Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 1: Today's market branding of white racism

Since 2004, I've used April to do my own counter-celebration of Confederate Heritage Month, which admirers of the slaveowners' rebellion known as the American Civil War use to promote white supremacist and segregationist ideas and sentiments.

My daily April posts in this vein have been a mixture of debunking of neo-Confederate claims, discussions of the real history of the Civil War (mostly of the years leading up to it), and discussions about white racism.

The Republican Party has in the last few years so thoroughly and openly embraced segregationist ideology that examples of things that legitimately qualify as manifestations of neo-Confederate thinking are sadly easy to come by in following the daily news.

Chauncey DeVega doesn't tiptoe around stating what he thinks of the racial attitudes embodied in today's Republican Party (Understanding Paul Ryan's Racism in 3 Easy Steps Alternet 03/20/2014; also appears in Salon as How the GOP became the white supremacy party — and got away with it 03/21/2014):

Paul Ryan is the leader of a political party that is the country’s premier white identity organization. The Republican Party has also merged conservatism and racism in such a way that appeals to white racial resentment are its Lingua Franca and a taken for granted way of thinking about political and social reality.

Paul Ryan traffics in racism because the Republican Party is a racist organization. The calculus is not complicated.
DeVega discusses white racism in the Republican Party in three ways. One is as the continuing of the well-known and much-discussed "Southern Strategy" begun by the Nixon campaign in 1968.

He also discusses it in terms of "colorblind racism," which he explains as follows:

Colorblind racism inverts reality and distorts the facts. It involves denying that racism still exists as a serious social problem; black and brown people are limited in their life chances not because of institutional discrimination but because of their "bad culture" or "laziness"; white supremacy and systems of white racial advantage are dismissed as either exaggerated or non-existent; racism is reduced to mean words by white people, as opposed to systematic institutional discrimination against people of color. [my emphasis]
This is a key issue in understanding how today's Republican conservatives deal with the reality of white racism. I'm familiar with this from Segregation 1.0 in Mississippi during my childhood. Whites who completely accepted the institutional structure of white supremacy upheld by the laws and social practices, aka, "Southern folkways," would generally try to find someway to show that they weren't as racist as some other whites. Saying "nigger" in polite company, for instance, was taken by whites who considered themselves to be more respectable middle-class as especially tacky, while "colored people" or even "nigra" - a halfway usage between the n-word and the more formal "Negro" - were acceptable usages.

But aside from the clinically neurotic aspects of those "Southern folkways," this was also a way of reducing race relations and personal responsibility in relations to them to a formal issue of manners. As DeVega puts it, "racism is reduced to mean words by white people."

Today's version is a direct continuation of segregation culture, which never disappeared but went semi-underground for an extended period of time.

DeVega's third point about what the section heading calls "white racial innocence" is closely related:

Paul Ryan meant what he said and said what he meant {about "inner city" people and their "culture"}. White privilege is more than the unearned advantages that come with being identified as "white" in American society and elsewhere. White privilege is an assumption that whiteness, and white people, are benign. White privilege is also an assumption of preeminent good intent and innocence.

The historical record suggests otherwise: whiteness was born of violence towards people of color. Whiteness works and is made real through many lies both small and large.

Paul Ryan, like other racists, will deploy the common phrase "I didn't mean it that way" or "that was not my intention."

By contrast, the twin facts of white privilege and white racism are not dependent on intent. [my emphasis]
His description of how collective responsibility is conceived along racial lines is also important. It's worth keeping this in mind, for instance, when you hear Republicans criticizing Muslim leaders for supposedly not speaking out enough against Muslim extremists. The white-black racial frame is the model for that argument:

The white gaze does not view black Americans as individuals. When a black person makes a mistake it becomes the focus of a "national conversation" about the black community, one in which "black leaders" are forced to publicly explain and condemn the actions of other black people. There is not an equivalent ritual for white people. White conservatives and the white community will not be forced to condemn Paul Ryan. Nor will white people be held publicly accountable for Paul Ryan’s and the Republican Party’s racism. [my emphasis]
Treating white racism as a primarily a matter of manners and individual attitudes is actually a long-standing way to dodge the institutional reality of the phenomenon, which of course produces extensive psychological and ideological manifestations. And, yes, elaborate manifestations in social customs, including manners. Treating the latter as the primary content of white racism is a way of pretending the problem is less serious and less extensive than it actually is.

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