A few weeks ago, I was helping my aunt organize her audaciously robust
library when I came across a children's book on African- Americans. Yes,
that took me a moment. It was a part of a series on hyphenated American
cultures, including Dutch- American culture...Yup, another moment.
But I digress. In this book on African- American people, there was special
attention granted to Reconstruction and the rise of white power groups with
the Klu Klux Klan posited as THE perpetrators of racist crimes, including
lynchings around the nation. I reread this section over and over again,
struck by its adherence to the Klan- centric school on racism. This school,
which I believe to be dominant in American culture, places all blame and
guilt in the myth of the omnipotent and all- accountable Klan. Did the Klan
commit all acts of racial violence in the south? No. Does this
representation discount the horror of local lynchings unrelated to any
larger "cause"? Yes. Does it absolve the multitudes of Americans complicit
in these crimes? Yes. But, duh. Klan= bad. Everyone else is safe!
Unfortunately, this false order provides a security blanket for many Americans who refuse
to approach the complexities of race in the American landscape with the
appropriate sensitivity and logic.
I bring this up today, because I am tiring of a trend in current racial discourse. The last year has been chock full of public displays of racism and the
consequent "I'm not racist" movements. An exhibition of such plays out like so: 1) Someone famous says something blatantly racist. 2) It gets leaked to youtube. 3) People act shocked and point at said famous person as though he is some cultural artifact or time capsule from a racist epoch, i.e. not now.
Response to Michael Richards: "That crazy Michael Richards! He's so racist,
but I don't say nigger in a crowded room, so I'm cool!"
Response to Don Imus: "Oh my God! We've got to withdraw our sponsorship, because he's racist and believe me, our company is NOT"
Response to Isaiah Washington (i know its not racial, but...): "Gay- basher!
Fire his ass! Because we at Disney- owned ABC really have a higher moral
What does it mean to dismiss these men as crazy anomalies? I submit that doing so posits these outbursts in an apolitical, post- racial space. These men and their words did not emerge out of a vacuum, so I ask that people stop patting themselves on the back for not slipping up or speaking their true prejudices aloud and DEFINITELY stop treating these outed racists as creatures from a pre-historic past.
The Don Imus debacle created an environment in which CBS Radio and NBC had a real chance to do something positive. This positive thing was not to fire Imus who had, in my opinion, apologized appropriately. I think that these networks could have taken this one step further and made some changes in their programming, which is much larger issue for the black community. But alas, we should remain in our comfortable post- civil rights state where "racism" "is" "a" "rarity" and point fingers at those who disrupt our lived daydream. As for me? I'd like to thank Imus and Washington and whoever else has been forced to face the realities of this age of political correctness and moral laziness.
And the myth of the Klan lives on.