This is an issue that “white folks” tend to steer well clear of… but I think it’s time for me to share some observations. In fact, my thoughts may run on for a couple of weeks. I have no particular plan for how to lay them out tidily.
The near-election of a rabid socialist to the governorship of Georgia (as of this moment, she has not conceded and the result remains somewhat in doubt) all because—and only because—she is a “black female” is, to me, a clear indication of how our republic might finally collapse.
Another influence pressing me from quite a different quarter is a book manuscript, mostly composed eighteen years ago, that I decided to dust off in the belief that it would offer welcome distraction. It has done anything but that. I had collected a mass of statistics once upon a time that seemed to indicate a distinct bureaucratic and managerial bias against black baseball players of the late Fifties and early Sixties. The subject interested me because a) I enjoy studying history, b) I enjoy baseball as it was played in those days of yore, c) I find that cultural backwaters like sporting events can shed a broad light their society, and d) I have encountered much prejudice (against the honest, the chivalrous, the shy, the reserved) having nothing to do with pigmentation yet very impactful upon personal lives.
Enough of that. Let it suffice for now that I was shocked by the difficulties I suddenly felt in and around the subject. Two decades ago, I do not recall encountering them. Now I am bedeviled, as I proofread my manuscript (a very well written one, if I do say so), by the sense of being another white scholar taking the podium on behalf of mute black men and indicting my race’s treatment of theirs. I loathe that sort of theatrical self-canonization. “Hear me, O World, as I deplore my tribe’s conduct. Though I have not sinned as they, I will wear sackcloth and do public penance for them because… why, because I’m so humble and generous. If only humanity numbered more people like me in its miserable ranks….”
I have taken the utmost editorial pains to avoid playing that note; and in doing so, I know that I will probably have distanced the book from the very people—the pampered white elite of quasi-academic sociology circles who have strangely taken over the sports page—most likely to buy it. They won’t like my emphasizing that racial bias almost always provides superficial cover for other stresses or fears that human flesh is heir to. They want a straightforward “good guy/bad guy” approach to the issue (yes, that’s today’s academy) where “racism” is merely the province of wicked people going about their wicked daily business.
I’m already nearing the end of my writer’s stamina for one morning, at least with regard to this matter. So allow me to dedicate the final half of Wednesday’s post to simple definitions. I placed “racism” in quotes just now. The word is horribly abused. Let’s begin with “prejudice”.
A medical doctor of my acquaintance is prejudiced against black personnel. He will no longer hire any under normal circumstances. This isn’t because he is a racist. In fact, people of various races currently work for him; but young black technicians, in particular, have shown themselves apt to slap down the “racial discrimination” card if they receive a bad review or are terminated, and the expense of fighting such suits could reduce his practice to bankruptcy. He can’t really determine from an interview whether a candidate would adopt this strategy in a crunch—and, along with the sexual harassment option, it’s an easy stratagem for any young female of color to deploy. (Hiring females is inevitable in this doctor’s specialty; but in other fields, they, too, are lately being passed over for the same reason.) Why should my acquaintance risk putting himself and everyone on his payroll out of a job in order to “do the right thing”? I’m sure he is fully aware that his prejudice is quite unfair to many individual job-seekers. The realities of our litigious society, however, force him to be practical.
Prejudice against a certain race, then, isn’t a good thing—but we have collectively created an environment where it may be the lesser of two evils. People have to survive, and the mere charge of discrimination can be deadly to a business.
The vast amount of what is styled racism in our media in fact belongs under the heading of bigotry. The bigot has no coherent ideology that induces him to avoid or denigrate people of another race, but neither is his prejudice of the practical sort exemplified in the doctor’s case. His aversion, rather, is all feeling. He doesn’t like “those people”: he may even detest them. Now, there are reasons for the detestation—but he hasn’t thought them through, and may not even be aware that they exist. Perhaps he or a relative was mugged and robbed by “one of them”, or perhaps “they” have begun competing with him in the area where he seeks to procure his economic survival. C. Vann Woodward attributed most of the animosity that Klansmen and their communities directed toward freed slaves to the newfound ability of the latter to perform the same blue-collar labor as the former, and usually for a lower wage. Among the white ballplayers who closed ranks against Jackie Robinson in the late Forties, an anguishing concern that a new wave of talent would steal their jobs away stirred most of their enmity. That their rivals had the superficially distinguishing characteristic of darker skin allowed them to concentrate a vague unease upon something very observable—and most, as I say, carried the examination no farther.
If I represent the bigot as somewhat deserving of pity, it’s because I often find him so. The black ballplayers who contributed their testimony to Jackie’s anthology, Baseball Has Done It, were themselves keenly aware that the men they aspired to replace had families to feed, and more than a few of them accepted hostility with a certain compassion.
Where does that leave the true racist—when is that word justified whose hissing sound greets those of us overheard protesting the elitist, oligarchic political visions of Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, and (apparently) Oprah Winfrey? Layer upon layer of irony awaits us here. Perhaps the most sincere racist I have ever personally know was my grandmother, who was also the most loving, generous, self-sacrificing person ever to walk the earth in my presence. She bore a view of the formerly slave race that she had inherited from a Tidewater, Virginia, culture some three hundred years in the making. To her, black people had all the virtues of children—a heart-warming naïveté, a joy in whatever the day brings, an eagerness to express themselves openly in song and dance—and also all of the child’s liabilities: an inclination to be readily led, a dangerous susceptibility to the short-term and the sensual, a poor understanding of the distance between public and private space. These overgrown children required our constant care. As white people, we had a Kiplingesque burden to bear (and my grandmother was, indeed, born late in Queen Victoria’s reign). The stewardship we were obligated to assume over them was not at all unlike the duties we’re lectured about today concerning the planet and the natural environment.
Genuine racism, this: the systematic imputation of certain deficiencies to a racial group because of genetic hard-wiring. The bigot knows nothing about DNA: some of what he doesn’t like about “them” could have a possible genetic source (intellectual parameters, physique, temperamental tendencies), but most of it seems much more conditional (taste in music and clothes, conduct in large groups, language used in public). The true racist has worked this all out to a level of remarkable consistency. The “inferior race” is tragically locked into its lower echelon by immutable forces. One may help its members to survive, and one indeed should if moved by conscience… but one cannot hope that they will ever be able to ensure their own survival.
This, need I point out, is essentially the position of the modern Democratic Party. It is the noblesse oblige sacrifice of unending resources to assisting a group (through quotas, grants, scholarships, welfare payments, “reparations”) that just can’t survive on its own. And the members of the race in question, in a final irony, often echo the comments of those born into slavery who were interviewed in their silver years by Roosevelt’s WPA operatives: “The master give you a house, give you clothes and food, give you a doctor, you have holidays and happy times when everybody get together… things was better in slave days.”
The plantation, at its most benign (and there were some relatively humane plantations), was a highly evolved form of socialism. Today the “race question” seems to be driving us right back to “slave days”—and those who should protest loudest are instead leading the surrender. This is a most depressing spectacle to watch.