By now you’ve no doubt heard that reality “star” Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty “fame” was suspended from the show — or, in snake-oil TV-speak, placed on “indefinite hiatus” — after glibly engaging in some concern-trolling homophobia in a GQ interview while painting his show and his family’s public embrace of its Christian faith as some sort of antidote for whatever it believes ails America.
I’ve often pondered the question, why are white people so touchy about being called out for racism?
I know some of you will say that racism is much more than the hurtful prejudice of a marginal few. Agreed. Racism is also inherited structural and political inequity by race resulting in persistent poverty, health disparities, and deficits of opportunity in communities of color. And as with all kinds of oppression, racism is ultimately kept in place by violence and the threat of violence (think in terms of lynchings, cross-burnings, KKK raids, etc. throughout our history). Simple prejudice seems pretty minor by comparison.
However, the powerful effect of white people’s touchiness on this subject should not to be underestimated. In fact, I think it goes hand in hand with the threat of violence in perpetuating racism.
For instance, racial inequality nowadays relies more heavily on the intimidation and violence of the war on drugs and immigration enforcement than on the terrorism of vigilante groups. But, racist immigration and drug enforcement policies are founded on the widespread popularity of racial stereotypes that falsely criminalize black men as the source of the illegal drug problem in the U.S., and immigrants of color as drains on our economy. In other words, ordinary prejudice is as much a part of the oppressive equation for communities of color as violence and intimidation, and the fact that these ordinary forms of prejudice are expressed through major public institutions is possible because we deny that these stereotypes are grounded in prejudice at all.
We need to marginalize ordinary racist stereotypes and behavior, and this starts with calling racism out, even when those guilty of it get touchy because they are unable to recognize their acts as racist.
But, why so touchy?
At the risk of sparking a sh*t storm, here are a couple of proposals.
Antron McCray climbed on stage in a Manhattan theater one night last week and stepped into the kind of spotlight that, until now, has almost always meant trouble for him.
Exiled from New York, his hometown, Mr. McCray was last seen in public two decades ago as a skinny 16-year-old, practically drowning in a suit that he wore to the Manhattan courthouse where he was tried on charges that he was part of a mob that raped a jogger in Central Park and beat her nearly to death in April 1989. In the television news footage, he often held his mother’s hand as he walked past screaming demonstrators.
The audience that had just seen him as a boy — in a baseball uniform, in a police precinct station house being interrogated, in the too-big suit going to court — and had listened to his voice throughout the film could now see him as a man. At 39, his shoulders were broader, and his waist a bit thicker.
There was something he wanted to tell the audience about his anonymity.
“Here’s the reason why I escaped New York: I just had to get away,” Mr. McCray said. “Start a new life.”
That logic took him to a shocking place.
“Actually, uh,” he said, “I don’t even go by Antron McCray no more.”
Saying that out loud seemed to take even Mr. McCray by surprise, a sudden tolling of what he lost. Words thickened in his mouth. On either side of him, two of the other men, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam, squeezed his shoulders and patted his back.
By Guest Contributor Tetsuhiko Endo, cross-posted from The Inertia
In the great and varied canon of American racial stereotypes, there is a highly detailed list of segregated sports. Basketball, for instance, is a “Black” sport. Hockey, on the other hand, is for Whites. Surfing falls firmly into the category of “white sport,” somewhere between mountaineering and golf. It could be argued that there is no “whiter” sport in the world that was originally invented by non-whites. There are many ways to illustrate this, but let’s leave it here: It is the only sport since the 1936 summer Olympics in which the 2009 world champion, Mick Fanning, can say something overtly anti-Semitic to a reporter and the outlet that reports the statement will be blamed for bad taste.
Why don’t black people surf? That can be answered with another race-based generalization: Black people don’t swim. Consider the numbers: A 2010 study by US Swimming, America’s governing body of competitive swimming, found that nearly half of White children (42 percent) had low or no swimming ability. That number was topped by Hispanic American children; 58 percent of whom reported no or low swimming ability. Black children had the highest non-swimming rates at just under than 70 percent.
I suspect that the white numbers are slightly inflated based on the fact many that my Caucasian, land-lubbing friends define “swimming” as walking into a pool up to their waist, getting out, then applying more coconut oil. But that doesn’t change the fact that swimming rates among Black children are abysmal. Infinitely more worrisome is that Black children are around three times more likely to drown than White children, based on another study by US swimming, which is apparently the only organization who studies these sorts of things.
There is one problem with these studies: although the numbers are correct, the conclusion that we causally draw from them is utterly corrupt. The numbers tell us that many black people don’t swim; Our interpretation, however, is that black people are not swimmers, which is wrong. The truth is that American blacks have a long and well-documented history of loving to swim. In order to understand why African American culture does not currently enjoy a well established culture of recreational swimming, we need to delve under the stereotypes and generalizations and look at the history of exclusion that has accompanied their efforts to access the water.