Good vs. Bad Racists
A never-pitched pitch by Jacob Dorman, September 26, 2016
I propose a historical essay on the theme of racism that hooks readers with the question “can black people be racists?” and develops the argument that almost all of us, of all races, are increasingly becoming “bad racists” even as we are unable to extricate ourselves from the structures of racism.
The very question “can black people be racists?” ignores an oceanic swath of history underneath the falsely innocent five island-like words, with their partially submerged and highly politicized archipelago of meaning. Racism is more than racial bias; racism is racial bias conjoined with oppressive power. The short answer is yes; black people can be racists, but not very good ones, since today as in the past black people have neither the inclination nor the power to oppress non-blacks very much, if at all. Whites, for our part, are increasingly becoming “bad” racists as well, leaving the hardcore remnant of “good” racists in the sinking ship that flies the Confederate flag and is presently helmed by one Donald J. Trump. Yet the structures of racism are so omnipresent, and so persistent, that even whites who reject racism find ourselves entangled in its giant squid-like tentacles.
Racism has a direction, just like time itself; in America, it flows and has always flowed from white to black, from Europe to everywhere else, from Christian to Muslim and Jew, from white American Jews and Muslim Arabs, whether as merchants, landlords, judges, or planners, to black customers, tenants, and citizens. But stopping here, at this low point of the story, does almost as much harm as ignoring the history of white racism altogether. African Americans time and time again have met the stiffest challenges with resolve, perseverance, and even triumph.
Yet economic attainment does not fully shield blacks from the insults of racism. Whites know that we can help our case by dressing well or speaking articulately to cops, but the very same behaviors from a black person to the wrong cop, that is, a racist cop, could be seen as impudence and could actually trigger the very aggressive and even lethal behaviors that the citizen is trying to avoid.
It is not that black racists do not exist, it is that they are extremely, extremely rare. Most blacks simply do not have the will to be racist against white people; the very concept contradicts black identity itself—not to mention the history of racial prejudice. Very few black people are actually in position to discriminate against whites in any capacity, and the ones who are, almost by virtue of the fact that they hold such power, are also extremely unlikely to use it. Most whites are bad racists because they no longer hate African Americans or other people of color, or think of themselves as intrinsically superior. Some do, for sure, and those are, perhaps counterintuitively, “good” racists.
While the U.S.S. Racism takes on water and lists to the right, the rest of us “bad” racists and anti-racists who have abandoned ship look for some flotsam to cling to and hope the nation changes course soon, before we all go down and join the sharks, squid, and narwhals with the swirling suction of that sinking ship.