Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ignorance...It's very "American"

I saw the graphic above on Facebook and it first struck me as true then I began to be bothered by it. (Caveat: Any people of color reading this may encounter instances of my white obliviousness. If you choose to let me know about what you spot I would be grateful and remedy it/them asap. Thank you.)

I genuinely wish things were so simple to comprehend. Truth, probably two years ago I would have hit "like" and been cheered at being on the side of the good guys and also I actually would have believed that it was all just that clear and simple to grasp.

Wait though...if we want to end the doing of racist behaviors by ourselves and others...then it is demanded of us to be more precise and sophisticated in our thinking and understanding.

There is a sizable segment of (mostly white but some people of color too) people (and I plead guilty to sometimes being among them) who are easily drawn into grabbing onto simple (inaccurate...but seemingly clear) understandings which actually lead us to a dead end but one where we can feel good about ourselves for not being "baddies". "End of Story"? Nope, not at all.

That graphic is akin to 2nd grade thinking. It implies that complex phenomena are easily understood. What's scary is that various cultural programming and institutional practices encourage just that kind of erroneous and misleading and inadequate thinking. Please educate yourself...just a little...go read this article and see if you don't learn something new.

After having a lengthy dialogue with a Trump supporter yesterday, I came away very disturbed by the serious absence of their interest in or their willingness or maybe even ability to grapple with the confusing and/or distressing topic of race/racism. Or, for that matter, many other confusing and/or complex things.

One of the factors I saw in operation repeatedly (and powerfully) was denial. What was seriously surreal about dialoguing with her was her avowed liking for the movie "The Help" and her repugnance and dismay over the behavior of the racist white people depicted in that movie. All the while she was maintaining the absence of racism from Trump and herself. She really likes the movie and has watched it several times. She seemed to be unable to recognize that Trump would have fit perfectly into a part as one of the white racists depicted in the movie. It was a bit scary.

(p.s. the movie itself has some problematical issues and should be viewed with some skepticism...that also has strengths too. It is, in many ways a prototypical "white savior" movie so keep that in mind. If you want to read more about racist movies that white people often adore, here's a good source.)

The phrase: "all of them decided that racism isn't a deal breaker" is misleading in that it presumes all Trump supporters are/were able to accurately identify "racism". Oh come on, you might say, everybody knows he's a racist. No. They. Don't.

I will repeat that. No. They. Don't.

(Of course they "should" be able to, I'm not excusing them, I'm describing them. I'm not giving them an out or a pass, they're fully responsible but I promise you their thinkers are shitty and they do not recognize racism...unless it's blatant...and sometimes not even then...when they encounter it. They're not innocent, none of us white people are matter how "good" our intentions the racist nightmare we support and uphold. Their flawed perceptual abilities are in place with them because they hold onto them and do not struggle against's on them...just as it is on me or you...this stuff takes work to excuses.)

My bet is that if you polled a number of Trump supporters most all of them would deny racist intent/attitude/behavior either on their part or on Trump's part. Dr. Bonilla-Silva's phrase "racism without racists" is very accurate in naming the weird way in which many people (mostly white) that would condemn racism are at the same time able to be participate in supporting racist politicians and/or policies.

The cultural factors that have permeated U.S. culture/society for centuries that distort accurate comprehension of race/racism have been ferociously effective and they reside in and influence the thinking of almost everyone in this society. Including me. Which really pisses me off.

Consider this. One article I read by Tim Wise made reference to a Gallup poll conducted in 1962 (Jim Crow laws were in place nationwide) that some 85% of white people believed African American children had just as good a chance to get a quality education as white children. This is while schools were legally segregated in many locations. In 1962...this was apparently what most white people believed.

A poll in 1963 showed that about 66% of whites believed that blacks were treated equally in their segregation was in place at that time.

If the reality comprehension abilities of the majority of white people (re racism) was that deficient during the Jim Crow era (when blatant and overt racism was in full blossom) it seems sort of absurd and simplistic and magical to think their (our) comprehending skills somehow "smartened up" since then.

