Two Classes of Racism in New Keys

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.