Anxious racists are the worst

There have been a couple of news items recently that have led me to start conversations about how certain journalists are racist. I posted a few things on Facebook, and brought them up to people I know, thinking that of the people I know, they’re at least the sort who would acknowledge that these are examples of pretty obvious and entrenched racism in journalism. There was the kerfuffle over the Chronicle of Higher Ed publishing a column about how all graduate study by and about black people should be eliminated, on the basis of the titles of three in-progress dissertations. There was the to-do about trying to blame North Carolina’s homophobia on black voters. These are things that concern me because these are incredibly racist and inaccurate judgments that are being made with the blessing of professional editors, and it’s very annoying.

The assumption in this kind of casually racist journalism is that black people are somehow an isolated community, segregated from everyone else, and they’re going to let us white folks in on the secrets about what they’re up to over there. None of it passes the sniff test. As a friend of mine pointed out, everyone complains when “the church” is described as having this or that opinion about politics; why do we accept “the black church” as if it means anything?

The thing that is irritating me now is that when you talk about real examples of real racism like this in the media, some jackwad is immediately up in your grill to tell you that perhaps you don’t know anything about statistics or about how numbers work but actually black people really do this and that, because it’s statistics, and not knowing that black people think this or that actually shows that the real racism is reverse racism? OK? Perhaps you don’t know about math or something? They rarely have any figures or studies to point to, and when they do it’s some bullshit made up by racists. But the condescension makes my eyes roll very hard.

I guess I sometimes miss the South, where racists will just tell you they’re racist. They don’t write 10 comments in a row on your Facebook wall chastising you for not being aware of the debates on both sides of the issue about what black people think, about which there are studies. Stereotypes, they insist, are “sometimes” true, and thinking otherwise is definitely reverse racism. No fewer than five white people I’ve spoken to in the past week have responded to my addressing the persistence of racism by immediately saying they know all about the horrors of reverse racism. It’s everywhere these days.

Poor put-upon white people! They never can catch a break.

14 responses to “Anxious racists are the worst”

  1. FPS says:

    At the risk of being predictable: I don’t complain when the church is described as having this or that opinion about politics. In the case of Catholicism, it seems downright uncontroversial.

  2. A White Bear says:

    Catholicism at least has an official word, but I think we’re seeing more and more how deeply the official Catholic doctrine differs from the beliefs of actual Catholics. It just seems like stereotyping people in huge swaths of the population as if they are defined by one aspect of their life (especially race or gender, but also religion) is really unproductive for social progress.

  3. josh k-sky says:

    There are few political problems that wouldn’t be solved by denying the franchise to white males. As proud as I am of my ever-correct voting record, I’d give it up in a heartbeat if I could take my demographic down with me.

  4. josh k-sky says:

    (insert repeat of comment 2, rap k-sky on knuckles.)

  5. A White Bear says:

    I just saw this great (disturbing) article on young people and “reverse discrimination.”

  6. LP says:

    A few years back, my brother and uncle were having a serious conversation about whether my then-90-year-old grandmother should be driving. Her license was up for renewal, and her driving had become quite… erratic. My brother was arguing that she should be prevented, or at least strongly dissuaded, from renewing her license.

    In the midst of discussing her health, my brother said, “Well, she’s clearly demented.” My uncle, not surprisingly, was taken aback. This seemed pretty strong stuff for describing someone with very typical old-lady memory and coordination problems. But my brother, a neuropsychologist, said, “She’s suffering from early-stage dementia. ‘Demented’ is just another way of saying it.” Okay, maybe so. But that word is so charged, it carries a different meaning than simply the clinical one.

    I thought of this story as I read your post. I agree with you that it’s inaccurate to suggest that black people form an isolated community, and that the “black church” is one monolithic entity with entrenched opinions. But it seems to me that journalists write about this in the same way they do “the evangelical church,” “the Mormon church,” “the Catholic church,” “Southerners,” “the Midwest,” etc etc etc. Meaning, it’s not so much racist – which is, like “demented,” a highly charged word – as lazy.

  7. A White Bear says:

    It’s lazy enough that I’m pretty sure it counts as racist. If racist means having or promoting negative prejudice on the basis of racial appearance, it’s racist. To be sure, I’m also pretty fucking sick of explaining that stereotypes about Southerners and the Midwest are ignorant bullshit made up by lazy hateful ignorant bourgeois white journalists.

