I am not a racist: okay, so what are you?

We’ve seen a bit of this lately:

Okay, let’s engage in a moment of willing suspension of disbelief. Let’s take these good people at their word. They’re not racists. Which proves that perfectly non-racist people are capable of appalling attacks that are indistinguishable from actual racist tirades.

Q: If it isn’t racism, what is it?

Is it as simple as the possibility that we want to hurt somebody so badly that we’re willing to say things we know they’re sensitive to even though we don’t really think them? If you’re arguing with your SO and you’re really mad, would you call him/her fat because you know he/she has a weight complex, even though you think he/she looks perfectly slim? (Is this a fair analogy?)

I have to admit, I’ve wanted to get under people’s skin pretty badly at times. But so far I haven’t resorted to going racialist on them. I don’t really recall getting close to doing so, either, even though sometimes I get very frustrated with people of other ethic groups. But could it happen? Could I get so mad that in a fit on insensate rage I say things I don’t believe just to hurt somebody?

Well, I obviously don’t think so. But maybe anything is possible. I guess we all have to evaluate instances like these in light of our own experience and beliefs. I’m personally a bit suspicious of post-meltdown apologies, and wonder if any would be forthcoming in these cases in the absence of significant public condemnation (and the attendant threat it poses to the culprit’s wallet).

To this point, I’ve been dismissing the very idea that racist attacks could issue from people who were not, in fact, racist, but maybe I’m overlooking something. Please, tell me if I’m wrong…



32 thoughts on “I am not a racist: okay, so what are you?

  1. Is it as simple as the possibility that we want to hurt somebody so badly that we’re willing to say things we know they’re sensitive to even though we don’t really think them? If you’re arguing with your SO and you’re really mad, would you call him/her fat because you know he/she has a weight complex, even though you think he/she looks perfectly slim? (Is this a fair analogy?)
    I don’t know about Mel Gibson’s case but, having watched Richards’ meltdown on youtube, I can unequivocally say that you have it exactly.
    As for analogies, I think a better one would be men calling women “b****” “c***” etc during a spat.

  2. Don’t forget Chicago Bears db Ricky Manning Jr. who pleaded no contest to a beating of an innocent guy while eating at Denny’s. He called the guy a Jew while him and a couple guys kicked the crap out of a white guy, who by the way wasn’t Jewish. All Manning gets is a one game suspension and a little fine. Don’t know if it makes him racist, but it does prove one or two things. 1) If you’re in the NFL you can do anything and not have major career repercussions, and 2) If you’re black you can be racist.

  3. Even if he has racist tendencies, why doesn’t an apology help? This whole situation has been driving me nuts. When DOES an apology count?
    The only time this hits the news is when the person being a racists happens to be a celebrity. I’m sure it happens all the time with “regular” people. But when they see that someone apologizes publicly, multiple times, and STILL gets raked over the coals, wouldn’t the non-famous racist just say fuck it? Where’s the motivation to change when apologies no longer matter? How do we solve the problem when even even the effort, whether it be false or heartfelt, is met with skepticism and derision?
    I’m not saying give him a free pass, but how much is enough?

  4. I can buy the not-racist-but-made-racist-comments argument, but it clearly doesn’t apply in the Gibson case. He went on the tirade and then asked if the cop was Jewish, not vice-versa. He wasn’t lashing out – just venting.
    I got a question for you regarding European football, which you seem to follow for some unimaginable reason. This summer, ESPN did a special on racism at matches. While officials didn’t embrace the racist comments, there didn’t seem to be the public outcry whenever a celebrity over here says something biggoted. Is that accurate? If so, is Perez even worth singling out?

  5. Well, maybe it’s about the difference between what you are and what you DO. Maybe if we believed that racist behavior could somehow come from non-racist people an apology would be taken seriously. But we seem not to believe that.
    We see cases where a lawyer will say “my client is not a criminal,” despite the fact that person committed a crime. In that formulation, a “criminal” is someone who, I suppose, does something as a function of character or habit, and it’s possible in aberrant cases for a non-crim to commit a crime.
    We don’t seem able or willing to uncouple “racist behavior” from “racist human,” though. Interesting.

