The NY Post Cartoon
Okay, here we go.
Whenever SUPER RACIST EVENT happens in this country, I tend not to get too whipped up. I mean, it’s no shock or surprise to me that SUPER RACIST EVENTS still happen at a fairly consistent clip. And, the thing is, I tend to view the SUPER RACIST EVENT to be on the low-end of what we should be worrying about in this country.
What does worry me, what does whip me up, what I save my shock and surprise and disgust and fervor for, is INEVITABLE RATIONALIZATION OF SUPER RACIST EVENT. Which, to me, is the actual event. Even if we lived in some wonderful golden paradise of anti-racism, every now and again some fuckshit would pop up to say “nigger!” because on the whole the world is full of fuckshits. BUT in a wonderful golden paradise of anti-racism, the rest of society would rise up in a chorus of STFU.
Instead, we have SUPER RACIST EVENT, which is offensive and hurtful and angering to thousands upon thousands of citizens with dignity and rights and humanity. And then, we have INEVITABLE RATIONALIZATIONS, which last much longer, are much louder, and employ far more irresponsible and oppressive tactics in order to maintain a context where SUPER RACIST EVENT is acceptable behavior and we don’t have to feel accountable or ashamed of our country.
And that’s where the worst of the racism lies. When racism is put out in the open, when it’s some fuckshit who tosses out racial epithets like candy, we can all come together with a big flag flowing behind us and say, “Racism is wrong, buddy. In this country, we judge people by what’s in ‘em.” And then somebody starts up a tinny recording of the “I Have a Dream” speech and we all squeeze out a tear or two under the crushing weight of our overinflated sense of accomplishment.
But when racism is pushed under the rug, with code words like “ghetto,” “inner-city,” “those people,” “urban youth,” “crack babies,” or “it was just a joke,” we swap our accomplishment for defensive, disproportionate aggression. And thus begins long and public debates about the oversensitivity of “those people,” the inherent wrongness of “political correctness,” and the absolute right of white people to misinterpret anything and everything until it reflects well on them and poorly on everybody else.
So, the NY Post Cartoon. Totally SUPER RACIST EVENT. Not surprising or shocking. Sure, offensive, but offensive like any fuckshit can manage to be once he’s learned a few bad words. Racist, yes, and I spent a few silent moments rolling my eyes, shaking my head, and mostly being offended not by a racist cartoon, but by a corporation that would allow this to be published. That required more than one racist fuckshit scrawling out the equivalent of Highly! Opinionated! bathroom graffiti. It required the active participation and approval of dozens of people who, let’s take a quick guess, are white. And thought this was fit to print.
But I didn’t really get a deep pit in my tummy, the kind that makes me want to take my bear and live in a cave far away from a civilization so rotten that it honestly, actually considers certain people to be less than human, less than animals, even. That only got triggered once the reactions started coming out. I try to avoid reading comments threads on newspaper websites, or general internet forums, because that way lies madness. But I am distinctly unsatisfied with my job at the moment, so it happens more than “I try to avoid” rightfully indicates.
Here is the main point I want to make:
“I didn’t realize it was racist,” is not a defense. It doesn’t make you look good. It doesn’t make you look not-racist. And it doesn’t make the people who did see it was racist touchy and oversensitive. “I didn’t realize it was racist” is the singular best way you can identify yourself as totally fucking racist outside of becoming a blathering fuckshit.
People who did not realize this cartoon was racist did not realize it was racist because they are racist.
That’s a lot of repetition and wordiness. I’m trying to think of a better way to put that.
If you can hear/see/watch a person make a reference to a vile racist stereotype with a wealth of historical context, and honestly “not see” the racism, you are a white person.
Do you know how I know you are a white person?
Because only a white person could reach adulthood in this country with such a stunning lack of historical education, such total isolation from non-white peoples, and such a lack of experience in witnessing the daily hatreds and indignities of racism.
The only way a non-white person could reach adulthood with so little education, interaction, and experience is if they were raised in the underworld with the mole people.
The racism that allowed this cartoon to be published is the very same racism that protects white people from the destructive and difficult task of witnessing racism. And it is the very same racism that allows them to spout off about how their ignorance of racism is not racist. And it is the very same racism that allows them not to be shouted down as fuckshits for claiming ignorance is a virtue.
Non-white people do not have this luxury. Committed anti-racist white people do not have this luxury. Only white people, who have been forcibly segregated from the vast majority of their peers and the world, have this luxury.
Saying “I didn’t see it as racist” is racist.
I don’t mean the fuckshit variety of racist. I don’t mean these people are being intentionally racist, or that they want to be racist, or that they think black people are monkeys, or that it’s right that others should be allowed to say so and be defended.
White people who did not see this cartoon as racist are reaping the consequences of being raised in a racist society. Certainly if you asked them, “White person: should society be racist?” they would answer, “No, of course not, racism is bad.” But beyond shouting down fuckshits, which is sort of like pissing in the ocean, most white people don’t know how to make society not racist. They don’t know, because they don’t even see all the ways society is racist. And they don’t see that because of racism. It is only because of the design of racism — a hatred and prejudice that creates false divisions between people — that white people are allowed to live so segregated from the lives and experiences of others that they cannot even comprehend the most basic and direct of insults.
