I took the last couple of weeks off of blogging. For one I had a dissertation chapter to finish. And second, I just wanted to do a little bit of enjoying Christmas. Now that both of those things are behind me I figured it was time to write another rant. And what better to write a rant about than jumping back into racism and the NFL national anthem protests… because you know… everyone loved it all the other times I’ve done it. *sigh*
So let’s talk about racism. And specifically why it is racist to be against people protesting by kneeling during the national anthem. But first a little back story.
Back in November, I wrote a post saying that if you’re bent out of shape about the anthem protest you should probably consider saluting the Confederate flag, since its history is probably more to your liking. It was relatively well received. An old wrestling friend of mine, Shane, reshared it and asked other people to check it out. Some people, as you might expect, took some level of offense to this. One person in particular was so offended that he has spent the better part of the last three months constantly sending me alt-right videos and blog postings by people with poor understanding of history, culture, statistics, law and MLKjr quotes to explain why I am wrong… both publicly and in personal messages. As far as he was concerned “the facts prove that systemic racism doesn’t exist.” Of course, his best piece of evidence for this was a report that he misunderstood and which actually says the opposite, but whatever. Anyway, this culminated with him commenting about how “I was wrong and Kaepernick protest isn’t about race and I’m the real racist for brining it up” on a facebook post yesterday. Now, as per the rule I set the last time I called someone out for what I considered a pretty racist Facebook argument, I won’t name this person by name… though my blog and my facebook are both public and the comments are there and it’s probably not hard to figure out. He’s welcome to out himself here… and he may very well do so… or he may just block me… just like the last guy. Either is fine.
Anyway, I’m not really here to talk about the existence or lack thereof of excess police brutality against minorities. I’ve done that before. We’ve run the numbers. And they are what they are. Go read the super long comment thread from my post about it two years ago if you care. Honestly, I don’t usually bother with them because, as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not like anyone who wants to argue against this actually cares about the facts anyway. No, instead I want to talk about what IS racism and why it’s problematic to be complaining about the protest even if systemic racism didn’t exist… which it does.
But before we do that… let’s make any alt-right ideologues who haven’t punted on this comfortable by insulting the politically correct SJW libtards first. So there’s this saying that the internet has gotten into that has annoyed me for quite a while now. People have gotten into saying “remember, People of Color can’t be racist and women can’t be sexist because racism and sexism require privilege and power.” That makes for a nice little meme but unfortunately it’s bullshit. Black people can be just as racist as white people. Women can be just as sexist as men. Not only against those in power, but even against those below them… or even in their same station. If I, as a black man, walk around saying “I hate all white people” that’s racist. If a woman says “I hate all men” that’s sexist. If I as a black man say “I hate all black people” that’s also racist. And I know, if you’re one of the people who like to share that meme, you’re thinking “no, that’s not racism. That’s just prejudice. Black people can absolutely be prejudice. Just not racist because that requires power and privilege and the white men have all of that.” Except power… in the sociocultural sense that the concept is referring to… is situational. Sure, on a mass level white men are more powerful and more privileged than any other group (even if I’m sure some are going to chime in here and say “no I’m not… it took me months after college to find a job”) but that doesn’t matter. I’m a teacher. In the classroom, I have both total power and privilege over my students. If I were decide to fail some because they were white, that would be racist. If I were the poorest, most underprivileged black man on the planet, but suddenly grabbed a gun and started shooting white people… that’s suddenly having a shit ton of power, and it’s sure as fuck racist. But neither is actually necessary. All that’s necessary for racism is showing prejudice based on race. I can be racially prejudiced without power or privilege. It’s just that if I have no power or no privilege, people generally don’t give a fuck. This matters for a very important reason that I will get to in a moment.
So here’s the thing with the meme. Its idea is in the right place. What it’s trying to do is detail the fact that racial (and sexual) tensions, at least in this country, are inherently linked to our specific history with slavery that has created a systemic power dynamic over the last five hundred years or so. And that’s true. Because the reason systemic racism and sexism are problems is that the sociocultural power structures that have been built up over history disproportionately affect those out of power so as to maintain and increase the privilege of those in power. BUT, the meme conflates systemic racism and individual racism in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THE PEOPLE YOU ARE ARGUING WITH. The reason people use the “Black people can’t be racist” meme is that no one wants to be racist. It *feels* better to think of yourself as simply prejudiced… but that’s ok, because it’s not as bad as being racist. No one wants to be racist. Almost no one thinks of themselves as racist. Since most of us are taught that “racism” is bad, it feels better to justify your beliefs outside of the usage of the word. It feels better to say “well, I’m doing the moral thing… but not the racist thing… that’s the other people. Not me. I’m perfect.” For the most part, even the KKK don’t think of themselves as racist. They think of themselves as loving their own race. With full apologies to Avenue Q, Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist. I mean, not me, of course… I’m prefect. ? But you know… everyone else.
And here’s why it matters. The idea that “racism” — that is, the word “racism” — is bad, allows you to move the stigma to the signifier… rather than concentrating on the concept. Maybe your behavior is bad. Maybe it’s not. But if you can tell yourself that it’s not “racist” then it’s easier to justify it for yourself. And when you get into a semantic argument about it you implicitly enforce the stigma over the word rather than the actions.