  6. But there has to be a point where even if we don’t like each other, we have to learn to get along. We didn’t kill everyone in Germany after WWII. They people in South Africa didn’t kill all whites after apartheid was removed. At some point, we have to take an apology at face value and use it to move on.
    I can’t help but think Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi would be appalled by how this is playing out. You don’t respond to hate with more hate. All that does is piss everyone off. Just ask the people in Iraq. :-/

  7. Well, accepting an apology doesn’t mean erasing things from your mind. Even if I accept his apology, I’m always going to know that it’s a part of him, and if I’m black it’s going to be just about impossible to lose sight of the fact that he is what he seems to be.
    I think we’re getting over it to some degree, though. No race riots in my town – just one idiot who fucked his career….

  8. Like I said, don’t just give him a free pass. But repeatedly pointing out that he’s a racist moron won’t help either. He fucked up. He apologized. That should be the end of it. At least until he does it again. And even then, if he apologizes, that should be the end of that, too. Eventually, if he fucks up enough, everyone will just ignore him. Which, for a person with his career “goals”, is the worst thing possible.

  9. Not necessarily. But celebrity can be used as step forward rather than step backwards.
    As for that other guy (I had to look him up. I don’t follow hockey much.), I think that’s a little different. I’d have accepted his apology. And then kicked his ass out of the league. If that had happened outside the rink, he’d have gone to jail. Same thing with that guy in the NFL who recently kicked someone in the head w/o a helmet (I forget his name).
    There are certain rules you have to follow for us to “get along”. And beating the crap out of someone over a friggin piece of rubber or pigskin kinda steps over the line.

  10. The wonderful thing is the “pre-emptive racist strike”. It works astonishingly well here in South Africa where EVERYTHING is a racial issue.
    It works like this.
    Opposition politician: “We note that, in the past financial year, thousands of people are dying because the health department refuses to acknowledge that HIV causes AIDS. We think the Health Minister is incompetent and should resign.”
    ANC response: “You’re saying that because you’re a racist and you hate black people. Where were you when we were suffering on Robben Island (prison) because of Apartheid policies?” Followed by immense cheering and scathing attacks against the opposition and “white” South Africans in general by the government press.
    Call it a sort of stealth racism. If Mel Gibson had simply said, “You just hate me because I’m Australian AND Catholic, where were you when the British Protestants were torturing us in the penal colonies of Melbourne for stealing a loaf of bread?” he would have won the argument.

  11. So we’re back to actions vs state of being, then. You can be racist (and be forgiven for it) so long as you don’t DO anything with it. But if we’re tolerant of the state of being, then doesn’t that pave the way fairly naturally for racist ACTION to follow?

  12. I’m not a real big fan of people who diminish the importance of legit issues by using them in this way. I tend to get really nasty, in fact – every time some asshole gets away with it, it further trivializes ACTUAL racism, and such things are not to be tolerated….

  13. No, not necessarily. We are all exposed to situations where we’d like to beat the crap out of someone for some reason or another. Sometimes I’d like to just nuke congress or grant reviewers or manuscript reviewers. But even if I really really want to do it, and sometimes even think it might actually be a good thing, I don’t actually do it. The thought and the act are fundamentally different.

  14. Because you live in a world where those ideas aren’t routinely met with encouragement. Kicking the hell out of a reviewer is one thing in our world, but what if 90% of the people in your field thought it was a natural and worthy idea?

  15. Well, the funny thing about the US is that we’re WORLDS ahead of Europe on race issues. (Gender, too.) Crowds chanting racist taunts at players in common in a lot of places (imagine if American crowds chanted “NIGGGG-ERRRRR!” every time Kobe touched the ball or players greeted their supporters with the Hitlerian “Sieg Heil” salute. Imagine if the player-to-player smack that goes on in every game involved racial slurs.
    That’s Europe. Governing bodies know it’s a problem and they have policies designed to address it (some more effectively, some less), but you have lots of nations with no history whatsoever of civil rights.
    This is part of why I don’t take a lot of “ugly American” crap off the Euros I meet. We have our problems, to be sure, but things that would set the sporting world on fire over here are commonplace over there, and it’s not just sporting, either.

