Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Racism? What Racism?

TPM has a pretty breathtaking interview with the tool who said that Shirley Sherrod's relative wasn't lynched because the mob that killed the guy wasn't big enough. It's actually a pretty good introduction to how Republicans think about race. Here's how it starts:
"I have felt for a long time that my friends on the American left, in the Democratic party have just had this atrocious history with racial issue," Lord said. "I mean it just can't possibly be any worse. I've gone back and read all the platforms for the Democratic party starting in 1840 which was the first one."
He does have a point. The Democratic Party was, for the first few decades of its history, a pretty noxious institution that mostly existed to support slavery, while opposing infrastructure improvements, industrialization, the national bank, etc. Were I alive back then, I would have been a Whiggish Republican probably up until the 1910s at the earliest. But this strange fixation with what Democrats were up to in 1840--without mentioning what they've been up to over the past few decades--is pure propaganda and not an argument. By the same token, I could say that the South was dominated by slaveholders during that same time period, which shows that there's still lots of pro-slavery sentiment in the South, which hardly seems true. Lord at least does mention Nixon's Southern Strategy, but doesn't really engage with it.

I could go through the rest of this thing, but what's the point? There is no argument here, none at all. As the veneer of inclusiveness that George W. Bush attempted to impose on the Republican Party has departed, what is becoming clear is what we've always known: that, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of white people on the right who are aggrieved on the topic of race. I know a little something about this, growing up as I did in the Placer County area of California, which has been dubbed "The New Orange County". Most people I knew there were not racist by any means, but I know of more than a few that shared this sense of aggrievement. Virtually every single person I've met who has these sorts of racial issues is someone whose dreams were somehow unfulfilled and had to deal with failure of many sorts before growing embittered and trying to find a target to blame for their screw-ups. Most of these people are just people who couldn't own their failures, which to me has always been the sign of a weak person. This garbage appeals to a very specific type of person, someone with dreams and perhaps some talent but little self-esteem or real ambition, usually with strong feelings of entitlement, who would prefer to excuse themselves from responsibility rather than to go out there and try harder to get what they want. So, if someone like this hears some stories about unqualified black applicants getting good jobs instead of qualified white people (a highly exaggerated phenomenon in my experience) or about Cadillac-driving welfare queens or what have you, the story hits. Finally, an explanation for their tragedy that makes sense! Then jealousy and anger pop up. Of course, that these people are jealous at people who are so much worse off than they are is more than a little pathetic, but I don't think being pathetic is separable from being racist. My predominant experience of these sorts of people has been among the Baby Boomer Generation, who basically grew up being told that they were going to be guaranteed success and happiness. It's conceivable that they feel that their failure in some way is a breakdown of the social contract, but ultimately it's just because things didn't turn out the way they hoped they would. The world wasn't like what their parents told them, and by this point they should know that.

Jealousy, of course, is easier than changing one's assumptions. And racism is a weakness. All prejudice is. It ensures that emotion overshadows reason and intellect and provides a big blind spot in one's thinking, one that makes it more difficult to see the world clearly. That's why it's important to know it, recognize it in ourselves, and overcome it. Of course, since racial aggrievement is a blind spot, it's that much harder for people who suffer from it to see it, and this makes them easily manipulable to cynical political and media figures.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.