[News] This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist
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
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
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
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
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
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