05 December 2016

Racism - not a problem of ‘deplorables’

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat

Racism is a reality that still exists in American society today. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, yet it is – and not only controversial, but one which many people simply check out in response to, because it has been addressed in all the wrong ways to all the wrong people. But here’s the reality: in regards to access to credit, access to housing, payday lending, schooling, policing, prisons, military recruitment – black Americans still face an inordinate number of institutional hurdles and potholes that simply don’t exist for ‘white’ Americans. Heck, even on health care – where are all the community clinics which should exist in black neighbourhoods? And why does Planned Parenthood primarily target black communities, if not because (just like the payday lenders and petty usurers they truly are) they understand full well that the family and economic situations of black Americans are more likely to lead them to seek abortions?

Here’s Dirty Little Secret #1. All of these racist institutions are, to a one, run, maintained and upheld by urbane, well-meaning, polite, cultured, liberal, ‘white’ Americans who in all likelihood never so much as uttered the ‘n’-word in their lives (or at least, never in public). And all of these urbane, well-meaning, polite, cultured, liberal, ‘white’ Americans would assuredly take umbrage at being accused of racism (that’s a failing of the rural, ‘deplorable’, uncouth, uncultured, wrong kind of ‘white’ people, don’t you know?), even as they continue to uphold and entrench it.

And here’s Dirty Little Secret #2. There is no grand ‘conversation’ that needs to be had on this. There is no great ceremony of racial reconciliation that we need to entertain. There is no intellectual scourge we privileged ‘white’ folks need to whip ourselves with often enough in penitence – if that would even help! We could start taking practical actions, from the local level on up, to fix a number of these racial problems tomorrow, if we were so inclined. Obama has had eight long years to bring these issues to the table, and he’s sadly only just started to address two of them (prisons and policing), and even then in ways which are not particularly productive.

We all know that these racial problems won’t go away under Trump, because he isn’t interested and his supporters simply aren’t interested; and to the extent they do pay attention to these problems, they focus solely on the most narrowly atomistic and individualist possible level. Unlike his erstwhile European counterpart, the American conservative is, by and large, a bourgeois creature most closely concerned with his bottom line, to whom spiritual and moral exhortations have diminishing effects. But the ‘deplorables’ aren’t the first ones to blame! Take a look at the list of the most segregated cities in America – LA, Boston, Miami, Philly, NYC, Milwaukee, Detroit. Look at how many incidences of police brutality happen in LA, NYC, Baltimore and the like. And then tell me with a straight face that racism isn’t actually a white liberal problem. (Our problem. My problem, as it were, if I’m being honest!)

But I’m not here to argue for more self-flagellation or mea culpas. Seeing our own sins can be healthy, but there’s been far too much virtue-signalling on the topic of racism and far too little productive action. So I’m here to talk about practical, common-sense measures.

With regard to the credit problem – the huge elephant in the room when we talk about racism – we can start by advocating for non-profit credit cooperatives and Raiffeisen societies that specifically work for and are run by black people and minorities without access to credit. Microfinance was a big thing for the fashionable ‘white’ liberal crowd when it was pioneered in India and Bangladesh; but we have plenty of neighbourhoods and people here at home, in the US, who could use services like that first. We can start funding and crowdsourcing urban farms in black communities to help provide cheap, healthy food. Or, heck, let’s encourage rural farming, too! Call it ‘forty acres and a mule’, updated for 2016.

With regard to policing – police face a tough and often-thankless job that is made even tougher and more dangerous by a(n often deserved) lack of trust. The most promising ways of dealing with that lack of trust – ways which both reduce racial tension and make it easier for the police to do their jobs well – are actually being pioneered already in places like Providence, Rhode Island. Community-police collaborations are pretty humdrum, not at all a sexy, tech-savvy front-page kind of policy. But ultimately these collaborations seem the most promising avenue of building trust and defusing resentments before they boil over, and avoiding the kind of high-profile deadly race-fuelled confrontations that seem to be plaguing so many police departments around the country. Black lives matter – and black lives are best served and protected by institutions that take the time to earn their trust.

With racially-predatory institutions and market actors like payday lenders, Gosnell-style abortion clinics and for-profit prisons, though: a far harder line is needed. And this is where bourgeois ‘white’ liberalism really needs to take some much-deserved heat, because they have been active, even instrumental, in defending every single one of these predatory practices that victimise black and minority communities every single day.

Those of us who are on the left have to face these problems head-on, as they exist on the ground, and put some ‘skin in the game’ rather than hiding behind the usual political bromides and academic theories. Unfortunately, it seems too many of us want to continue blaming the usual scapegoat of the rural bumpkin, who – whatever his own attitudes and level of knowledge might indicate – has very little to do with the real, daily-life problems many black Americans face today (and who is sick of being blamed for them).


  1. While there remains a chunk of Americans who have a true-belief in racial hierarchies, I think a majority do not generally hold onto some sort of racial ontology. Yet, as you say, many of these people support racist institutions and structures that oppress and destroy lives.

    Consider the rise of blacks in the American sports industry. The coaches, team managers, investors etc. who signed people like Jackie Robbinson were not egalitarian idealists for the most part. They just could see a money opportunity that their competitors could not (or did not) see. They banked on the fact that wins and accumulated victories would break whatever public perception that might form around them. An athlete is an athlete, and to end discrimination opened a whole new crop of potential players. This not only brought wins and championships, it was a marketing campaign. A team could get more investors this way. The color-line was broken, in large part, because of greed, strategic economics, and skillful marketers.