  16. You’d be surprised. 🙂
    But if 90% of the field thought it was acceptable, you can be sure that thought would move toward act. And since “society” would think it was ok, the act would be perfectly ok to that society, too. But eventually, that “society” would either learn that the act WASN’T ok or it would become extinct. That wouldn’t necessarily change everyone’s thoughts. It’s just a part of surviving as a society.
    Isn’t this what happened with civil rights in this country? And strangely enough, isn’t this also exactly what’s going on in Iraq.
    We’ve used this analogy before: Active racism is a social cancer. We all have cancer inside us. And every cell in our body has the potential to become cancerous. But to survive as an entity, we have to figure out mechanisms of controlling that cancer. Tearing apart one cancer cell, no matter how important, isn’t going to change the situation.

  17. But if 90% of the field thought it was acceptable, you can be sure that thought would move toward act. And since “society” would think it was ok, the act would be perfectly ok to that society, too. But eventually, that “society” would either learn that the act WASN’T ok or it would become extinct.
    This isn’t borne out by what we know of history. A vast majority of societies have been racist at some level, and it was NOT okay to be one of the outgroupers. It has been okay to kill, enslave, or otherwise oppress these people, and the result has been greater cultural and racial homogeneity.
    Many of these societies have not only survived, they have thrived *cough* *anglos* *cough*. In fact, you might go so far as to argue that behaviors we see as appalling have HELPED societies advance.

  18. Right, most societies have always been racists to some extent. But this changed when communication became easier. Governments or businesses no longer controlled information and we were able to learn from independent sources.
    Now it is changing again as dysinformation becomes easier. Which is why societies “closed” to the internet scare the hell out of me. It’s like 2 steps forward, one step back.
    Not to jump topics, but I see all of this is all different levels of emergent properties. Bio-life, societal-life, and now info-life. At ever level, there’s some element of the whole that is self destructive. While the whole can tolerate or control the smaller elements, the whole survives. If the smaller elements grow beyond control, then the whole must either change or die.

  19. I didn’t double back on myself. Individual people are not “info-life”. I was thinking more along the lines as “ideas”. Well, I guess it depends on what environment you are talking about. 🙂

  20. Individuals are one TYPE of host. And in that context, thoughts = actions. That’s why we “struggle” with our thoughts. In the battle ground of our minds, we would have three states: Racist, evolving, non-racist. In this type of battle and in this type of environment, thoughts = actions.
    When thoughts move outside the individual host, they enter into different kinds of “collective hosts”: public psyche, internet, religion, laws, literature, etc. In this context, the battle ground is more how many individual hosts we can collect. In this context, thoughts do not equal actions.
    When two collective hosts collide, we have conflict. As a race, the ideal would be to believe that debate and negotiation is far more conducive to live than fist fights and wars. In other words, we generally draw a line between thoughts and actions. Of course, it doesn’t seem to work that way…
    But now I’ve totally digressed and my brain hurts, too…

  21. Any PR Is Good PR
    I’ve been thinking we just live in a time where the whole “famous for 15 minutes” thing is ticking away so fast and the spotlight is panning so wide that it no longer matters whether someone does something we call “good” or “bad”. The only thing that matters is how long do we watch before flipping the channel of our attention?
    This seems to be the time of big mistakes and big apologies. People seem to love the idea that they have the power to judge and then forgive their idols. So the bigger the mistake, the bigger the apology and the bigger slice of our attention it gets.

  22. Like I said on my page …
    FUCK Michael Richards and his punk-ass apology. You – celebrity or regular Joe Schmoe – don’t get to call a black person nigger not once, but FOUR TIMES, and come back with a lame ass “I’m sorry” and expect it to be OK.
    You and your apology can kiss my ass and go to hell.
    That’s just my opinion.

  23. Re: Like I said on my page …
    Well, I’m not asking you to invite him over for dinner or anything. I was just trying to see if anybody could come up with a rational explanation for how a non-racist could say something like that.
    So far, not a lot a lot of folks seem to be buying the “not a racist” line, though….

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