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The varieties of racist experience


Here is a very preliminary typology (academic-speak for I just thought this up and am throwing it out there) of various strands of racism in the USA right now.

Visceral Racism

This is racism based on strong negative emotional reactions — disgust, fear, loathing — to non-white bodies.  I once knew a woman, the wife of a very prominent businessman in a major American city, who would not eat food at a certain famous black-owned restaurant in that city, because the food had been handled by black people.  She would not swim in a swimming pool with black people in it for the same reason.  She believed they had “stuff” (her word) on them that contaminated what black people came in contact with.  (I don’t know to what extent, if any, these beliefs extended to other non-whites).

Now this woman was — hopefully — an extreme case, but I suspect that disgust-laden phobias about non-white bodies are still commonplace in America, 54 years after the Civil Rights Act eliminated racism.

Scientific Racism

This is racism based on the belief that science proves that white people are intellectually superior to black people, and that the refusal to acknowledge that this has been established by Science is just a symptom of “political correctness.”  See the collected works of Charles Murray, although Murray et. al. are merely extending a very old tradition:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we ——”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California —” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and ——” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “— And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

In this passage from The Great Gatsby, written in 1924, Fitzgerald is mocking the The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy, Lothrop Stoddard’s highly influential 1920 polemic, arguing for restricting non-white immigration, eugenic measures, etc.

This brand of racism is now making a big comeback, after falling seriously out of favor as a result of certain unpleasant European developments in the 1930s and 1940s.

Nationalist Racism

This brand of racism is deeply entangled with nationalism, which at bottom is a perverse form of patriotism:

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’(1). But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

Nationalism naturally and probably inevitably takes on an overtly racist character, since in almost all nations a significant portion of the population will always consider the dominant ethnic group to be identical to the nation itself, with other members of the nation having at best a kind of courtesy status as citizens.  Here is a typical 19th-century example, from the English novelist Thackeray (in Thackeray’s time, it was standard to consider members of various nationalities to be members of different races, if not actually different species):

I say to you that you are better than a Frenchman. I would lay even money that you who are reading this are more than five feet seven in height, and weigh eleven stone; while a Frenchman is five feet four and does not weigh nine. The Frenchman has after his soup a dish of vegetables, where you have one of meat. You are a different and superior animal — a French-beating animal (the history of hundreds of years has shown you to be so).

Strategic Racism

This brand of racism is found among people who may not have a particularly strong inclination toward visceral or scientific or nationalist racism.  Instead, they consciously parrot racist rhetoric for strategic ends, without necessarily believing or not believing what they’re saying (in other words, they are “bullshitting,” to use Harry Frankfurt’s technical term).

For example, when Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham constantly repeat classic racist tropes on the Fox News White Supremacy Propaganda Network, do they actually believe what they’re saying/selling?  It’s hard to tell, and it’s also hard to tell if in the end it really matters. To quote our own Cleek keta:

You know what most disgusts me about pure shitstains like Ingraham and Carlson? What makes me relegate them and others like them to the absolute lowest order possible of human meatsacks we’re asked to share space with? The fact that there’s certainly some measure of racial animus and distaste in their fatally flawed characters but that the really nasty shit they spew, the foul and disgusting pandering to the most base instincts of their audience, is mostly posturing to simply to accrue money, and power, and influence.

I actually have a smidgen of an iota of a scintilla of respect for someone who’s so fucked in the head that they loudly and constantly scream about how they’re defined by hate and it consumes every fibre in their pathetic corporeal being. It’s completely and utterly disgusting, but it’s honest. Compare the craven, lubricious, smarmy fucksticks whose philosophy shades in that direction and decides their path to fame and fortune is to inflame and cater to those worst elements in our society simply as an exercise in self-aggrandizment. These are the lowest of the low. To cater to the despicable simply for personal gain elicits from me as much scorn and contempt as I can muster.

George Wallace is probably the best historical example.

Anti-Anti-Racist Racism.

Also yclept the Intellectual Dark Web.  This is “liberal” or at least not overly right-wing racism as “anti-PC” contrarianism.  It insists on protecting racist expression on the basis of the obviously absurd idea that universities etc. “should be open to all viewpoints.” (As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, demanding a university should be open to all viewpoints is identical to demanding that it cease functioning as a university).  It also based on the idea, with inevitable citations to On Liberty, aka the most overrated book in the history of political philosophy, that the best cure for bad speech is good speech.  Note how this proposition is never actually tested or even argued for: it’s merely asserted as a self-evident truth.

Of course in many if not most cases two or more of these various strains of racism will intermingle to greater and lesser degrees in the same person, and some trace of all of them can be found in just about anyone raised in this culture.

Feel free to add modifications, expansions etc.

. . . Missed a super obvious one (there’s a fly in my Chardonnay):

Fragile White Liberal Racism

Robin DiAngelo explains.

Also, as several commenters have already pointed out I Don’t See Color Racism should probably be its own category.




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