    This is an indicator to me that these urbane hand-wringers are racist because, as elites, they're dependent upon structures that maintain an exploitable class of people. Race is, at its core, economics. Capitalism can simultaneously promote racism and destroy it depending on economic strategies, fluxes in the market, and different levels of competition.

    Of course, neo-liberal social policy is an attempt to de-colorized class lines. It welcomes in diverse peoples (whether race, sex, gender, sexuality etc.) by creating a more deracinated elite based on ability. 99% of black people might suffer in poverty or oppression, but it's not racist because Obama is president. The argument is not naive (among its more sophisticated articulators), but a way of restructuring class in American society. It still leaves a majority, whether "white trash" or "niggas" or whatever social distinction, in poverty and desperation.



    1. The meritocracy only works as good as it is not unveiled as a form of aristocracy where there is a constant succession of people already geared towards success. So we need justification why all these white people remain in relative poverty (inbred, stupid, evil, selfish etc.). The same is true with other sectors of people, but construed along different lines. There's genuine confusion as efforts at help seem almost from the gate, whether intentional or not, to be set up for failure or ineptitude.

      The game is trying to straddle the lines between an inclusive elite that tries to broaden the qualifications. As this circle expands, it almost simultaneously requires the conflagaration of people elsewhere. Hence a greater amount of people can join middling tiers of social prestige, while extreme poverty and sweat shops exist elsewhere, producing cheap-ish commodities that become status symbols of a new class identification (i.e. the iphone).

      This is why a serious left opposition attacks the structure of the middle-class by the demands of the working class. It's a fraudulent tension that is used to enfranchise people into a delusion. It's a way of inculcating bourgeoisie values of respectability into able defenders. In the slave-planter economy, this was the dangerous game of empowering the middling-class of slave catchers, overseers, and artisans, who's way of life becomes integrally related to the master at the expense of the slave.

      Of course, any of this is anathema where entering the Middle-Class is essentially a baptism into Americana. It's a religion where the catechumenate is a permanent state of endless striving, deceiving many working people from the impossibility of the dream. Race is a means of fragmentation of groups that actually share a similar interest (working whites and blacks), but the dream, combined with healthy doses of racism, and fear of necessity and scarcity, drives divisions.

      For the Christian, the poor may be with us until the eschaton, but it's because we ought to be actually among them, suffering their/our horrors of domination. As Chrysostom said, it's not about wealth, but about the procurement, sustenance, and use of said wealth. If we apply such to ourselves, many are guilty of being the dominators. Christians shouldn't necessarily be Communists, Socialists or whatever endless variety of solutions to the problems of global capital, but I can't understand a Christian who cannot agree with the Leftist assessment of dominance in the age of global capitalism. It's only by profiting from suffering we can keep ourselves blind, deaf, and dumb to the blood shed upon the altar of Mammon.

      2 cents,

    2. Hello, Cal! And thank you for the comments!

      It won't come as any surprise to you, I think, that I agree with you on a number of these points. In fact, it was my observation that the meritocratic element of the American mythos actually veiled over a certain hidden stratifying mentality which not even the aristocracies of Old Europe could pretend to, that led me to embrace a certain kind of High Toryism. Such High Toryism holds the wealthy responsible in ways American laisser-faire never could.

      And I don't think it will come as any surprise to you, either, that I agree with you on the last point of being perpetually surprised and dismayed at American Christendom's (even within Catholic and Orthodox circles, whose members have the Apostolic deposit ready to hand and should therefore know better) acceptance of the ideological status quo as somehow divinely-justified, ordained and therefore exempt from any humane systemic critique.

      Where I think we may disagree slightly is in the treatment of race as being wholly subsumed under economic realities. I sympathise with the argument, of course, but I have to be wary of the dangers in it, precisely because the persons of even 'wealthy' blacks, black folks who've 'made it', are often as much under scrutiny and the violence of the state as poor blacks' (or poor whites') are. There's something more than just applied economics at play, and that's something that needs to be attended to.

      As always, though, your comments are appreciated!


    3. Oh, I don't doubt that race is still something in play for even the wealthy, but racial profiling is a means of displacing frustration that is fundamentally economic. When the poor or low-middling white is presented with the successful and wealthy black, it's like a short circuit. Racism is a means of keeping down, but it's also a means to lay an axe at the root of another's success. Thus, it is a mechanism of resentment. Thus, even though the black man is wealthy, powerful and successful, the claim to a racial hierarchy can always keep you above him, especially when you have the ability to enact it (i.e. as a representative of the state or as some service provider). The same goes with the pop-cultural stereotype of the "white guy has no rhythm", which is intended as a kind of buffet of justification and segregation of social capital.

      Anyway, that's all to say that race is still in play, but I think it's mostly a distraction. Its promulgation is a means to keep people from recognizing commonalities of systemic oppression, this is done through appeals to jealousy and resentment which easily take off. Fractionalization and tribalization of the masses is good for those who pull the strings.

      Thanks for your response. You're a good interlocutor! :)


  2. Sorry, but don't give a rat's @ss about racism. There may be racism in America, but less than in other countries. And it's not the kind of racism (institutional) that will hold you back if you take full advantage of all the opportunities living in this country affords you (free education), instead of squandering them and blaming others. I actually believe blaming racism for everythig holds people back by filling them with a sense of hopelessness and fatalism.

    1. Thank you for the comment, David. But with respect, did you even read the article?

      I make no comment on the state of other countries. I don't 'blame others' for racism, and in fact, I tend to blame the 'tribe' I grew up amongst (northern urban liberals) more than I do 'others'. And it certainly isn't my intent to 'fill' anyone 'with a sense of hopelessness and fatalism', but instead to point to practical measures that we can take to do something about entrenched racial inequities.