Posted on | March 8, 2013 | 41 Comments
. . . Ta-Nehisi Coates is there on the op-ed pages with a stern sermonette for them. It involves the fact that an employee of a New York deli didn’t recognize the actor Forest Whitaker and accused him of shoplifting. Coates offers a few more examples — including from before he was born — of a racism that “haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence.”
And also haunts them, we might add, with dramatic prose.
Far be it from me to say that New York deli employees aren’t in the thrall of atavistic ethnic prejudice, their minds crowded with ignorant racial stereotypes and hateful bigotry. But, on closer inspection, that doesn’t seem to be Coates’s point:
In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist.
Who is this “we”? But never mind that. In fact, Coates is right, insofar as he is suspicious that the “good people” — even nice, well-meaning, liberal white people — are more guilty of racism than they would like to admit. How often, for example, have I given my opinion on the utter hopelessness of the public education system, only to have some parent explain to me that they live in a good district with good public schools. The suspicion that “good” is actually a synonym for “mostly white” is hard to avoid, but these parents don’t want to think of their personal choices in that context, and so I don’t bother to point this out.
Frankly, there are a lot of things about contemporary race relations I don’t bother to point out, because I am a white man who isn’t a liberal and one who has, indeed, often been called a racist.
There are no New York publishing houses offering me contracts to write The Complete NeoConfederate Guide to Better Race Relations, although it has occasionally occurred to me that problems which seem insoluble inside the margins of Political Correctness could most likely be improved by more truly radical thinking.
Here’s a radical thought: What if racism isn’t really the problem?
Ethnocentric attitudes are commonplace, a logical consequence of mankind’s innately tribal nature.
Everyone is self-interested and, insofar as he has any actual thought about race, is chiefly concerned about whether anything might affect the mental category of People Like Me.
Obviously, race is not the only such category. We might mentally categorize ourselves in any number of ways: Male, female, old, young, urban, rural, Crimson Tide fans, et cetera.
Man’s innate tribalism persists, but in a media-saturated consumer society one notices that there are many people who classify themselves by what they buy and what they watch on TV.
You see this especially among young people, where high school cliques are sometimes defined by certain fashionable clothing brands. But high schoolers denominate themselves by all kinds of crazy classifications that make no sense to sane adults, and which honestly never made sense to me even when I was a teenage dopehead. (“Teenage dopehead” being a rather large fraternity in the ’70s.)
One category which young people are avidly encouraged to join nowadays is Not a Racist.
Membership in the Not a Racist Club is exclusive to white kids, because the same mentality that castigates whites as racist is also constantly telling non-white kids that the most important thing about them is their race. The result is that while the minority kids get their heads crammed full of ethnic chauvinism, white kids are taught — often quite explicitly — that being white is a source of shame.
Such indoctrination produces effects consistent with Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every teaching has an equal and opposite reaction. One occasionally encounters white people who have so entirely internalized ther anti-racism lessons that they run around all the time pointing fingers at other white people, yelling, “RAAAAACIST!”
That’s annoying, but it is not as troubling to me as the opposite reaction: White kids who, resisting the indoctrination, develop a profound resentment of the non-whites whom they are constantly told are their moral superiors (in the liberal calculus where victimhood is superiority).
Trust me, Ta-Nehisi: It ain’t the old-fashioned white racism you need to worry about, it’s this disturbing new racism of kids quietly embittered at being branded with a collective mark of racial shame for the sins of dead white guys hundreds of years ago. You can call it “backlash,” or you can call it “unintended consequences,” and you might even wonder if the accidental results of the White Guilt curriculum weren’t occasionally manifested as something that doesn’t look like racism, but rather an inchoate rage: Columbine, Tucson, Aurora and so forth.
Lot of really angry young white guys out there, eh?
“Racism” is a word that has been degraded by promiscuous overuse, and if we can still recognize racism at work in the unfair suspicion directed at Forest Whitaker by a deli employee, it’s almost a miracle, considering how often nowadays we are told that “racist” is effectively a synonym for “Republican.” (Was the deli employee Republican?)
In truth, however, actual racism — a generalized hostility toward other races — is a psychological defense mechanism, a rationalization of personal failure by resort to blaming the scapegoated Other.
We recognize this in the life of Adolf Hitler, the failed artist who became an eager acolyte of anti-Semitism after being rejected at the Vienna institute. And we see how the German people, humiliated by defeat in World War I, responded to Hitler’s blame-the-Jews message as an explanation for the collective insult to their pride.
Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, Bebel said (as if socialism itself weren’t foolish enough, we might add). And the interesting thing about the Third Reich is that it was the National Socialists who created it. The Nazis’ particular hybrid of socialism was disowned by other socialists, whose habit is always to dismiss any failed socialist experiment — from the Stalinist nightmare to Pol Pot’s murderous lunacy to Hugo Chavez’s sordid mess in Venezuela — as Not Really Socialism.
But Hitler’s socialism was Really Socialism in the sense that it was about the victimhood of the allegedly virtuous masses at the expense of the vicious Other. Just substitute “Jews” for “bourgeoisie,” and it’s the same thing as more orthodox socialism. It’s about scapegoating — externalizing the causes of failure — and it doesn’t really mattere who the chosen scapegoat is, or what elaborate ideological superstructure one erects to justify it, the Politics of Blame is always the same.
NYPD arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters, Oct. 1, 2011
“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
– William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)
Well, “Occupy” mobs raging against bankers may seem harmless enough, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed that those mobs were mostly a bunch of idiot white kids, and who knows where their victim mentality may lead? Not in my lifetime, of course.
As bad as schools are and as vicious as our politics have become, America isn’t likely to go through any violent revolution or totalitarian dystopia soon. We seem to be traveling The Road to Serfdom by baby steps. Yet the escalating ignorance of history, and the dying off of those who have any direct memory of fighting against dangerous “un-American” ideas, creates a genuine risk of future generations surrendering to Bad Ideas we thought we had long ago vanquished.
Pardon the long digression, Ta-Nehisi, and sorry to bust your hustle, but why does the New York Times only want a black man to write op-eds for them when the subject is racism? Why don’t the editors ever solicit your thoughts about the budget or foreign policy? Are the editors of the New York Times the sort of liberals who think black writers can’t write about anything except being black? Isn’t that attitude . . . racist?
That box you’re thinking inside? Throw it away.
You might be surprised what the world actually looks like, once you escape the indoctrination and begin thinking for yourself.