Racism: Alive & Kicking

Two quick, sharp and subtle observations about racism read in quick succession.

First, Andrew Sullivan about the tweet from the GOP seen above

That tweet reminds me again of how anti-Christian contemporary Republicanism is. The notion that racism can “end” misreads a core Christian truth about human nature. Our vulnerability to hatred, condescension, fear of others, resentment, and generalizations about “the other” are intrinsic to what it means to be human. Racism, like greed or envy or pride, will never end.


What Parks and so many others did was chip away at the legal architecture of institutionalized hatred and loathing. This matters – because we humans are an impressionable herd and can be encouraged to acts and thoughts of great evil by authoritative permission. So slavery was not just an evil in itself; but an incalculable fomenter of evil. Ditto segregation.

It’s a pointed observation. And it brings to the foreground the special position Sullivan himself occupies. He is trying to save conservatism from itself. I wish him well, and I think that he makes a lot of sense on a lot of topics. And I read him religiously, obviously. He is surely one of the finest commentators out there. But I think he is very misguided about the nature of conservatism. I think he fails to see that the conservative support for racism and the failure to see it as a problem is very much a feature, not a bug. As Corey Robin (see sidebar) describes in his magnificent book The Reactionary Mind, that’s what conservatism is: the attempt to prevent agency in the lower classes. The rest is just superstructure and ideology.

Second, Ta-Nehisi Coates about the death of Mandela

But the overall failure of American conservatives to forthrightly deal with South Africa’s white-supremacist regime, coming so soon after their failure to deal with the white-supremacist regime in their own country, is part of their heritage, and thus part of our heritage. When you see a Tea Party protestor waving the flag of slavery in front of the home of the first black president, understand that this instinct has been cultivated. It is still, at this very hour, being cultivated: 

He won the country’s first free presidential elections in 1994 and worked to unite a scarred and anxious nation. He opened up the economy to the world, and a black middle class came to life. After a single term, he voluntarily left power at the height of his popularity. Most African rulers didn’t do that, but Mandela said, “I don’t want a country like ours to be led by an octogenarian. I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me.”

That is the Wall Street Journal, offering a shameful, condescending “tribute” to one of the great figures of our time. Understand the racism here. It is certainly true that “most African rulers” do not willingly hand over power. That is because most human leaders do not hand over power. What racism does is take a basic human tendency and make it it the property of ancestry.

That observation about the Wall Street Journal is so well done. I wouldn’t even have seen the racism had it not been pointed out to me. Sometimes a phenomenon I take for granted is seen in a new light and reveals its racist origin, and suddenly I stop and think holy shit, THAT’s what it feels like to be racist. You’re just going about your business, doing natural things.

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