Sunday, July 1, 2018

Race: now you see it, now you don't.

Racism is like a watermark on nice stationery. Or like the silent letter in a word.

 It is there, but not there.  Both.

Racism.  Do you see it?
This weekend let's examine three parallel events.  

The first is the Supreme Court decision declaring that the Trump executive order of Travel Ban against seven countries is constitutional. The majority opinion--by 5 conservative judges--was that Trump's prior declared intention to ban Muslims need not be observed or considered. The majority said the simple text of the executive order is to ban people from a country for national security reasons, so taken at face value it isn't religious prejudice. The dissenters said his intent was obvious and openly declared, and this third try at a travel ban was transparently designed to obscure its intent. To the majority, it may be a "legal fiction" but it is legal, because of how he worded it, emphasis on legal. To the dissenters, it was a legal fiction, emphasis on the fiction.

The religious prejudice was encoded as a watermark or silent letter. There, but not there.

The second is Trump fighting with Maxine Walters.  Trump and Fox love this issue and Fox puts Walters' attacks on Trump front and center in their coverage. Trump doesn't call her wrong; he calls her "Low IQ." Walters is black and a woman. She speaks with high energy intensity. 

Is this photo illustration racist?  Is this a racial dog-whistle?

Arguably, it is not racist. There is no mention of race whatsoever. It is just Trump, with an expression of unhappy defiance, and Walters with a frown of scorn and disapproval. It relates a legitimate news story. Maxine Walters is a public person--a Democratic Member of Congress--and she does, in fact, say Trump should be impeached.  

Who could say this is racist?

Still, there are some sixty Members of Congress who have endorsed impeaching Trump. He is trolling and name-calling the flamboyant black woman. Trump knows what meme he is evoking. People who think that black people are making needless complaints about police profiling, about income distribution, about discrimination in housing and jobs, have another confirmation of that notion. Another angry black person to resist.

People see it or don't see it.

PGA Golfer or NFL player. A third instance was close to home. At a lunch table of professional white men, a man started a new conversation topic with the question, "If you had to believe the testimony of two professional athletes, one a professional golfer and the other a NFL player, who would you believe to be the more trustworthy?" There were comments around the table: the golfer, of course.

I asked if there was some implicit bias with a racial component. Who do you picture when you think PGA golfer or NFL player? Aren't virtually all PGA golfers white men, and aren't most NFL players big black guys? Is your presumption of credibility based on the sport, or on maybe on the race and image of the guy you picture?

The response was immediate and negative. They resented the question and suggestion that race had anything to do with their assumption that a golfer would be a more honest witness. Golfers have integrity and call penalties on themselves, they said. NFL players who step on a boundary line hope the ref doesn't see it. Golfers can be trusted; NFL players cannot.

Donald Trump has been adept at threading the tightrope of racial thinking and bias.The bias is implicit, so built in that it is invisible and unheard. Or maybe it isn't there at all. By a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court couldn't see it. The men at the table didn't see it.

Trump says things many Democrats see and hear, and they object. 

Other people don't see it, or don't want to see it. They resent being accused of responding to racial messages that simply are not there.


Dave Sage said...

I say keep pointing out you belong with the racist crowd. Even if you are not racist. David Duke of the Klue Kluk Clan had a celebration parade in South Carolina after Trump was elected.
I remember conservatives calling me "liberal" as if it is a dirty word.
Keep them uncomfortable in spite of their protestations.

Michael Trigoboff said...

In my opinion, liberals have so overused the word "racism" as an all-purpose epithet that it has lost all of its meaning and most of its power. I'm here to post two articles which I highly recommend.

One of them is by liberal columnist Thomas Edsall. It makes the point that in the current climate, accusing conservatives of "racism" mainly serves to piss them off. I know that's how I feel when they try it with me. Here's a link to Edsall's article.

The other article is from 2016 by a prolific and incredibly intelligent blogger named Scott Alexander. His argument was that liberals miss the point (and are politically ineffective) by calling Trump a "racist," when he is actually something entirely different.

Alexander briefly took the article down because it was being shared by too many people that he thought were actually racist. But now it's back, with a prominent heading that says, "Go away, pro-Trump bots."

Here's a link to Alexander's article.

I highly recommend both articles. I think the combination of the two of them might serve to advance the conversation beyond the usual exchange, which often goes something like this:

"You're a racist."

"Fuck you."

Anonymous said...

Democrats are the party of racists.
Ashland is the most racist city in the Rogue Valley.