The reason this is a problem is that it works for both sides of the issue. An odd thing happens whenever I have a discussion around racism or sexism with my freshmen students at the school I teach at. I will inevitably get to some way in which one of the white male student’s rights are being infringed upon, at least in the mind of the middle class white college male. That student will then inevitably say “and that’s reverse racism” or “and that’s reverse sexism.” The simplest example is with the latter. Our school has a policy against overnight guests of the opposite sex in dorm rooms because *GASP* SEX MIGHT HAPPEN!!! Students will correctly point out that this is a dumb rule because “it allows gay students to have sex” and then add “and that’s reverse sexism.” Then I have to point out that… no… it’s not. There’s no such thing as reverse sexism. The reverse of sexism would be treating people fairly! At best it’s sexism. And it’s not really even that, because no… our conservative Catholic private university is not going out of it’s way to create an environment where gay people can have sex but not straight people. It just hasn’t occurred to them that it’s a problem. That said, the entire idea of restricting 18-year-olds from fucking in the name of Christian doctrine is inherently rooted in several millennia of gender roles being tied to religious ideology in order to systemically deprivilege women so that they can be forced into heteronormative monogamy and treated as male property in a marital contract. So yeah… it actually kinda is sexist. But … you know… way more complicated than the kid means when he first asked the question. Then the kid’s brain will explode and I have to have someone clean up the mess. But I just know that at least one or two of the students in the class will understand the greater point. Their mind will be opened and they will happily go out and fuck that night… in the name of equality! And that’s a good day.
But the reason the kid comes up with the term “reverse sexism” is that he has been taught that he isn’t allowed to use the term “sexism” to explain any inequality that does affect men. And the reason he uses the term “reverse racism” is that he has been taught that he is not allowed to use the term “racism” to reference any perceived inequality that affects white people. So in both cases, he had to invent his own term to express his outrage over his full tragic eighteen years of white upper middle-class frustration. And he never learned the greater endemic problems that caused any of his issues in the first place. Because he doesn’t fear the concepts. He fears the words. And when you try to win an argument over social justice with someone by teaching them that it’s all about the definition of the words, the lesson they learn is “ok, so defining the words is the way to win the argument” because they certainly aren’t going to learn “wait, maybe I’m an asshole who just doesn’t like black people or women.” And when you try to privilege the underprivileged (minorities, women, lgbtq+) by removing them from the definition and conflating active racism and sexism, racist and sexist behaviors, and systemic patriarchal or kyriarchal structures to claim that because you don’t fit one definition, you must not fit the others, you’ve now made the fight about definitions rather than concepts.
And that brings us back to the alt-right dude. Yes, I realize that alt-right dude totally didn’t get this deep into the article. But lets just pretend, So when I say that being upset about the flag protest is racist, a favorite tactic of the people who like to argue against me is to say “no, the flag protest isn’t about race. You’re the real racist for bringing race into it.” If you’ve read any of the comments on any of these blogs you’ll see that I never actually use the “no I can’t be racist. I’m black” retort (even though I could… you know, what with me being perfect and all ?). What I say instead is “do you realize that nothing sounds more racist than telling a black man who is complaining about racism that he’s the real racist.” It’s different. Because now I’m putting the focus on their actions. I’m not stupid. I know this won’t change their minds. But as I always say, the reason I argue with idiots on the internet isn’t to change the mind of the idiot. It’s for others who might be wandering by to say “oh, wait… this guy Mav is arguing with is an idiot racist sexist. I would like to not be an idiot racist sexist. Maybe I shall try to avoid being like that guy!” And for the most part, that’s pretty effective. I’ve had people write me and thank me and that makes me feel good about myself… you know… “if I can save just one kid” and all that… and you know, bonus points if I can make the kid a better person and get him laid.
But alt-right dude has no idea that his behavior is racist or sexist. Because he knows “his heart is in the right place.” He gets to say “I don’t judge people by their color. So I’m not the racist. You’re the racist because you’re the one concerned with race. This is America. All people are equal.” And he can say it because… well, he sees it that way. One of the biggest problems with the way we treat Trump voters is that we treat them like they’re a bunch of idiots who are just mad because they think “the niggers and the faggots and the bitches are coming to take away their way of life.” But like… they’re not wrong. We totally do want to take it away. Because the biggest privilege of being white, male and straight in America isn’t having a better job with better pay. It’s not even not getting shot by the cops. The biggest privilege is being able to pretend that the underprivileged don’t exist.
Think of it this way. If systemic racism didn’t exist at all, then there is no harm in ignoring the protestors. Who would care. It would just be a bunch of ingrates not standing up. You know who else doesn’t stand for the national anthem during football games? Me. I mean, unless I have to go to the bathroom or get some chips or something. And the same with 99% of America. The not standing for the national anthem doesn’t affect alt-right heteronormative white dudes at all. It only bothers them because they know the protesters are specifically doing it because they don’t want them to.
That has always been the way of America. It has always been the way of culture in general. It’s almost impossible to change the minds of anyone who is aware that they are actively oppressing anyone else. The slaves can’t just tell a slave owner “hey, that’s wrong. Let the slaves go!” Because frankly, the slave owner has a pretty good deal going. Instead the slaves appeal to those who might feel bad about passively supporting the system. Cultural change happens through protests because those who are underprivileged disrupt the comfort of the privileged who would otherwise ignore them.
So, alt-right dude, when you say “you shouldn’t protest the flag because you are disrespecting the soldiers who made this country great” I get that this isn’t because you actively think that there’s anything wrong with black people. You don’t. And no… I’m not saying that you are responsible for the disparate power dynamic that allows you to have privilege in our cultural system. You’re not. At least not directly. What I’m saying is that when someone says “I am not standing to support an anthem that proclaims that this country is great when it is NOT GREAT for so many people who have skin like mine” any response of “no, you are being disrespectful to the people who made this country great for you” is racist. And when the person says “but it’s not great. Because racism” and your answer is “yes it is. Not stand up like I told you to” you are moving from passive support of the systemic racist structure to actively oppressing and trying to silence the voices of people because they do not have the luxury of ignoring race the same way you do. You are telling the niggers to behave and shut the fuck up and be happy with what the white man gave you.
And that… is fucking racist.