A racism renaissance?
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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?