There are two general classes of racism that continue to confound most thinkers on the subject because of their subtlety. I have called them racism that praises and racism that blurs, both are equally common and dangerous in modern heterogeneous industrial societies such as the United States.
Racism that praises is a special variety often seen in arenas where white incompetence meets black incompetence. It is particularly true in the cases where the white incompetent holds a position of power or authority and can therefore confer upon the black incompetent a mark of recognition of some type. It is one incompetent praising another as if this is an indication that the praiser is not racist. This is usually done when the praisee is not only incompetent but malevolent against black people. It is the phenomenon that we often see when whites, that are racist, praise right wing or reactionary blacks for opposing equal rights, human dignity, or African resistance to discrimination. They are out front showing that they are as tough on black folks as the most rabid racist. The common parlance used to be “uncle toms” but I believe that the term has limited resonance with contemporary thinking about how racism works. In effect, these black people are victims of an insidious form of racism promoted and prosecuted by white Uncle Sams and Aunt Teresas who believe that they are showing that they are not racist by showering the malevolent and incompetent black with praise. This is the foulest example of racism that praises.
Racism that blurs is making a comeback after it was thoroughly thrashed forty years ago during the turbulent Sixties but I have lived long enough to see variants of it among current racists. My friend, Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize Winning dramatist, is quite richly dark, but he tells the story of a white person who tells him, “Charles, I do not think of you as black.” Stunned by the assertion Charles does the same thing that I would do, he points out that this is not a compliment; in fact, it is evidence that racism is still playing a major role in how whites see black people.
To say that you do not see me as black is to deny a big part of my identity; it is in fact to claim that if I were black in your imagination certain “other” ideas would haunt our relationship. You know, black is this and black is that, and black can be that, but alas, I do not see you as black. To say that you do not see someone’s color or biology is not a compliment, though it might have been posed as such because of the latent racism, much like the racism by praise where a white person thinks that by supporting black incompetence she is in fact supporting black people, freedom, equality or something, when in fact she is demonstrating a high degree of racism. Thus, to say that you do not see me as black has to be one of the least compliments you could give to a person who has a healthy concept of himself or herself. I do not take “not seeing me as black” as a compliment because there is nothing invalid about you seeing me as black and still liking me as a person.
Speaking of racism that blurs – I just came across a whole new term, “aesthetics of language.” Apparently, it’s not the same as “political correctness” but refers to the idea that some words are good while others are bad. The context was that I confessed to feelings of offense at a game piece called, “plantation.” It grows cotton, tobacco, sugar, coffee, and some other items. It doesn’t depict a slave, but . . .
So anyway. This other gamer objected to making any changes because not all people would make the same connotations I had. In addition, s/he also argued that someone could take offense at the game piece “Jack the Ripper,” and who’s to say that offense shouldn’t given the same credence as mine.
It’s not the same as telling someone you don’t think of them as black. But the idea that other no one’s opinion matters or that all opinions matter the same just sticks in my craw. I find it insulting, aggravating. It’s a nice way for people to obfuscate the issue and avoid taking responsibility for offensive language/actions, all the while claiming to support racial harmony.
As for racism that blurs, a few years ago, I was watching C-SPAN weekend. This particular event was on race relations. It peeked my interests. Out comes a white lady to present the speaker. She says she knows of no other person to talk about issues of race than the speaker. I became suspicious, but held out hope. It was C-SPAN and you just never know what to expect, right? So out comes Jesse Lee Peterson, a black guy, and let me tell ya. It’s one thing to accuse Jalen Rose of saying blacks from two-parent homes weren’t really “black.” (Which wasn’t what he was saying. I’m sorry, that whole episode has aggravated me, too.) But Peterson said the problem is no longer white racism, but black racism, that he’s met more blacks who hate whites than whites who hate blacks. That’s Uncle Tom all day long and the next day, too!
Anyway, I hope I stayed on topic. I’m really not interested in debating race in a game forum, so I tried to avoid taking things farther than they were. The gamer’s basic arguments weren’t new, just unexpected. I’m dying for some space to break down the arguments without hurting someone’s feelings over a game. And I really need someone to help me understand how Rose’s comments came to be so twisted. My guess is that it allows people to avoid talking about the hate mail Michigan’s Fab Five received. But still, like, whoa.
Anyway, Asante, thanks. I really needed to get that off my chest!
Oh! And can I add the racism of exaggeration? It’s when a minority asks for what amounts to common courtesy, and the offender blows the request to such proportions that it becomes unreasonable. Dr. Laura put it to use when she went on her n-word devolution and accused the caller of trying to “Al-Sharpton” her, then days later tried to hang her hat on freedom of speech. In fact, racism of exaggeration was put to use to complain about my objection to the “plantation” game piece. Anytime part of the argument against change is, “Where do we stop?” you’re dealing with racism of exaggeration.
Then, there’s the racism of intention where so long as the offender didn’t consciously intend to offend, no offense should be taken. People can become very self-righteous when it comes to “intentions,” arguing that not only can they not be held responsible for other people’s feelings; but that it’s the other person’s fault for being offended and demanding that everyone live by the offended’s word-associations.
Anyway, whenever people engage in these strategies and behaviors, racism of praise or blurring, at the end of the day, they’re also denying their own humanity. They’re saying in effect that they are incapable of change. Or rather, as in the case of racism of praise, that they shouldn’t have to.
Thanks for listening!
*That should be “As for racism that praises, a few years ago . . .” I brought up C-SPAN in reference to racism that praises. Sorry for any confusion.