10
The R-Word

Lindy West, in an op-ed for the NYT:

It’s an odd construction. Once you say, “He says what I’m afraid to say,” and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you’re aware it’s a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you’re only pretending to care. It’s a wild grab for plausible deniability — how can I be a white supremacist when I’m just your nice grandpa? — an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.

That phrase at the end — that we have “a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist” — is something I started noticing years ago. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it, and it explains much about our current discourse on racism.

What’s happened is that all but a small fringe of American society has agreed that “racism”, in the abstract, is deeply wrong. But there are many people who agree that “racism” is deeply wrong who themselves hold racist views. One way they square this cognitive dissonance is by redefining “racism” as applying only to grossly overt racism — using racial slurs, refusing to hire people of color, belonging to whites-only clubs, etc.

It’s the difference between seeing racism as a problem on which we’ve made tremendous progress but still have far to go, versus seeing it as a problem which we have largely eliminated.

Friday, 11 March 2016