If we’re to believe the mainstream media and the Internet, there’s an epidemic of racism going around these days. It would seem that this horrible behavior is under every rock and those rocks are being turned over right and left by political pundits, bloggers and legacy journalists.
Now I’m an old civil rights worker but I must be dumb, because I don’t see what they’re talking about. I see the reverse. I see a country that has successfully reduced, even squelched, racism to a remarkable degree, legally and socially. I’m not saying we’re racism free. No population our size (or any significant size) could be. But it is no longer an essential problem of our culture. In fact, being a racist has become genuinely creepy, like having a form of extreme social halitosis that makes you a pariah. Most people recoil from racists.
Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this question: When was the last time you heard someone sound like a genuine racist in private conversation? And what was your reaction to him/her?
Well, for me, it’s hard to remember anyone acting that way in recent years and, if they had, I would certainly regard them as a pariah and not want to deal with them again. And I think that’s the point. This is all about pariah status and not about the truth. In other words, if you disagree with someone ideologically or dislike him personally for any of a number of reasons (he attacked you in the past, etc.), he has to be a racist. It’s a form of wish, a wish that – if you can convince others (and yourself) of its veracity – can lead to that wished-for pariah status for your opponent.
Rush Limbaugh is an interesting case in point. Like many Americans who spend hours in their cars, I have heard Limbaugh a great deal – and I often disagree with him because he is more ideologically conservative than I am. But not once have I heard him make a statement that was racist. Not even close. But that doesn’t stop Keith Olbermann (and many others) from putting words in Limbaugh’s mouth he increasingly seems never to have uttered. Indeed, they did not have verifiable evidence in the first place that Rush had said such a thing. They simply “wished” it were so.
The root of this “wish” for people like Al Sharpton – who has a “business interest” in the preservation of racism or, more exactly, the preservation of the illusion of racism – is obvious. The root is less clear for others and may be a kind of personal rage. But whatever the case, these false accusations of racism, while often undertaken under the mantle of “liberalism,” are not liberal at all. They are reactionary – reactionary just in the sense it is traditionally defined: “Reactionary (also reactionist) refers to any political or social movement or ideology that seeks a return to a previous state (the status quo ante).”
What we have then among the media and Internet race-baiters is a form of nostalgia for racism – a longing for the days when you could simply brand your enemies with the “r-word” and discredit them and everything they have to say in one extreme melodramatic gesture.
Yes, it’s reactionary and, no, it’s not working.