“Polite Racism”


“Polite Racism”

January 13th, 2015

Welp, the Ravens lost.  Brady reigns supreme; Aaron Rodgers was majestic.  Peyton choked.  And college football.  Nobody needs another meathead analyst, so I’m going to go on for a bit about racism (fuck! you’re kidding!!)….

….I know, know, but –

An old boss of mine recently posted a long Facebook status about how he biked through a black neighborhood in Oakland and found himself mentally tabulating the value of his belongings, fearing the eminent threat of robbery or worse.  And how this was such a brief yet disturbing revelation, and how it wasracist, yes, in spite of all the desperate self-assuaging, but now that all the cards are on the table it’s all moot, anywho – “I’m deeply concerned with getting to the bottom of what keeps us from each other…I have to wonder how much might be gained by investing equal effort in looking in.”

He makes a good point.  I’ve lived his anecdote, and I accept that I harbor hidden biases based on my upbringing.  Everybody does.  Every country in the world has racism (institutional, social, what-have-you); the United States (and I’m talking The United States of Middle Class Internet-Friendly Folks) is a nation of largely private, polite racists.  Although most of the outsider “outrage” in the wake of consecutive Ferguson and Eric Garner episodes was loud, facile and tactless, things have quieted down.  For those not directly affected, landmark tragedy affords a satisfying catharsis via belly-out rage and a sudden fever of being of a people; the fallout provides an introspective ground zero, a reevaluation of self and Other.  That, or a tidy return to the ballast point of talking hip hop under the bare tungsten of freshly gentrified dive bars.

The upheavals of the fall remind me of one of my favorite books: Don DeLillo’s Falling Man.  The protagonist is literally swept up in the carnage of the 9/11 attacks only to arrive at the door of his former lover – the chaos reunites them, yet both have lost all bearing of where they left off.  The rules are shaken up but the same fears reside, the same anxiety, so ultimately they keep on living, unchanged at heart.  It’s a familiar story, and a poignant one.  The same thing happens in Eternal Sunshine.  In Candide.

A good friend made his New Year’s Resolution to be less racist – a joke, but not a joke.  Which is a great joke.  There are so many pitfalls to every –ism it keeps people up all night discussing them.  Some –ism’s skip the –ism phase altogether and become –phobia’s and –ogyny’s.  We use these terms defensively, violently, as we perpetually defend and violate their meanings.  Being less racist is a pretty realistic goal: eradicating racism is a fallacy.

I think we should all do a better job picking our battles.  So here’s a thinker for ya: who is more reprehensible: Coworker A, who sometimes uses “gay” to describe songs or movies he doesn’t like, or Coworker B, who spits in the trash can….

It’s Coworker B guys.  Who spits in the trash?

The spiritual ground zero following tragedy is not a game-changer; it’s a necessary device.  It keeps life interesting, richer, and assuming you didn’t lose a limb or a family member in the conflict you choose to get steamed about, it’s a privilege.  Hopefully your introspection will make you better, wiser.  Ideally, I should say.  Oh, you’ll still be racist, privately mulling over your weird disgust as just ahead of you in line a pudgy black teen counts nickels for a bag of Bugles and a 7-Up.  You’ll still mutter “stupid cunt” a million times in rush hour traffic, retrieving your stupid cunt girlfriend’s favorite pan from the rubble of a Super Bowl party you trekked across town for the previous night.  But to the young WoC on my friends list who wrote in a lengthy Fb thread “Fuck this – you should be ashamed to be white!” –

You’re gonna wanna revise that sweetheart because that’s just not a winner.


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