Monday, August 13, 2018

Racist Racist Racist Racist Racist!!

I'm confident enough in my sexuality that I don't feel obliged to project a particularly masculine image. I'm not constantly self-monitoring to avoid sissy-ish statements or behavior, because I know what I am, and don't need to prove otherwise. I find it strange how many people miss the irony of working to not seem gay, as many guys do. Machismo strikes me as a comic display of obvious sexual insecurity. With nothing to hide, I've cast aside behavioral filters, which paradoxically makes many guys suspect I'm gay. Oddly, no woman (including new acquaintances) ever, to my knowledge, has.

Similarly, I feel comfortable with people of different races. I don't occupy myself with trying not to seem racist, because I know my inclinations are benign. Liberals often dislike how I talk about race (here are some previous postings on the topic), because I eschew the normal filtering. Spotting my inattention to norms, I seem like I might be juuuust a little bit racist. Yet I've never heard anything like that from black or brown people.

President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist.

I'm guessing you've heard this. It's repeated again and again. In some cases, it's a conscious attempt to stave off normalization; to keep calling it out and to try to remain sensitized. But in most cases, it's like feebly re-striking wet matches. The saying of these words should change something, so, when they don't, we grow confused and try again and again, falling into a loop. Did you know that President Trump is a racist?

Why do we say these words in the first place? Well, that's simply what we do! When we spot racist language or behavior, we call it out, like spraying cleaner on a countertop stain. Stimulus...reaction. We're doing a job; getting it done. Having performed the pattern matching, we speak the words. We're fighting the good fight, with a righteous feeling of being on the right side. You're a racist! Once uttered, the words enter into a higher ledger. That's what we do with racists. We announce them. We label them with our words.

And if their racism continues, well, we keep announcing. We keep flicking those matches until something happens. Ideally, they'll lose their job (i.e. their ability to feed and support themselves and their families). That's how it's supposed to go. You say the racist thing, I perform the pattern matching and utter the words, and you crawl up and die, because that's what happens to racists. If the process fails to complete, I grow confused. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist.

I don't think it's very deep. I think it's people behaving like computers, rotely matching inputs to outputs, and getting stuck in loops when the correct result fails to ensue.

I'd like to propose a radical change. What if we simply let racists be racists, given that 1. racists are going to be racists whether we let them or not, and 2. we're all somewhat racist - in fact, nothing feels more racist to me than people who find my Jewishness absolutely delightful, or else something so potentially touchy that they feel compelled to very politely never ever mention it, though it evidently remains the top-most thing on their minds. As I once wrote:
As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"
The pattern matching procedure never really worked. Context is everything. An Italian drinking buddy calling me a Jew bastard feels fine to me, while being indulgently asked whether it's ok if there's pork in my soup by a hyper-woke waiter who's studied my nose shape and feels compelled to diligently respect my stark Otherness in her glorious rainbow feels icky.

And it's okay. The world intrinsically feels icky, regardless, and always will. In fact, nothing could possibly feel ickier than high-handed sanctimonious attempts to cleanse public sentiment.

What if we let racists live and work among us, in peace? What if we tolerate their free use of language as part of that same glorious rainbow? And what if we club them over the head with the full weight of the legal system if they ever ever act on it by discriminating - i.e. doing actual harm? What if you can be a racist, think like a racist, talk like a racist, but we prevent you from acting on it? Conveniently, we have a legal system, with lots of preexisting legislation, to handle exactly that.

I understand it feels insufficient. I understand the drive to purge all the ickyness, and I understand that some believe it can be purged by screaming "icky!!!" really loudly and waiting for it to be "cleaned up" (in ways that are poorly considered, because, really, why waste thought and consideration on icky people, who really just need to go crawl up and die?).

Most of all, what if we recognize that much of the preoccupation with racism is actually projecting insecurities about one's own inclinations; an overcompensating effort to flamboyantly signal one's position on the correct side of things?


Conscience and Capital: Business Ethics in the Real World said...

This seems like a sophisticated version of "sticks and stones will break my bones...etc.". I do agree that over-sensitization to anything, especially language, can produce a backlash. But I think you underestimate the extent to which speech is performative. Calling someone a "n*****r" or a "K*k*" (and believe me, as someone educated in linguistic philosophy, the fact that our entire culture seems to have lost the use/mention distinction so far that we have been reduced to saying "the 'n" word" when we are merely mentioning someone else's use of it is enraging) is damaging. Racists *use* words to injure, to remind people of their second class status in society.

The other phenomenon this ignores is that of social pressure. If we put social pressure on people who use real racist language (and I'm not talking about microaggressions now), they'll knock it off. In the same way that the president basically performing racism on a daily basis has been associated with a 200% fold increase in illegal racist incidents, having a president who didn't make white supremacy a central tenet of his administration would likely decrease such activities. There was a time when saying "n******r" was acceptable among polite white society. Then, after the civil rights movement, it was no longer acceptable. It seems to be sliding back toward the pre-civil rights culture. We can change that through social pressure, and should.

James Leff said...

"Racists *use* words to injure "

Fine, that's their shtick. I can only be injured if I choose to be.

If you walk by some random crazy on the street who screams in your face "You don't know anything! You're stupid and wrong!", it will have no impact on you at all (unless you have serious emotional problems). You'll recognize that they are acting out their own internal issues with little or no connection to anything relevant to you, and it will be like water off a duck. Random noise.

It doesn't take 25 years of Himalayan meditation to realize that nearly everyone is acting out their own internal issues with little or no connection to anything relevant to you. And in the extraordinarily rare case where someone is offering thoughtful negative feedback extremely specific and tailored to you, you'd best pay careful attention and not waste energy whining about it or lashing back.

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