All Normal People Are Racists

Generously providing the perfect example of what I was talking about below, John Derbyshire posts these thoughts on Richards' racist outburst at The Corner:

Every normal person harbors some identification with his race, as he does with his family, his nation, his mother-language group, his bowling league, etc. Group identification is a perfectly ordinary facet of human nature—though, like others, more intensely felt in some, less so in others, and possibly absent in a very few.

…Under the system of manners prevailing in current American society, white people may express feelings about their whiteness, or about other folks' non-whiteness, only under a few extremely restricted circumstances, and are in fact taught from an early age to feel that white group identity is an unsavory and antisocial matter. (Non-white people have considerably more latitude in expressing their group identities. Try googling "association of black..." and see how many hits you get. Now change "black" to "white.")

Michael Richards committed a gross breach of those customary rules and restraints—a severe etiquette malfunction, just as much as it he'd started fondling a female audience member. … To assert that this proves him to be different from you and me in some fundamental, essential way—he is a "racist" and I am not—is just an absurd kind of moral preening. Richards may be a bit shorter on self-control than you or me (and that's deplorable enough, in a highly-paid stage performer)... but that's a continuous variable, too, not a binary quality.
See what he did there? To claim you don’t harbor prejudices (niftily redefined and thusly minimalized here as "some identification with his race" felt by "every normal person") is "just an absurd kind of moral preening." To say that you don't share the belief that any broad generalizations can be made about other races, no less your own, cannot possibly be honest, but only a pretense upon which you rely to advance self-righteousness. It is only because you have etiquette that you do not espouse "feelings about [your] whiteness, or about other folks' non-whiteness," not because you possibly lack those feelings in the first place.

What "feelings" am I meant to have about my whiteness? I have none, except insofar as it confers upon me undeserved privilege, which I disdain. Being white does not intrinsically affect my life at all, aside from perhaps being less prone to some diseases or more prone to others, which has no bearing on my self-identity. It is how our society treats me because I am white that matters, and I have feelings about that, not about my "whiteness" in the group-identification sense suggested by Derbyshire.

It is ludicrous to suggest that "non-white people have considerably more latitude in expressing their group identities" when we are constantly going around trumpeting our heritage as Scots, Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Greeks, etc. etc. etc. Am I seriously meant to resent that Googling "association of black" yields more hits than "association of white," when our history stripped our first black "immigrants" of their nationalities, but most whites need only consult their last names to know from whence they came? Fuck's sake. Why do I get the feeling Derbyshire thinks Malcolm X were born of parents called Mr. and Mrs. X?

Oh, hello. We’re the Xs.

Are you of the Charleston Xs?

No, no. The Middlebury Xs.

But in spite of the absurdity of Derbyshire's suggestion, he suggests it nonetheless, because it's great fun to point out the inequity suffered by us poor white folks in our oppressive culture. Damnable polite society, forcing us to keep our "feelings" about whiteness to ourselves while the darkies have all the fun.

Of course the problem isn't that Richards—like all other "normal" people, by Derb's definition—is harboring ugliness to which some of us simply don't subscribe by virtue of having already done, without the impetus of a public breakdown, the personal work of analyzing and rejecting the prejudices our society does its best to ingrain. The problem is that he let it slip. So shame shame for expressing it, but not for thinking it. After all, Richards merely suffered "a severe etiquette malfunction, just as much as if he'd started fondling a female audience member." Yeah, just like that. Because all men, if they weren’t constrained by polite society, would grope women against their wishes, and there's no problem with thinking that women's bodies are community property, as long as you don't act on it.

Via Ezra, who shortens Derb to: "If given half an opportunity, we'd all break into vicious, racist rants." Indeed.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus