When humans go to prison, they have few freedoms. Bathroom time, leisure activity, “work,” when and what you eat, and visitation is regulated for you. However, you retain freedom of association. When prisoners are “free to choose,” they choose to associate with people who look like them; their “race.” All prisons in America exhibit this phenomenon.
The flipside of being free to choose is that people might choose “wrongly.” This human practice of differentiating right from wrong lies in the realm of so-called values.
Who is a “racist” and what is a “value?” The history of racism and bigotry are so terrible that “racist” has become the ultimate epithet. Yet, the word rings hollow — as do our values. Values are what we do, not what we say, but banal yard signs and holy books preaching values not practiced march on. Humans have a propensity to say one thing and do another, operating press-secretary bullshit-generators (human brains) on level 11 to run cover for less-than-beautiful human actions. Pointing out hypocrisy is so easy it seems foolish, yet it is not; it is so endemic to being human that to truly realize it means to start from scratch. It’s an idea so old Christ himself recommended checking the log in your eye.
You can practice values preached. You can try to be consistent. One need not bow to the standard of double-standards. Values are not matters of public flatulence or good manners. If we cannot define our values, who are we? Being “Not Racist” is outlandishly performative; it reflects no underlying reality.
When the Upper Crust hear the word racist, they think of David Duke and Strom Thurmond, their ancestors soaking black children with cold water, and apartheid. Yet, across the World, across America, people continue to perform acts of actual racism. An Uber driver in Los Angeles proudly proclaims, “No soy Centro-Americana” (I am not Central-American). The city council in that same city gets caught on hidden camera. The “Buddhist” people of Myanmar persecute the Rohingya Muslim minority, forcing them to flee; The Buddha would not have approved. Insufficiently sensitive partygoers want to know where guests not like themselves are “really” from. African-American men across the city of Boston harass my 100% white aunt for going anywhere with her 100% biological grandchildren that look 100% African-American; “What are you doing with that black baby?!”
The Official Narrative dictates that neo-Colonial Mindsets can and should be stamped out. Do The Work and pray to high-priest Kendi, and you shall be redeemed. Deplorables and deplorable Worldviews must be asphyxiated by the state to save us from Hatefulness. For those who have felt the sting of racism, and for those who feel the guilt that they have not, tipping the scales towards history’s victims, at least nominally for the latter, seems an appropriate ameliorative; Racism Forever would make Strom Thurmond proud. This tidy Good-Bad dichotomy demands nearly nothing of adherents, empowering like-minded and often like-looking people to go about their “Not Racist” lives of homogeneity, a cheap feel-good moral virtue trick. All the while, Yard Sign People continue to hoover up economic gains, not preaching their practiced values of hard work and a belief in human agency.
Racism invites our reflexive desire to proclaim, “You! Not me!” Nonetheless, humans will continue to make generalizations about groups of fellow humans, whether or not they announce their perceptions out loud; it is central to the perceptive ability and human cognition. That we expect similar behavior from people who look and sound alike is at once tragic and logical. In contrast, championing “anti-racism” de-humanizes the purported beneficiaries of the worldview, encouraging and fostering helplessness, dependency, and ultimately making the most racist judgment of all; those who are not, cannot.
Outcries against racism are virulent because race and reality are joined at the hip. Reality and its multivariate causes are complicated; reflexive impulses are not. Can humans move through life thinking, “Well, let’s break it down” for each situation they encounter? Perhaps not. Does this inability preclude humans from coexisting with people who look and act differently? No. Individuals transcend racism in many of the ways that matter most. The Golden Rule largely reigns, even if the barbershop in Georgia and 94%-white Vermont remain racially as they looked in 1955. The most unpolite place in 2023 isn’t a real place; it is the internet.
Must acknowledging, being curious about, or joking about human difference always be classified as Hate? Should we condemn the curious child who wants to touch hair that is not like hers? Must life be reduced to formulas, nuance discarded? If we ban human discomfort and the potential for bad feelings produced by life’s ambiguities, we discard life itself.
Accepting how humans think doesn’t mean winding the clock back. We are remarkably adept at living in our ahistorical multicultural World, a feat for which civilization seldom receives congratulations. People are generally nice to one another regardless of race or creed. If we abandon the expectation that all Badness be stamped out via fiat — an impossibility given the blurred lines between reality and how each conceives of it — we might start to expect that the political process accomplish things other than protecting us from ourselves. Racism ceases to be the scapegoat for political sclerosis and all that ails us. We can, as in the realm of preached vs. practiced values, start over.
We The People could end our participation in perpetual wars of intervention and nation-building, from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to nuclear-armed Russia, freeing up billions of American dollars that could be otherwise used or given back to Americans. We The People could demand that The Pentagon audit itself, as is demanded of our fellow citizens and businesses. We The People could decide that zoning restrictions are an atrocious attack on property rights which preclude average Americans from ever actually owning property. We The People could change our Constitution to deal with the rights of someone doing fentanyl in a tent on a riverbed. We The People could deal with these problems if We The People expected of ourselves that representative democracy meant “We The People” being civically engaged citizens with feelings of goodwill towards one another participating in government. If we instead expect that We The People protect us from We The People, the current perfect design for ineffective governance, Twitter grandstanding, and algorithms making us hate “the bad guys” persists.