Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What racism usually sounds like these days

The kind of racism expressed by Donald Sterling is rarely uttered in public. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't know about what he said if his girlfriend hadn't recorded his private conversation.

Most often these days, public statements of racism tend to come in the form of what North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis said in an interview back in 2012.
The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers.
The "dog whistle" nature of a statement like that is that everyone knows that when he says "traditional," he means "white." The suggestion therefore is that people of color in North Carolina and the United States are "non-traditional."

In saying that, he marginalized Native Americans and Latinos who preceded the arrival of white Northern Europeans to America as well as African Americans who arrived on slave ships simultaneously. In other words, he ignored historical facts. That he can do so speaks to the way our "traditional" efforts to dismiss black and brown people as something other than human have been ingrained in our thought and language.

The way these kinds of conversations usually proceed is that people will point out to Tillis that what he said was racist for the reasons I articulated above. He will respond by saying something to the effect of "I don't hate black/brown people so I'm not a racist! How dare you call me that!"

The truth is that most of us don't know whether or not Thom Tillis "hates" black/brown people. And that's not the point anyway. The point is that he just told the black and brown people of this country that they don't belong by totally dismissing their traditional history in this country. That is a racist thing to say, regardless of whether its motivated by hate or ignorance or indifference.

As long as white people can convince each other that racism = hating black/brown people, we'll never tackle the conversation we actually need to have. Once again, this is why Jay Smooth's advice is so important.


  1. He articulated why racism is not identical to bigotry. He as an elected official has determined in his own mind that institutional exclusion - racism - is perfectly all right because, well, it just is. He may not be a personal bigot, may be sweet and caring to people of color in his life, but so what? He has just dropped the racist anvil on entire populations he thinks should be excluded from the nation's most fundamental institutions and rights. Who he is personally is irrelevant to that far greater evil.

  2. Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. You can be a racist without hating anyone; in fact, it might actually be more insulting that way. Thom Tillis probably isn't actually hateful; but if he truly thinks of white people as the standard human model for "real Americans", and everyone else as "non-traditional", that's an incredibly harmful mindset. (And if he doesn't believe that himself, but is cynically appealing to those who do, it's despicable.)


Why Republicans No Longer Believe in Democracy

Seven years ago I was asked to write a review of Zachary Roth's book, "The Great Suppression." More than anything I'd rea...