Post-Racism? Nope. Back to the 80s

I like the blog Legal Fiction, but the post about America being ‘post-racist’ misses the mark (italics mine):

To the extent that West was saying that Bush’s actions last week were “racist” in the traditional Jim Crow sense, I think that’s completely wrong. To Bush’s credit, his administration has been completely free of the race-baiting that has characterized every previous post-Eisenhower Republican administration. It’s the one thing I give him consistent credit for. So, I just don’t buy it. I mean, I don’t think Bush said, “Ah, it’s just black people that’ll be stuck. Gimme that guitar.”

But to say that Bush (or the government more generally) was not motivated by racism in the old sense of the word doesn’t end the discussion. I think race still played a major role in this catastrophe, but for more complex reasons.

I’ve explained before that I think the major problems we face today are not racism, but “post-racism.” I think we’re making good progress on the former, but making no progress whatsoever on the latter. The idea behind post-racism is essentially the idea of lingering consequences. Even if we are no longer racist, we are living with the stubborn effects of past racism.

No, I think we still have plenty of old-timey racism to deal with. Remember the South Carolina primary in 2000? Bush was losing to McCain, so what did he do? His campaign smeared McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter, claiming she was his out-of-wedlock black lovechild (she is dark skinned). That’s fucking evil, and definitely not post-racist.

And it’s only going to get worse. The ‘beautiful’ thing about racial prejudice (from Bush’s perspective) is that he doesn’t have to do anything. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut and not overtly criticize bigotry, and the rest will take care of itself. We already have administration shills like the National Review blaming it on ‘those people.’ Plenty of whites are watching New Orleans and thinking, “we would never behave like that. New Orleans went to hell because of those people.” (here’s one case; here’s another example). Don’t think for a moment Bush and Rove aren’t willing to play the race card, if that’s what it takes–they have repeatedly demonstrated there is nothing they won’t do for political survival.

And anytime you have even rumors a couple of armed black men, the ghost of Nat Turner still rises from the grave. This is from a Chicago Tribune op-ed (italics mine):

They locked down the entrance doors Thursday at the Baton Rouge hotel where I’m staying alongside hundreds of New Orleans residents driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.

Because of the riots,” the hotel managers explained. Armed Gunmen from New Orleans were headed this way, they had heard.

“It’s the blacks,” whispered one white woman in the elevator. “We always worried this would happen.”

Something else gave way last week besides the levees that had protected New Orleans from the waters surrounding it. The thin veneer of civility and practiced cordiality that in normal times masks the prejudices and bigotries held by many whites in this region of Deep South Louisiana was heavily battered as well.

All it took to set the rumor mills in motion were the first TV pictures broadcast Tuesday showing some looters—many of them black—smashing store windows in downtown New Orleans. Reports later in the week of sporadic violence and shootings among the desperate throngs outside the Superdome clamoring to be rescued only added to the panic.

By Thursday, local TV and radio stations in Baton Rouge—the only ones in the metro area still able to broadcast—were breezily passing along reports of cars being hijacked at gunpoint by New Orleans refugees, riots breaking out in the shelters set up in Baton Rouge to house the displaced, and guns and knives being seized.

Scarcely any of it was true—the police, for example, confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one Baton Rouge shelter. There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes.

But all of it played directly into the darkest prejudices long held against the hundreds of thousands of impoverished blacks who live “down there,” in New Orleans, that other world regarded by many white suburbanites—indeed, many people across the rest of the state—as a dangerous urban no-go area.

Now the floods were pushing tens of thousands of those inner-city residents deep into Baton Rouge and beyond. The TV pictures showed vast throngs of black people who had been trapped in downtown New Orleans disgorging out of rescue trucks and helicopters to be ushered onto buses headed west on Interstate Highway 10. The nervousness among many of the white evacuees in my hotel was palpable

Nor did they seem to notice that most of the refugees were bedraggled mothers and exhausted fathers and frightened children and ailing old people—ordinary, law-abiding citizens who had had little to begin with and escaped with absolutely nothing except the clothes on their backs and their lives….

Post-racist? Not by a mile. This is just a flashback to the 80s (if I had known I would be having flashbacks anyway, I would have taken some serious drugs back then). In the movie 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy pretends to be a cop in a country-western bar, and says, “I’m your worst nightmare–I’m a nigger with a badge.” At the time, it was funny. But it was also edgy (for the 80s anyway). There was a reason that scene resonated: it tapped into a lot of deep-seated fears about black men.

There are other parallels to the 80s race debate too: The Bell Curve appears to be making a comeback. Once poverty and race correctly became a topic of discussion, the same old canards were trotted out: blacks are poor because they lack values (as opposed to Kenny Boy Lay who’s chock full o’values), blacks “tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups,” and “need stricter moral guidance from society.”

Have we made progress? Absolutely. Racial attitudes have improved somewhat: if nothing else, lynching and curbstomping blacks is considered to be utterly beyond the pale. Interracial couples usually don’t get a lot of grief. But post-racist? Not if Bush and Rove have anything to say about it…

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