hear it all the time. I drive a truck, and just recently, we extended to Mexico the same agreements we have with Canada.
You should have heard the howls of outrage. The drivers were certain the Mexican drivers would lower wages, lower safety standards and be more dangerous on the roads.
Not one of them knew we had had the same agreement with Canada for a very long time. And when it was mentioned, the general sentiment was “Yeah but that’s different.”
We seem to be regressing to the 80s in terms of hate-groups and crimes. and I think it is economic. Read Parke Godwin’s _Waiting for the Galactic Bus_. It’s amazingly contemporary, although it’s at least 20 years old.
sorry i forgot to say this in the last post. but it’s very important how the kids see it. they’re the future, if they were possibly able to handle this problem better than we have then maybe things will get better.
If there is an increase in the number of overtly racist actions, then I don’t really find it all that surprising. The Civil Rights Movement was only partially successful; white America acknowledged the injustice of segregation but still refuses to see blacks as truly equal persons and still refuses to acknowledge the value and legitimacy of black perspectives.
More than that, there has only been superficial change in the structure of American society. The United States is still – in its very bones – a racist country with racist institutions. There was never a meaningful attempt to redistribute power and resources.
There have been some serious gains, but for the most part, I don’t think things are substantially better than they were thirty years ago.
It’s pretty much totally safe to an an anti-arab racist on national TV. No real repercussions as long as you’re conservative, you even get extra points for it. So perhaps, having seen that the right wing can safely embrace racists, lots more of them are coming out from under the rocks they were hiding.
Nora, I agree, the language is the symptom of the greater problem.
It seems that any meaningful dialogue on race relations and racism in the U.S. has stopped. (I have actually tried to look for forums within a 50-mile radius of where I live and I will continue to look.)
Here is one reason I think it has stopped: Because a critical component of ACTIVE AND CAREFUL LISTENING (on the part of white people) is missing. For the white people who genuinely care (and, yes, there a few of us out there), it is absolutely imperative that we assume a posture of learning and listening.
A white person must be aggressive in how he/she examines his/her heart and mind. (This takes courage.) One must honestly engage how he/she been educated, socialized, and influenced in this country. In other words, one must deal with layers of garbage and lies about race, racism, and the social reality as it is experienced by people of color. Unlearning what we have learned is not easy, but it can be done. ; )
The process of seperating the “wheat from the chaff”is continual.
For the white people who care, we must recognize and appreciate the strain (daily) that people of color endure with having to interact with a social, economic, and legal structure that is cold, detached, and hostile.
I have taken for granted that I can drive through most rural areas in this country: to go look for pumpkins, pick apples, buy antiques, try a new winery, or eat at a country roadside diner and blend in quickly. A person of color, like my wife, does not experience the same ease…at all!
A second reason ( I believe) meaningful dialogue is not unfolding is because white people do not know what questions they need to wrestle with. To begin with:
1) A white person must honestly consider: “Why haven’t I had to read Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and authors of other racial and ethnic extractions in order to interact comfortably with this society?”
2) A white person must consider: “Why do I not have to know a single thing about the experiences, viewpoints, and histories of people of color in this country to have economic gain or social acceptance?”
3) “How is it that when I find myself in a social setting that makes me feel uncomfortable, I have no problem finding another setting that agrees with my senses and tastes?”
4) “How is it that reaching most of my academic, economic, or occupational goals in life has not depended on knowing people of color?”
5) If I was to describe what life is like in the United States to someone in a foreign country, how different would my description be than someone who is a person of color living in the United States – African (or black) American, Latin (or Hispanic) American, Native American, or Asian American, etc.
A third reason there is no meaningful dialogue – the issue of trust. I know there are many people of color who simply do not trust white people. (And I do not blame you!) It is not as though our conduct and way of life (collectively) has proven to be worthy of trust.
I must also point out the white people (particularly men), for the most, do not trust each other. White men in the U.S. have created a culture of isolation for each other – but that is another issue for another forum.
My goodness, what a handful of white people in the U.S. (like me) are gradually uncovering has been lived, experienced, and researched thoroughly by people of color for a very, very long time.
After nearly 12 years of marriage, my lovely wife will still say to me, “I really hate it when white people say/do [..fill in the blank..]. I don’t say to her, “Stop complaining and get over it”…or…”Just blow it off”…or…”You are just putting obstacles up for yourself”… (I better learn to like my couch if I start espousing that nonsense.)
How many promising endeavors to openly discuss racism have ended in deep frustration for people of color because white people fail to listen, learn, examine their own hearts and minds, and not take seriously the experiences of people of color?!? Whites have to take moral, social, and economic responsibility for this problem. We are not the first in line when it comes to adding anything meaningful to that dialogue (we are last in line), but I think we are in a position to make a huge difference.
Every Blessing To Each of You,
I remember reading how something similar happened in Japan back when they made it illegal to discriminate against the lower class called, politely, burukamin, and rudely, eta, or “unclean” – the very word “eta” was forbidden, and yet discrimination went on, clandestinely (people would hire private detectives to see if a job applicant, potential suitor, etc were burukamin) but because even talking about being called “eta” in print or broadcast was as illegal as using the word, it made it harder to combat it, but easier for people to say “see, the outmoded caste structures have been left behind!”