I think, too often, white people only consider the word “racism” as applying to and affecting non-white people. Which is true in some ways. Obviously, racism has had a pretty good payout for white folk, and a white person may justifiably feel a little disingenuous if they ever tried to discuss how racism is really awfully bad for them and stuff.
But there are a lot of ways racism is destroying white people, internally and externally. Financially, we suffer (imagine if even half the black male prison population were allowed to be productive working citizens instead of slave labor wards of the state); culturally, we suffer (I know I’m not the only white person to be all ignorantly enamored of “ethnic” art, because I’ve got none of my own), spatially ,we suffer (there are entire swaths of land I will never live in, neighborhoods I will never visit, because I do not know how to function there); socially, we suffer (large populations of people I will never know, because I do not know how to even begin to make their acquaintance, and I don’t know how many wonderful potential lifelong friends may be slipping away into the racial ether); and mentally, we suffer (note the increasingly high-pitched defense that gets pitched in public spaces about why there’s NOTHING WRONG with not having seen the cartoon as racist, and WE ARE NOT A NATION OF COWARDS — there’s got to be a lot of fear and tension and guilt broiling underneath the surface for a reaction to become so powder-keg hysterical).
Only in a racist country could white people be so isolated from their fellow man and their own history that they could not recognize racism. And only in a racist country could public racism be met with an immense outpouring of defense. Not because the majority of white people think black people are monkeys, but because the majority of white people are being confronted with the vastness of the universe and the smallness of themselves. They are being confronted with the possibility that their experience is not a representative experience — that it is, in fact, an aberrant experience. They are being confronted with the possibility that innocuous, innocent things such as an all-white school and an all-white neighborhood and an all-white family and an all-white workplace are the products of a word we have associated (rightfully) with a vicious evil.
Freud had some good phrases for this. Ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic. When you do, see, and are involved in things that line up pretty well with your internal sense of who you are, you are ego-syntonic — everything synchs, and you’re integrated and healthy and okay. When you do, see, and are involved in things that directly contradict the internal concept you have of yourself, you are ego-dystonic — things don’t fit together right, and the disparity is mentally intolerable.
Ego-dystonic folk can attempt to resolve the conflict between the outward reflection of themselves and the inward belief of themselves in two ways. The healthy way is revising either their inner or outer contexts until they synch. That is, for example, if you can’t stand the values of your insular small town, you’re either going to have to move (change the outer context) or decide that those values are the right values and that is how you shall live (change the inner context).
The unhealthy and much more common way is to develop a massive fucking neurosis. This is how the psyche copes with things you have made a decision to refuse to cope with in any conscious way. Your psyche doesn’t stop dealing with the thing, because the thing hasn’t stopped existing. It just starts spitting it out fucking sideways in an attempt to trip you up and force you to consciously deal with your goddamn crippling issues. This is why people perform such classic manuevers as:
- develop a nervous tic
- project their feelings onto others
- experience paralyzing guilt
- go numb
- act out sexually
- pretend cartoons depicting black people as apes aren’t inherently racist and anybody who says so is overreacting
Yeah, so, that’s the crux of it. The majority of white people don’t want racism to exist, with varying degrees of comprehension and genuineness. The majority of white people are conditioned to understand that racism is bad, and racist people are bad. And the majority of white people know, internally, as a basic value, without societal conditioning, that racism is wrong.
But the majority of white people have reaped massive benefits from living in a racist society. And one of those benefits — in fact, one of the biggest benefits of all — is being protected from witnessing racism. So when that privilege is breached, so, too, is the ego. The NY Post cartoon was racist, yes, but the real outcry began when there was an insinuation that a failure to recognize the cartoon as racist meant you might be racist, too. If racism is bad, if racists are bad people, and a white person failed to recognize racism, that might mean they’re racist, too, and that would mean they’re bad people. Those two beliefs in coexistence are intolerable; something’s gotta give. And you’ve got two options to reconcile ego-dystonic beliefs. Either you recognize that racism is pervasive and alive, a part of you and everything you love or would like to love, and the only right thing to do is going to require a lifelong battle and a total uprooting of the entire structure of your life
you develop a MASSIVE FUCKING RACE NEUROSES and project the offensiveness of the cartoon onto those who object to it (they’re the ones who are offensive, calling everything racist), and act out your guilt as righteous anger, and project your lack of education onto others (they’re the ones who don’t have a basic understanding of history, not you). And you get increasingly more racist as you make these neurotic defenses, because of the simple neurotic mechanism of projection, but also (not that you are conscious of this anymore) you live in a racist society that considers the invocation of racist stereotypes to be valid and damning criticism.