Do you really believe passing some laws forbidding discrimination somehow also made white people smarter?

Aaarrrggghhh! And hey, I'm upset with myself too...I'm not just railing at you...ok? I have and do engage in crappy thinking...but...I'm working like hell on thinking better and if you aren't...well...sorry to say're part of the problem.

There has never been any concerted effort by white people to struggle with identifying and fixing their (our) deficient perceptual/comprehending practices. Oh sure, most of us white people can identify overt and blatant racist acts...some sick bastard yelling racial slurs or wearing sheets and a pointy hat and burning a cross elicits almost universal condemnation. We're good to go, right?'s not that easy...take a look at who is the new President.

It is my belief that "most" white people are "well-intentioned" however if you couple good intentions with deficiencies in accurate perceptions and comprehension of race/ end up with "good" people supporting and advocating for awful practices. Sound familiar?

By mis-perceiving reality, (we) they're able to maintain their self-perceptions of being "good" people because they also are unable to identify or comprehend racist practices by engaging in denial and/or other reality distorting mental maneuvers. If it isn't comprehended or ain't me. Right?

We white people (again mostly white people although cultural programming influences everyone) have severe reality comprehending problems and I wish it were so easy as to segment ourselves into the glib and simple slots that are implied by that graphic.

How nice that would be...but...I fear it is much more difficult than that. I bet if you talked to a bunch of Trump supporters you would find that most totally dismiss any suggestion that either Trump or themselves have any racist intents and/or thinkings.

As far as that goes, most "good white liberals" would dismiss any suggestion that they are complicit in supporting racist practices or policies or thinking. But...guess what...most good white liberals (probably most of the readers of this blog) also have deep and persistent distortions operating when it comes to recognizing more "normalized" manifestations of racist ugliness.

And yet...heck...go read this.

As I've struggled to take wrestle with my own "epistemology of ignorance" it has become painfully clear that, for instance, the media and the entertainment offerings in this culture present deplorably racist ideations and depictions as "normal" and "common sense", if you will,...and very rarely (if ever) do other white people challenge and/or effective resist or counter these absurd and destructive offerings.

Worse, many...if not most...white people, whether Trump supporters or not are unable to even identify racist notions when they are served up to them. It's not just Trump supporters who are ensnared in the insidious aspects of white supremacy.

I desperately wish these problems were so easily addressed as to simply go with the notion expressed by the graphic (note...I agree with the accuracy of the graphic that alliance with Trump is alliance with racism) but the problem is that most (some are just despicable humans...but most aren't) of the Trump supporters are white people who were served up with cultural learnings that systematically distort their perceptions and who experience that distorting as "normal" and hence do not perceive themselves and/or Trump as racist. And they do not fight against these cultural learnings.

And...what's really sneaky the culture presents us with notions of thinking/perceiving that serve to decrease the likelihood of our detecting and dismantling our lousy thinking. Like being "colorblind"...that's one of the mainstream ways culture teaches you to not discern crappy perceiving/thinking.

Jeez. Sinclair Lewis wrote a disturbing and scary book way back in 1935 titled "It Can't Happen Here" about the rise of fascism in Europe. Based on my struggles to comprehend race/racism over the past couple of years I would have to say it has already happened fact it was never any other way here...we've just been a little slicker (sometimes) at obfuscating the reality of its having happened here than were the white peoples in Europe.

I'm coming to think that race/racism and fascism aren't different phenomena but rather they are different aspects of a particular approach to comprehending and perceiving all living beings and subsequent social/cultural practices and arrangements. It's uncanny how many core components are almost identical between racist thinkings and fascist thinkings.

I don't think it was by accident that a omnipresent feature of the various authoritarian dictatorships that arose in Europe and Japan was a deep and closely held commitment to racist thinkings. Indeed...the authoritarian dictatorship that gripped Russia for so many decades had a deep and persistent strain of antisemitism (and other racist notions) that characterized it (even though such were "officially" disavowed). Such stuff was nevertheless believed in and practiced even if not openly embraced.

