[News] This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 2 15:54:25 EDT 2014

  This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist

Ta-Nehisi Coates <http://m.theatlantic.com/ta-nehisi-coates/> May 1 
2014, 11:30 AM ET

The question Cliven Bundy put to his audience last week---Was the black 
family better off as property?---is as immoral as it unoriginal. As both 
Adam Serwer 
<http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/conservatives-condemn-cliven-bundy> and 
Jamelle Bouie 
point out, the roster of conservative theorists who imply that black 
people were better off being whipped, worked, and raped are legion. 
Their ranks include economists Walter Williams and 
former congressman Allen West 
sitting Representative Trent Franks 
singer Ted Nugent 
and presidential aspirants Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann 

A fair-minded reader will note that each of these conservatives is 
careful to not praise slavery and to note his or her disgust at the 
practice.* *This is neither distinction nor difference. Cliven Bundy's 
disquisition begins with a similar hedge 
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agXns-W60MI>: "We've progressed quite a 
bit from that day until now and we sure don't want to go back." With so 
little substantive difference between Bundy and other conservatives, it 
becomes tough to understand last week's backpedaling in any 
intellectually coherent way.

But style is the hero. Cliven Bundy is old, white, and male. He likes to 
wave an American flag while spurning the American government and pals 
around with the militia movement.* *He does not so much use the word 
"Negro"---which would be bad enough---but "nigra," in the manner of 
villain from /Mississippi Burning/ or /A Time to Kill/. In short, Cliven 
Bundy looks, and sounds, much like what white people take racism to be.

The problem with Cliven Bundy isn't that he is a racist but that he is 
an oafish racist. He invokes the crudest stereotypes, like cotton 
picking. This makes white people feel bad. The elegant racist knows how 
to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white 
guilt. Elegant racism requires plausible deniability, as when Reagan 
just happened to stumble into the Neshoba County fair 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/opinion/13herbert.html?_r=0> and 
mention state's rights. Oafish racism leaves no escape hatch, as when 
Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond's singularly segregationist candidacy.

Elegant racism is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself 
in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism. Grace is 
the singular marker of elegant racism. One should never underestimate 
the touch needed to, say, injure the voting rights of black people 
without ever saying their names. Elegant racism lives at the border of 
white shame. Elegant racism was the poll tax. Elegant racism is voter-ID 

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop 
discriminating on the basis of race," John Roberts elegantly wrote 
<http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_908>. Liberals have 
yet to come up with a credible retort. That is because the theories of 
John Roberts are prettier than the theories of most liberals. But more, 
it is because liberals do not understand that America has never 
discriminated on the basis of race (which does not exist) but on the 
basis of racism (which most certainly does.)

Ideologies of hatred have never required coherent definitions of the 
hated. Islamophobes kill Sikhs as easily as they kill Muslims. Stalin 
needed no consistent definition <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulak> of 
"Kulaks" to launch a war of Dekulakization 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dekulakization>. "I decide who is a Jew," 
Karl Lueger said <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Lueger>. 
Slaveholders decided who was a nigger and who wasn't. The decision was 
arbitrary. The effects are not. Ahistorical liberals---like most 
Americans---still believe that race invented racism, when in fact the 
reverse is true. The hallmark of elegant racism is the acceptance of 
mainstream consensus, and exploitation of all its intellectual fault lines.

Here is a lovely illustration of elegant racism:

This graph is from Robert J. Sampson's essential 2011 profile of 
Chicago, /Great American City/ 
Sampson's data depicts incarceration rates in the early to mid-'90s in 
Chicago among black (black dots) and white neighborhoods (white dots.) 
Increasingly, sociologists like Sampson are showing us how our brute and 
strained vocabulary fails to articulate the problem of racism. 
Conservatives and liberals frequently wonder how it could be that 
unequal outcomes endure for blacks and whites, even after controlling 
for income or "class." That is because conservatives and liberals 
underestimate the achievements of white supremacy 
and still believe that comparisons between a "black middle class" and a 
"white middle class" have actual meaning. In fact, black and white 
people---of any class---live in wholly different worlds.

A phrase like "mass incarceration" obviates the fact that "mass 
incarceration" is mostly localized in black neighborhoods. In Chicago 
during the '90s, there was no overlap between the incarceration rates of 
black and white neighborhoods. The most incarcerated white neighborhoods 
in Chicago are still better off than the least incarcerated black 
neighborhoods. The most incarcerated black neighborhood in Chicago is 
/40 times /worse than the most incarcerated white neighborhood.

Perhaps black people are for reasons of culture or genetics 40 times 
more criminal than white people. Or perhaps there is something more 
elegant at work 

    The Justice Department announced today the largest monetary payment
    ever obtained by the department in the settlement of a case alleging
    housing discrimination in the rental of apartments. Los Angeles
    apartment owner Donald T. Sterling has agreed to pay $2.725 million
    to settle allegations that he discriminated against
    African-Americans, Hispanics and families with children at apartment
    buildings he controls in Los Angeles.

Throughout the 20th century---and perhaps even in the 21st---there was 
no more practiced advocate of housing segregation than the city of 
Chicago. Its mayors and aldermen razed neighborhoods and segregated 
public housing. Its businessmen lobbied for racial zoning. Its realtors 
block-busted whole neighborhoods, flipping them from black to white and 
then pocketing the profit. Its white citizens embraced racial 
covenants---in the '50s, no city had more covenants in place than Chicago.

If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage 
another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing 
discrimination. Housing determines access to transportation, green 
spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. 
Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your 
chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as 
quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, 
but it doesn't need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard 
to prove, and hard to prosecute. Even today most people believe that 
Chicago is the work of organic sorting, as opposed segregationist social 
engineering. Housing segregation is the weapon that mortally injures, 
but does not bruise. The historic fumbling of such a formidable weapon 
could only ever be accomplished by a graceless halfwit---such as the 
present owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

As Bomani Jones noted back in 2006, Donald Sterling has long been a 
practitioner of racism and the NBA could not have cared less. 
<http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=jones/060810> Jones is 
rightfully apoplectic 
at the present response. That is because he understands that the NBA, 
its players and its fans, don't so much object to Donald Sterling's 
racism---they object to his want of elegance.

Like Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling confirms our comfortable view of 
racists. Donald Sterling is a "bad person." He's mean to women. He 
carouses with prostitutes.* *He uses the word "nigger." He fits our idea 
of what an actual racist must look like: snarling, villainous, immoral, 
ignorant, gauche.  The actual racism that Sterling long practiced, that 
this society has long practiced (and is still practicing) must attract 
significantly less note. That is because to see racism in all its 
elegance is to implicate not just its active practitioners, but to 
implicate ourselves.

How can it be that in a "black league," as Charles Barkley calls the 
NBA, an on-the-record structural racist like Donald Sterling was allowed 
to thrive? Everyone now wants to speak to Elgin Baylor 
Where were all these people before? Where was Kevin Johnson 
Where was the Los Angeles NAACP 
When Donald Sterling was driving black tenants out of his buildings, 
where was David Stern?

Far better to implicate Donald Sterling and be done with the whole 
business. Far better to banish Cliven Bundy and table the uncomfortable 
reality of our political system. A racism that invites the bipartisan 
condemnation of Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell must necessarily be 
minor. A racism that invites the condemnation of Sean Hannity can't be 
much of a threat. But a racism, condemnable by all civilized people, 
must make itself manifest now and again so that we may celebrate how far 
we have come. Meanwhile racism, elegant, lovely, monstrous, carries on 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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