An example: a black woman points out that something you have said is racist. You go through a Freudian struggle of epic proportions, and fail to integrate yourself in a healthy way. You respond by calling her an angry black woman. Ego-dystonic understandings of racism is how white people can accomplish the fascinating manuever of defending themselves against charges of racism by spouting off some more racism. If you live in a society that finds racism acceptable, you will occasionally in your life respond to people in racist ways in order to discredit them. And if you refuse to admit that you live in a racist society and that you have (though without your initial consent) internalized this racism and become racist yourself, then it’s perfectly acceptable to spout off some racist shit because YOU ARE NOT RACIST and YOU DO NOT NEED TO PROVE YOU ARE NOT RACIST because YOU ARE WHITE. And THAT’S NOT A RACIST THING TO SAY.
I think, for white people, beginning the process of seeing their own massive and overwhelming ignorance is like going to some mythical foreign land where you shake somebody’s hand and suddenly find yourself in prison with an interpreter explaining, “That is a grave insult in our country, you shall be whipped.” In some ways, admitting to racism in yourself and society means that you are moving into a strange new land where anything you say or do — in fact, most things you say or do — are grave insults, and will cause you pain and shame. It can be a lot easier to go back to your comfort zone where you can spout off whatever grave insults you like without (perceived) personal consequence. And, in fact, white people are the only race with the privilege to do this. Nobody else gets to live in that mythical land of No Consequence for Grave Insults. It is White Land. And White Land is the only place on Earth that has a sign on the outskirts of town that says:
White People Only
No Racism Allowed
(White People Are Above That)
Another way that racism harms white people is by denying them the ability to develop their critical thinking. This is due in part to the constant, regular reinforcement that white is right. White people are raised in an environment in which they are regularly assured of their superiority. Their experts are white, like them. And they often live in segregation, thus denying them the opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints.
What happens in a culture of white supremacy? White people assume that they are the experts. Even in the absence of any history, education or knowledge…
In response to Miley Cyrus’ “slant-eye” gesture, many white people were quick to deny its racism. However, their responses were grounded in “I don’t think it’s racism, that’s why,” rather than any critical thought. The racism behind the “slant-eye” gesture is obvious and blatant: It is racist because it is used to mock people for their physical attributes. And yet defenders are not only incapable of grasping that rather simple concept, they additionally offer ludicrous responses in defense of their original position. (Post on dictionary defense to come.)
In addition, white people often use ad hominem defenses to avoid addressing the issue at hand. There are several common ways in which these defenses present. The first is when others are accused of being “oversensitive” or “having chips on their shoulders” or being “overly PC.” These characterizations do nothing to address the issue. Rather, they are used to delegitimize the other party.
The second, more subtle ad hominem defense is use of statements such as, “Well, I guess I’m just the sort of person who gives people the benefit of the doubt,” or “I guess I’m just not as quick to label other people racist.”
This method allows the white person to position him or herself as the person of reason, the unemotional, unjudgmental thinker and all-around wonderful human being. It additionally is a slam at the other person. You can see what type of individual they are: Unable to give others the benefit of the doubt! Quick to label others racist!
I often think that one way racism does serious damage to white people is by stripping them of their empathy. Privilege has long taught them that white is right. White people are given constant, regular reinforcement that their opinions are superior. They receive validation for their viewpoints. And they typically live in environments in which they do not have to pay any attention to people of color.
Subsequently, when people of color talk about racism, white people are quick to issue denials. Not only do they deny that the opinions or feelings of other people are valid, but they deny even the right to have those opinions. Look at some of the comments people made after Miley Cyrus’ racist “slant-eye” gesture…
If you don’t even see the Asian American viewpoint as being fully equal, maybe it’s because you don’t view Asian Americans as being equal. And that is the probably the single biggest example of loss of empathy.
EDIT PART 2:
IF you were not personally aware of the historical context of comparing black men to apes,
and IF you consider yourself not to be racist,
there are two things you need to do here:
- Educate yourself.
- Ask some serious questions, perhaps involving the words “institutional” and “racism,” about why you are, as an adult, forced to educate yourself. That is, why didn’t you know there is a long historical context of African-Americans being compared to apes? Was there a place in your life, a time, or people who you feel should have taught you? If yes, why didn’t they? If no, why was there no place, time, or people in your life to educate you about the racial history of America? (Bonus question: Are you somebody who is in a place and a time to educate another? Why haven’t you?)
However, IF you were not aware of the historical context of comparing African Americans to apes,
and IF you consider yourself not to be racist,
and IF you do not feel you should have to take on the onerous task of self-education to learn about the history of racism that has perplexingly been omitted from your formal and informal education,
and IF you do not think the omission of the history of race and racism from your formal and informal education is problematic or possibly indicative of deeper waves of ignorance cresting within and about you,
WELCOME TO WHITELAND
WHITE PEOPLE ONLY
NO RACISM ALLOWED
You are going to be living here for an indeterminate and frustratingly unfulfilling amount of time.
Somebody will be around shortly with a pamphlet teaching you the correct pronunciation of “HURFL BLURFL COLORBLIND *puke*” Learn it well, because you are going to be having this conversation the rest of your life.