At the core of the right’s self-serving reactions to the Charleston massacre is one truth that’s so obvious that it must be its blinding clarity that keeps conservatives from seeing it. America’s racism is so deeply engrained in the culture that to many people it has become invisible.
How else to comprehend explanations like Mike Huckabee’s, that a young, male white supremacist’s slaughter of nine black churchgoers is most importantly another secularist attack on Americans’ right to pray? Or the NRA’s loathsome cry for — what else? — more guns, so that those targeted churchgoers could have gone all O.K. Corral on the perp’s ass?
This mass murder — no, it’s not an “incident” or an “event” — highlights how hard it is for some white people to admit the widespread reality of racism. No, it hasn’t gone away. And ignoring it won’t make it go away. The usual response: Sure, there are a few bad cops, and there are a few extremist crazies, but most of America has left racism behind, hasn’t it? And if there’s really no racism, just a few racist individuals, there has to be another reason for all of the indignity, injustice, and inequality that runs deep in the American national bloodstream.
This line of self-absolving thinking reinforces the idea that there is another reason than racism that large numbers of black Americans live in rundown buildings in rotting neighbourhoods. It’s not that blacks were systematically excluded, by both private bias and public policy, from the suburban benefits of post-war prosperity. They were, but to admit that would be to acknowledge institutional and social racism, and many white people, especially conservative ones, won’t go there. Daniel Dante Troutt does, in his excellent book, The Price of Paradise, reviewed by me here.
No, if blacks are socially and economically disadvantaged, and if it can’t be racism, which no longer exists, it must be that “your average black” lacks something that the rest of us have. Maybe it’s a good education, or positive parenting, or strong morals, or sufficient ambition, or … That to argue like this is to confirm the very racism that these claims try to deny is not acknowledged. I’ll make it simple: Any explanation that contains any version of “Well, we all know that most black people …” is racist. Nothing else. Nothing less.
This line of reasoning lies at the heart of Charles Murray’s execrable Coming Apart, reviewed here. Murray’s social deafness goes so far as to exhort upper-class whites to embrace the responsibility that comes with their wealth and status by providing a good moral example for all of those poor people beneath them. How noble!
The good schools and the good communities and most of the jobs are where the money is, in the suburbs and exurbs. That individual white people didn’t do that, just like no one alive today owned slaves, makes absolutely no difference. There is persistent, destructive racism in America, black president or no. It may not be official like it was in my own memory — today’s so-called “voter identification” laws have more “credible deniability” than that. But it’s there, and in ways that white people (myself included) have little chance of understanding in any deep and meaningful way. The closest I ever got was in late 60’s San Francisco, where the police didn’t care much for long-haired students and anti-war protesters, both of which I was. But that mild harassment was situational and avoidable, if I chose. Visible minorities don’t get the option to select how they’re going to be seen by the rest of us.
As Baltimore’s D. Watkins put it for us white folks in his article for Salon: “You’ll probably go to a better school, never be profiled by police officers, get lower interest rates, and always have the luxury of walking around convenience stores in peace.”
So when someone tries to convince you that white cops don’t shoot unarmed black kids unless the little thugs deserve it, don’t believe it.
Remember the white bikers in Texas? Remember how these heavily-armed murderers were arrested? Remember them sitting on those nice park benches with the police who arrested them, no handcuffs, cell phones on the go?
And the white police who took white Charleston killer Dylann Roof to Burger King and bought him a meal because when he was arrested he told them that he was hungry? You want fries with that mass murder charge, kid?
I could go on, but I won’t, because if you didn’t already know that I’m right, you stopped reading somewhere back up the page.