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Sunday, March 23, 2008

You kids get off my lawn! and other signs of racist senility 

Canada just doesn't "get" the United States about race. I don't deny we have racists in Canada, of course, but we have worked hard in this country, as a country, to eliminate systemic racism in our institutions and our attitudes, and we try as a society to identify and celebrate our diversity.
When observing the United States, on the other hand, I have often been surprised that they don't appear to do much of this. Not as a society or as a group -- their Affirmative Action programs were one of the few government attempts to mitigate the impact of racism in areas like schooling and employment, and now they have now been happily dismantled. American society seems to tolerate, even encourage, a level of racist discourse and racist behaviours which, if it happened in Canada, would bring about outrage and royal commissions.
So it is instructive to read Glenn Greenwald's latest post , in which he quotes this horrible bit from a right-wing blog:
I am sick to death of black people as a group. The truth. That is part of the conversation Obama is asking for, isn't it? I live in an eastern state almost exactly on the fabled Mason-Dixon line. Every day I see young black males wearing tee shirts down to their knees -- and jeans belted just above their knees. I'm an old guy. I want to smack them. All of them. They are egregious stereotypes. It's impossible not to think the unthinkable N-Word when they roll up beside you at a stoplight in their trashed old Hondas with 19-inch spinner wheels and rap recordings that shake the foundations of the buildings. . . .
Oh, the horror, the horror -- to play loud music! to wear long shirts! How can any decent [ie, white] person be expected to deal with such unmitigated awfulness?
And then this cranky old man goes on to talk about how all the good darkies should be speaking out and if they don't, why, they themselves are just as guilty of such awful things
... you've just given life to the suspicion that black people in America are, and have long been, a fifth column -- unanimously hating the very country that has afforded the highest standard of living ever achieved by black people in human history. We're teetering at the edge of believing that you're a secret society, a massive collection of sleeper cells just waiting for your chance to do serious harm to the rest of us. You've made it possible for us to believe that. Because you're never outraged by what the worst black people do. Because you continue to make excuses for what should be inexcusable to everyone.
Note all the egregious insults -- that white America "gave" black people a living rather than blacks and white contributing to building the economy together, that all black people hate America, and he thinks being a cranky old fart is some kind of achievement -- and focus just on the language of the last bit, which made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He's using terrorist terminology to describe his fellow citizens, whose only transgression appears to be disagreeing with his own taste in fashion.
One of Greenwald's commenters picked up on the same point:
Don't be fooled into thinking that this applies only to African-Americans. The sense of threatened tribalism is at the root of movement conservatism, and always has been. This is why it was so easy to sell most of white America on the Iraq war. Polls showed that 2/3 thought that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, or at least close ties to AlQ. . . . Take almost any one of their "thoughtful" screeds about Islam and do a global search/replace from "Islam" to "niggers" and the text becomes instantly recognizable. This racist energy had for a long time been at least partly directed towards "the Communists" but now that it isn't it is pretty much clear that Islam is now the designated nigger.
Greenwald continues:
There is no better phrase to describe the animating feature of the modern Limbaugh/Kristol/Fox News conservative faction than "threatened tribalism." The belief that they are good and pure, yet subjected to unprecedented systematic unfairness and threatened by some lurking Evil Other against whom war must be waged (the Muslim, the Immigrant, the Terrorist, the Communist, the Liberal, the Welfare Queen) is the centerpiece of their ugly worldview.
The sentiments expressed here by Instapunk are now most commonly expressed towards the New Enemy -- the Muslim -- but the Wright episode is a nice reminder of how seamlessly it gets directed towards a whole host of other threatening, bad groups. Hence the blithe application of the term "sleeper cells" to black Americans. That's what coalesces them and justifies everything. What matters is that there be some scary, malicious group about to harm them and America. The identity of the particular scary group at any given moment is really secondary.
Writers like Greenwald do Canadians a favour, by showing us what attitudes we need to watch out for here, and nip in the bud whenever we see it, before it flourishes like it has in the States.

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