November 22, 2007

Racist Nation

There is much consternation and highly dramatic, distressed handwringing in Blogoland over William Saletan's sickeningly awful screeds on exactly why and how those blacks are, you know, stupid. But aw, shucks, sez Saletan, it's not as if it's their fault! They can't help it! It's in their genes.

Why are people surprised by these entirely predictable, regular revelations of overt racism of the most primitive kind? You have no right to be, none at all. My statement assumes people have a basic grasp of actual American history and culture, as opposed to the myths from which they seek comfort, and with which they try to convince themselves and everyone else that "the American model of society is destined to dominate the world, by one means or another, since it is held to be the culmination of human development."

Of course, such an assumption regarding education and knowledge is entirely unwarranted on my part. As I discussed several days ago, the distance between the fables Americans recount around our cultural campfire and reality must be measured in light years. By and large, contemporary Americans -- including every leading member of our political class and most of the media -- are hugely ignorant and deeply immoral.

Vicious, murderous racism, racism repeatedly enacted on a culture- and civilization-destroying scale, lies at the center of American history. We are, in a fundamental sense, a racist nation. Consider an essay of mine from the beginning of this year, which dealt with Biden's nauseating comments about Barack Obama. In "The Racism We Refuse to See," I wrote, in terms that are fully applicable to this latest set-to:
It is rather astonishing that people are taken aback in this manner: vicious racists are hardly unknown in our political life, and they are numerous in both political parties. Moreover, with the ascension of people like Michelle Malkin and Charles Murray into our national discourse, naked racism has become a staple of our debates. Malkin justifies racism in the name of "national security," while Murray seeks to "explain" it with "science" -- but it is all racism.

We are troubled by a still deeper conflict, between our preferred vision of ourselves and the facts of our history. We see ourselves as citizens of the greatest and most civilized nation in all of history. Our nation is also the most moral country in history, and we as individuals are exemplars of personal virtue. The United States represents Absolute Good, or as close to it as humanity will come. (I've discussed this mythology in a number of essays. See, for example, "The National Myth that Sustains Us -- and Its Inevitable Racism," "A 'Redeemer Nation,' with Some Explaining to Do," and "Myths of New Orleans.")

People who are Good cannot be racists. Obviously, many of us are. What to do.

This sanitized version of our history ignores or unforgivably minimizes the genocide of Native Americans, the slaughter and enslavement of African-Americans, a century following the Civil War of government-enforced segregation, discrimination against Jews, the Irish, Italians, Germans, and Hispanic immigrants today -- yet all of this is set aside so the myth can continue.

It also ignores another manifestation of the racism that inevitably proceeds from our mythologized self-assessment: the racism that has permeated our foreign policy for over a hundred years.
The earlier essay has much more on all this.

With regard to the bipartisan drive to American world hegemony, a program fully shared by both Democrats and Republicans, consider once again Hillary Clinton's vilely inhumane "explanation" of the monstrous catastrophe of Iraq:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
That earlier piece, "Some Races Are Just Not as Good as Others," compared Clinton's comments to those offered by Senator Beveridge over a century ago. The dynamics and beliefs underlying the two sets of remarks are identical in every important way. With regard to certain basic moral principles, we have not progressed at all.

Or consider the racism revealed by the controversy over immigration some months ago, and which I analyzed in detail in "The Triumph of Racism" -- and see also a critically relevant followup essay, "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor -- But Not Too Many Jews, and Not Too Many Iraqis", which reviews some especially terrible episodes of anti-immigrant hatred from our past, and in the present.

In the earlier articles, I included statements that starkly reveal the most repellent racism from a substantial cast of characters, spanning more than a hundred years: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Albert Beveridge, as already mentioned, and also from John Kerry, Theodore Roosevelt, self-proclaimed "liberals" like Eric Alterman, and others. In this context, the outrage directed at Saletan is notable only for its high degree of selectivity. I have yet to see more than one or two liberal or progressive bloggers approach anywhere near an equal degree of moral concern and condemnation when similarly vile racist views emanate from the likes of Clinton or Kerry. Most liberal bloggers ignore such statements entirely.

Why, it's almost enough to make you think that many liberals have no compunctions whatsoever about evasion and lying when it suits their particular political purposes, just as is true of the loathsome Republicans. Surely, it can't be that.

So on this Thanksgiving, I offer the following thought: if you are white, male, straight and comparatively affluent, you indeed have much to be thankful for. If you are not, eh. Not so much. This is not to say that virulent racism (and/or sexism and/or sexual identity discrimination and/or classism) is the entire story of America. Obviously, it is not. But a viciously ignorant and destructive racism is a foundational element of our history, and its life is far from spent today. Its lethal effects can be seen in every area of our nation's pursuits and activities. It distorts, cripples and sometimes destroys individual lives beyond number.

Racism is, very simply, evil on a monumental scale. Condemn it wherever and whenever it reveals itself, not just on those occasions when it suits a specific political agenda. And it is perhaps most crucial to condemn it precisely when it is most "inconvenient": when racism motivates people on your "side" and informs certain of their views.

Enough with the selective condemnation, and more than enough with the self-imposed censorship about evil advanced by members of one's own tribe, political or otherwise. On some days, and this is one of them, relocating elsewhere on the planet becomes more and more attractive to me.