One way of thinking about the graphic is that it is itself a manifestation of the easy (and erroneous) maneuver of sorting people into “good/bad” binaries….which is a core aspect of racist thinking and of fascist thinking. It is just silly to think that racism and racist practices have persisted for centuries here in the U.S. because of "bad" white people. "Good" white people have supported and upheld it in the past and they (we) continue to do so even now.

The Trump supporter I dialogued with is a family member that I've known all my life and is a "good intentioned" person...and she is also a lost and bewildered person (who can sometimes voice her confusion) who feels like much is desperately wrong in this nation but misidentifies (at almost every turn) what those wrongs are. Subsequently...she grotesquely clings to Trump as being almost some sort of "white savior" figure. I suspect every white person who might read this has friends and/or family members that think/believe much the same way she does.

This is a hell of a situation we white folks have created and/or sat around with our thumbs up our a**es and allowed to persist. I feel both profoundly responsible and deeply sad and disturbed about this whole debacle.

Like you (probably) I was suckered into thinking that if I didn't have any conscious racist thinking, if I didn't do racist doings then hey...I was one of the good guys...right? Of course anyone who enacts stuff like that or thinks that way (consciously) is deplorable and to be condemned strongly. But...that's actually a relatively small percentage of the population.

White enacted racist policies and racist white institutions aren't controlled by those "bad"'s us, the "good" white people that keep this crap rolling on. Our thinkers are busted. Our comprehendings are deficient, our recognizers suck. We've substituted the word for the deed. We are the problem...not "them" out there.

Pogo said it decades ago: We have met the enemy, and s/he is us.

I desperately wish it were so easy as to just say "they're a**holes" and "I'm not". I really do...but I’m concerned that trying to conceptualize humans and their behaviors this way is, while certainly enticing, not at all useful if our goal is to convert and/or transform folks into genuine believers and practitioners of equality and equity.

We've been doing it that way for a long doesn't work. If just naming the bad guys made the bad guys disappear and/or have no power, heck, we would have achieved nirvana long ago. It's a lot tougher than that.

I'll end with this graphic that has a scarily prescient quote from a seriously important American that most of you white people are totally unfamiliar with (and your unfamiliarity is part and parcel of what keeps racism rolling along here in the U.S.A.). His statement is profoundly and deeply true and if we get will be our own fault for not doing our work.

1 comment:

Have Gone Vegan said...

I've seen the same thing happening with Trump supporters. The online discussions I mentioned in the previous post are still just as heated and just as polarized now as they were before. Half of the participants seem to be absolutely elated, and the other half completely demoralized (I should mention by the way that about 3/4 of all participants are women), and there's no consensus even on what happened.

According to the Trump supporters this election had nothing to do with racism, and was all about voting for change, jobs and the economy. Even pointing out that a Trump supporter didn't have to be racist themselves, but that their vote supported a racist person or a racist system was only met denial and defensiveness. It didn't seem to matter how it was worded (and with one person I tried wording it at least five different ways), because all they seemed to hear was that Trump supporters were racist, and not anything beyond that.

And yes, Trump as a white saviour figure rings true. How so many people could even believe half of what he was saying... And this isn't even talking about the whole rampant sexism in the election.

The other thing I found interesting was the big focus on how the mainstream media was completely biased and misleading. As if Donald's own words and actions weren't perfectly clear! No, according to his supporters, only what was reported by the alt-right news was correct. I've never seen such denial of actual facts and statements. So so scary.

I have no idea how the US is going to move on from this. Never have I seen an election so ugly, and the divisiveness continue post election. Good in a way, in that at least part of the population realizes what a catastrophe Trump's election was, is, and will continue to be. What a state of affairs... Or maybe, this is just spilling things more into the open, forcing people to deal with this. Don't know.