Same song, different key…
What is really sad is that people are “surprised” about the racism they are hearing about.
I live in this craziness everyday and now the world is becoming aware of a lot situations that are quiet.
Thanks for your presence ABW.
Sometimes I get tired of trying to be patient with some individuals and I direct them to your blog!
This is the best blog on race yet. I’m so glad I found you.
Just going to read and learn for a while.
Thank you for your blog… as a white male I am not in a position to say whether racism is getting stronger, but I feel strongly that it is not getting weaker, as we are told by the media and most politicogeeks–white ones as least.
As a sociologist myself I’d like to say I’ve read Steinberg’s work, though not the new book, and it is relatively more honest than most sociology of race scholarship. There are a few excellent articles, and an especially good book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “Racism without Racists” that really describes the state of color-blind racism which whites of all stripes normally perpetuate. I’m working on my dissertation right now, interviewing people over 75 yrs and it is amazing the power of these shifts in racism. The old whites I talk with have actually refashioned their memories and recollections to make them compatible with being “color-blind”!
Anyway, thanks again, the ABW is the best blog on modern America I’ve seen.
I’m not sure it’s getting worse… I think that white people are just speaking about already held prejudices, opinions, and basic assholery via the media in droves, and while some of the responses have been negative, far, far, far too many have not.
I’ve been reviewing my experiences with race and the many messages I, as a white female, were given. The more I came into contact with other white people from mostly white places, the more racist bullshit came seeping up through the cracks.
I don’t know… the more I think about my experiences, what people felt free to say to me …no, I think racism was alive and well, and assholes have been trying to be able to bring it public again for decades.
I’m just deeply disturbed that it’s escalating.
I’m honestly not sure what to think about the whole thing. I mean, coming from a (culturally) white identity, I don’t experience much in the way of racism, so there’s obviously a limit to what I see.
But here’s something I’m wondering. Is it really getting worse, or is it just that a few publicized incidents are getting people *talking* about the problems? In “mainstream” (white) culture there’s this whole notion of colorblindness. It’s so pervasive. And in a lot of ways I think this kind of thought — this denial of any race issues at all — is as bad as blatant acts of racism, because it silences any discussion of the problem. It doesn’t even acknowledge that any problem exists.
So although all these racist acts in the news are terrible, I wonder if they are the result of an increase in racism or in a lifting of the veil — the veil of colorblindness. At the very least, they force the “colorblind” culture to acknowledge that racism is very real and very much alive in our society.
But maybe all this is just wishful thinking on my part because I don’t want things to be getting worse. :( What I do know is that people — my students for example — are more *conscious* of race than they used to be, and maybe more conscious of the fact that racism persists.
I just heard about this stuff, including Shaquanda Cotton and the Jena 6, for the first time in British mainstream media: BBC Radio 4’s File on 4; their website http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/file_on_4/default.stm has links to streaming audio and a news article among other things. It sounded like a good programme to me, but I don’t know much about the issues except what I’ve read here ….
1st of all, all presidential candidates get secrete service protection regardless of race, and since the inception of the united states, there has never been a prez candidate that didnt recieve death threats. so your little argument there is weak.
2nd.. If that girl is well off enough to write all those bad checks, then I dont think there is anything wrong with her, and she probably went to the wrong neighbor hood trying to play the race card.
I had to stop at that 2nd one due to how silly you and your phoney lil attempt to stir up racism is making me laff, and cry for the black community. Personally, i think we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg. Black folks have gtten a free ride for generations now, and you squander every advantage that white people give you. “Advantages that white people cant get i might add. There will be a breaking point and we are almost there. you cant be a racist and play the race card at the same time and not have people get fed up with it.
I posted this link to show you one of many examples that go on, on a daily basis, but im sure that you will have some kind of excuse for it. Karma is bitch, and if you are having trouble dealing with life, maybe that is what you get.
*shakes head at Rob*
I never knew a person could type (rather than talk) out their ass. I learn something new everyday.
If you weren’t being serious what you typed would have been very funny satire with hilarious instances like an “imaginary free ride,” “white man’s burden” and “won’t someone please think of the white people *sniffle*”
First of all, all presidential candidates get SS protection only for the 120 days leading up to election. We’re nowhere near that date yet, you might notice, so it is just a bit unusual that Obama would have to get his so early, don’t you think? At the moment, only he and Clinton (because she’s a former First Lady) have SS protection. Only the black man and the white woman. Hmm.
So before you declare someone else’s argument weak, please make sure your own argument is correct.
Second of all, you lost me when you decided that blots on a victim’s character somehow means she “deserves” gang rape and torture. Nothing you say from that point on — not that you were saying anything intelligent anyway — “deserves” the time and effort of a response. Stop talking.
One thing that bothers me about both racism and discussions about racism is the whole “race” idea. It seems that much of the discussion is based on the assumption that blacks and whites (for example) are inherently (physically/scientifically/naturally) different from each other. Are there really separate “races”, each of which must be treated differently? Or are we all part of one human race (in which case, our differences are social/cultural/economic, not inherent)? If it’s the latter, why isn’t anyone saying so? Wouldn’t we make more progress if we all realized that people are *not* inherently different from each other, that skin tone is merely a surface difference and not directly related to one’s character?
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