Jason Lewis had/has a liner in his promo reel. It goes a little something like…:
“Let’s have an intelligent conversation; Jason will talk, you listen”.
That’s what I think about when I hear most people who are calling for a “dialog about race” in this county.
I don’t know that that word means what they think it means.
I don’t go to Jeff Fecke to take the cultural barometer of this nation. I go to Jeff Fecke for howlingly overwrought conclusions; I go looking for checks that his logic and knowledge can’t cash.
And he wrote a doozy the other day:
In general, if you ever find yourself saying, “I’m not a racist,” you’re a racist.
I rubbed my eyes, thinking perhaps it was the fatigue playing tricks on my eyes.
The same holds true for a variety of hatreds, of course. “I’m not a sexist” is evidence one is sexist; “I’m not homophobic” proof that one hates gays. Those people who truly have no internalized misogyny, racism, or homophobia are few and far between, and those most likely to be good allies to those groups are also the most likely to be aware of their own shortcomings.
Apparently I’m a purple female rhinoceros who walks along the ceiling, having dislaimed each of those as well as affirming the power of gravity.
It’s easy to bag on Jeff Fecke for these kinds of “conclusions” – and it deserves bagging; it’s a simplistic, hamfisted answer to a very complex question. The problem is, this is a symptom (albeit a not-very-challenging one) of something that plagues nearly every attempt to have a “dialog” across ideological lines with the left, whether the issue is man-made global warming, gender, or race.
They frame the argument to not merely favor their side, but to paint disagreement as base, benighted and depraved.
Which makes for a fun rhetorical game (Fecke was reportedly a college-level debater, so one might suspect that’s the goal), but – and I say this as someone who’s been cut down to size for substituting “rhetorical games” for “communication” enough times to know better – it makes for lousy dialog, if indeed “dialog” is what you want.
And of course, “dialog” is not what most of the parties to this “discussion” want. They want it no more than Jason Lewis wants an even conversation – and at least Lewis’ liner is funny.
There’s nothing funny about the way the “dialog on race” is being framed. No “dialog” exists while one side assumes the other is depraved until proven depraved.
I’m going to start out with a very broad statement: “Isms” are part of the human condition. All people are conditioned to favor people who are like them, and to suspect people who are different from them, whether tangibly (skin color, language, accent, smell, dress) or subtly (class, education, geography). Many white people get uneasy around many black people, sure, but that’s an easy one. Middle-class white people get uneasy around mullet-headed bikers; New Yorkers sneer down their noses at Arklahoma accents; light-skinned blacks disdain darker blacks (or so said Spike Lee); farmers roll their eyes at people in suits and ties and clipped city accents and manners.
This is true across every culture on this planet.
In many of those cultures, that suspicion is codified in the language. In many languages, the word for “Human” varies, depending on how closely-related or situated the subject is to the speaker; for “humans” whose tribe is closer to that of the speaker, it’s a fairly benign or amiable term; the farther afield the subject, the less-benign and more derogatory the term will get.
To say “everyone’s a racist” is itself simplistic; it would be fairer and more accurate to say “we are all we-ists”; all of us, black or female or suburban or mentally ill or urban or atheist, are more comfortable around people who are like us. And every single one of us practices “profiling”, whether you’re a black couple “profiling” some agressive drunk rednecks, or a Xhosa turning on a Bantu in anger, or Molly Priesmeyer “profiling” white males, or even the stereotypical white middle-class guy sizing up…anyone else.
What matters, of course, is how we deal with this bit of human programming.
So far, so good?
Let’s take a moment and launch a pre-emptive strike on a liberal cliche or two. I’ll ask my conservative homies to indulge what might sound to some of them (mistakenly) like heresy.
The effects of racism didn’t end in 1865 – or 1964, for that matter.
And I’m not just talking about the racism of low expectations that is inherent in the welfare system to which so many Americans have been induced to addiction, a system that’s perpetuated any number of “isms” by making something that is completely counterintuitive to most humans – subsidizing poverty, in order to make misery and disenfranchisement a viable lifestyle. By subsidizing poverty to enable people to say in it for generation after generation, racism and classism and dozens of other corrosive “isms” are given an environment to see to their own permanence.
But most of us – the conservatives, at least – know about both of those already. But that’s a post-1964 mistake.
There’s one bit of racism that’s gone back 400 years, and is alive and well today – the devaluation of the black male. Black males – fathers – were sold off pretty much at will, as befitted what what considered property at the time. They were shipped around like cattle, worked to death, killed without the benefit of legal protection – it’s not a new story to anyone, is it? African-American society built on the matriarchal nature of many African societies, and became even more so; fathers were a transient thing.
During the Jim Crow years, of course, black men could be discriminated against, attacked, lynched with impunity. Worst of all, we really haven’t learned much since the end of Jim Crow. Black men, to the welfare system, are pretty much expendable; “families” without fathers get better benefits. Add to that an educational system that systematically fails blacks, a welfare system more concerned with its own self-perpetuation than in helping people find the self-respect (as opposed to “self-esteem”) that it takes to break the cycle, and an urban popular culture that plays into the nihilistic devaluation of the African-American male…
…between all that, America doesn’t need to “invent HIV”, as Jeremiah Wright famously claimed, to screw up African-Americans.
So we’ve established in advance; racism exists, and it’s a pretty normal, albeit lamentable, human condition.
So you want a dialog about race?
OK. So in the next installment, let’s talk. Or at least I’ll give you, the audience, my monologue. You can respond any way you’d like.
Oh, yeah – Fecke’s wrong. If you say you’re not a racist, it means you’re not. Or you are. Or somewhere in between – somewhere in that immense continuum between “hating people who are different than you” and “not really recognizing differences at all”. All generalizations are false.
Except that one.