  8. FPS says:

    The church is a bad analogy for race, I think. A person chooses to continue identifying as Catholic, and at some point should either stop doing so or accept that they are identified with some rather extreme political ideas rather than playing an extended, vigorous game of No True Scotsman. Because the Catholic church is quite influential in its rather explicit political thought and relies on there being a large number of people who won’t disavow it.

  9. Dave says:

    I think “racist” is kind of like a rhetorical death penalty. It is so severe as a negative term that many people are hesitant to apply it to others, and basically anyone will do anything to keep it from being applied to themselves. “Racist” connotes Bull Connor and segregated schools and all that.

    Of course, “racist” actually includes a lot more than just Bull Connor-style, obviously racist violence and open hatred. Racism is characterized by biased generalization based on racial categories, or by an intent to denigrate a group or individual through the application of racial categories or race-based generalizations.

    Because “racist” is such a charged term, sometimes, as with the (many) people who are blaming blacks for homophobia, you have to make a choice when you are faced with racist behavior or speech. You can call it out as racist, which (in the case you’re discussing) is totally accurate; labeling racism “racism” is valuable because it draws a line, and it possibly persuades people to rethink what they’re saying and thinking. But you have to recognize that a lot of the time, “racist” is a conversation-stopper and will create a ton of defensiveness. So another choice is to try to have a conversation about why the attitude/speech/thought is racist, but try to be nuanced about it and avoid the term “racist.” So something like, “There’s a lot of diversity among black people, even among black evangelical Christians, about gay issues. I think such-and-such article is being lazy and biased by referring to the “black church”, etc.”

    FPS, I don’t think religion works like that. Some people have very strong commitments to a religion that prevent them from disaffiliating, yet they don’t agree with many of the official or quasi-official political or social commitments of that religion.

  10. FPS says:

    Ok. I guess it’s just a blind spot for me, then. I don’t understand what would bind a person to an ideology they understood to be harmful. I can understand feeling attached to the people and the culture, but now that I’m fixated on the example of Catholicism, I can’t imagine saying “well, their stance on contraception helped kill a generation in some parts of Africa, and they’d rather drop their social services than acknowledge the humanity of gay people, but I still want to be a part of the church.” If the church as a body seemed responsive to what I guess AWB is saying are the relatively progressive views of actual Catholics, maybe. I understand the papacy of Ratzinger, among other things, to be evidence to the contrary.

  11. FPS says:

    (Do you ever have days where you can tell by your overinvestment in something you’re saying that there’s a better than even chance you’re being unreasonable? I think I’m having that and should think about dropping the subject of religion, not a nexus of reasonableness for me.)

  12. Thorn says:

    I know I’ve said “black church” because sometimes it’s useful shorthand, specifically when describing what my (black, raised-Baptist) partner wants in a church experience and the actual populated-by-mostly-queer-almost-entirely-black-people church we attend. I don’t feel bad about saying things like “The black church has a history of having to make something liberating out of a narrative that’s been used for oppression, so it makes sense that the queer people at are church are into some things (speaking in tongues and believing in a literal devil, making a big deal over the (female) pastor’s wife as First Lady, having freaking Armor Bearers for the pastor) because that’s what was in the churches that shunned them for their sexuality or similar things and so it makes sense that they might want to reclaim those traditions.” I don’t think that’s exactly what you meant, but I’ve had to go through mental gymnastics every time I have said “the black church” and I don’t think I ever say it without qualifiers, so I agree that it’s a charged term. There just isn’t always a better one.

    But yeah, saying “the black church” to talk about some kind of political or dogmatic unity is ridiculous, and I’m happy to offer up our congregation (and the others like it) as an obvious counterpoint.

  13. Dave says:

    We need generalizations to function. But as Thorn’s example demonstrates, there are some times when it’s appropriate to generalize, and others when it’s not. “The black church” is a thing, for some purposes. For other purposes, it’s a lazy and racist generalization. (Also, armor bearers? I had never heard of these things. Wow.)

    FPS: I think a religion like contemporary U.S. Catholicism is not a unitary “ideology.” So someone can be committed to the church, or to a Catholic identity, for any number of reasons — family history, community identification, commitment to a particular part of the teaching, commitment to an aspect of the liturgy or spiritual practice. And they can make the judgment that sure, Ratzingerism is terrible in many ways, but I’m committed to this church and I don’t want to give that up, and Ratzinger can’t make me.

    There’s a whole subfield of theology called ecclesiology, and as I understand it there are many questions here that are totally contested. A sort of Protestant view, as I understand it, is that “the church” is not just what Ratzinger or the hierarchy says it is. At a certain point, yeah, it’s an annoying game of No True Scotsman. But it’s also complicated.