European Racism vs. “Underground” Racism in the U.S.

There’s an interesting discussion happening about European racism versus “underground” racism in the U.S. that I thought readers here might be interested in.


Creative Commons License photo credit: jsayer

Matt Yglesias writes at Think Progress:

My casual-ish impression is that in 2010 racism is generally a bigger problem in Western Europe than in the United States. We’re obviously far from perfect in this regard, but progressives can I think legitimately count substantial progress in fighting bias as a major achievement and the European experience as illustrating the fact that the challenge is a non-trivial one.

I love that Yglesias refers to fighting racism as “a non-trivial” concern.   Understatement, much? I appreciate it when anyone at the more general political blogs like Think Progress decide to take on racism head on.  It’s refreshing to see the topic addressed, yet it’s hard not to be frustrated by Yglesias’ “casual-ish impression” about racism when there’s so much actual research about the subject, much of it discussed on this blog.    Yglesias’ lack of interest in reading any of the scholarly research on racism, combined with his rather privileged (white, heterosexual, male, upper-middle-class, well-educated, elite liberal) perspective make his impressions, well, the opposite of non-trivial.

Riffing off Yglesias’ post Jamelle Bouie writes at The American Prospect:

… because racism is almost exclusively identified with Bull Connor and the Ku Klux Klan, discussions of institutional racism are incredibly difficult, if not impossible (see: nearly any discussion of affirmative action). That said, I can’t help but prefer “underground” racism to its above ground counterpart; as someone who has been the target of overt racism, and who will probably encounter it in the future, I kind of prefer a world where racism is banished from polite society, even if the result is a hard fight against systemic bias.

Bouie here is one of the few that point to systemic bias which is an ongoing, current, and important issue here in the U.S.   The problem here is with accepting the frame that racism is “underground,” which is really to cede to a white racial frame of this issue.  While it’s true that it’s no longer ok to say the n-word in some mixed groups, there’s plenty of evidence that racism – even the crudest forms, and alongside some new forms – still abounds in the contemporary U.S. in plenty of above ground.