Racism's Not Dead Either

« August 2014 »

Memo to America: WOW. WE'RE REALLY RACIST.

See, here's the thing. I was born in 1969. That means I started going to school in the mid-70s, in sort of a sweet spot between the civil rights movement and the Southern Strategy. That means my formative years were chock full of multiculturalism. Did that make me not racist? Well, not exactly, but it certainly helped, and it certainly kept me from being openly racist until I could become self-aware enough to identify and start stamping out any internalized, institutional racism I may have picked up just from living here.

The downside of this is that I tend to see institutional racism and I tend to see racists, but I tend to skim over the middle ground. An institution is, after all, made up of people, and if the institution is racist, a lot more people than capital R Racists are racists. But in the past few weeks, I'm really starting to see that a whole lot of us are really, really, really fucking racist, and are willing to admit it.

The catalyst for this, or at least for crystallizing it, was an AP article about Michael Brown. And the example, as I'm sure you must have predicted, is TV's Hercules, Kevin Sorbo. Wait, you didn't predict that, even though his starring role in the breakout and long-overdue visualization of reflexive Nietsche-backlash "God's Not Dead" outed him as the kind of person who would star in "God's Not Dead"? Then you're in for a treat.

But first, the AP article. It was a bit of a puff piece around how Michael Brown would be remembered by the people who knew him his entire life. As such, it focused primarily on his entire life, and focused a lot less on the one day that made him famous. In other words, largely positive stuff.

And then there were comments. Oh, were there comments. Comments that focused entirely on the day that made Brown famous, and how that day clearly made the memories of those other 18 years a liberal/Negro lie. The words "strong-arm robbery" were used a lot, because that sounds scarier than "shoving a clerk". The word "thug" was used a lot. So was the word "marijuana", which is, when smoked by white people with medical cards is the subject of comedy and when smoked by a black person is a violence-inducing jazz cigarette and evidence of "gangbanging", another word that got thrown around a lot.

Myths about the extent of Darren Wilson's injury abounded. The now questioned, if not debunked, "fractured eye socket" promoted by Fox News had, in at least one case, become Wilson's eye being KNOCKED OUT OF HIS SOCKET. A handful of cigarellos became evidence of a life of crime. Brown's college plans were called into question.

This is, of course, hella fucking racist. Yes, the AP piece failed to mention the theft, the marijuana, and of course the full and complete distance Darren Wilson's eye had to fly before he legally defended himself against the Always Prefaced By Height And Weight Michael Brown. But there's a difference between people who knew him talking about a full life and leaving out one day, and a bunch of yahoos on the Internet taking the worst possible interpretation of every single reported fact (and fake fact) and then extrapolating from that that Michael Brown was a savage, an animal, who had to be put down.

And man, am I seeing those two loaded terms a lot lately. Savage. Animal. I'm pretty sure there was a time when, even if you thought calling black people savages and animals, you didn't do it. Hell, wasn't more than a month and a half ago that doing that would get you fired from your satellite radio show. And you'd have your defenders, sure, but still. Social stigma.

Which brings us to Kevin Sorbo. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

“Ferguson riots have very little to do with the shooting of the young man,” he wrote. “It is an excuse to be the losers these animals truly are. It is a tipping point to frustration built up over years of not trying, but blaming everyone else, The Man, for their failures. It’s always someone else’s fault when you give up.” - Sorbo, on Facebook, I guess so that his high school buddies could confirm he's a racist.

And I'm not trying to pick on Sorbo. I mean, yeah, I'm trying to pick on Sorbo, because fuck that third-tier-cable-reality-show-star. But what's more troubling is the way he tossed off the phrase "these animals truly are" so casually, mirroring the phrasing that has been rampant in the wake of Ferguson.

On the upside, Sorbo felt compelled to delete the post and apologize. On the downside, his apology was disingenuous, claiming he was calling just the looters "animals". Which is still racist, but there's a world of racist difference between "Looters are animals", which ties the description to an activity, and "these animals truly are", which speaks to an innate quality. Also, if Kevin Sorbo were actually distinguishing between looters, rioters, protestors, and African-American citizens, he'd be the first conservative in the wake of Ferguson to honestly do so.

Some people will say that it's good that these feelings are out in the open, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But there's an entire, separate information ecosystem for these people to live in now, where thinking that black people are savage animals, and saying it, is perfectly acceptable, and anyone who says otherwise is "the real racist". We've somehow allowed sunlight-resistant strains of racism to develop, and we don't have anything that'll stamp it out. So we just have to live amongst the ugliness.