May 10, 2010
Tea Parties and RacismBy Robert Weissberg
Get used to it, Tea Partiers: You are going to be called racists. A Google search on "racism tea parties" gets 190,000 hits. Fortunately, I am a self-appointed one-man rescue squad to help beleaguered Tea Partiers fight back. Having written about "racism" for over two decades (this, for example) while being regularly vilified for my racial views, I can speak with some authority on being smeared.
Fighting back begins with understanding how this accusation is manufactured -- and "manufactured" is the correct word.
First, today's Left sees racism as a mental condition independent of behavior. Perhaps this reflects the sharp decline of overt discrimination. One may volunteer daily to help AIDS-infected African-Americans, but this is no defense. Thinking bad thoughts about the AIDS patients receiving your assistance settles the matter.
Two, racism is often indiscernible to the alleged racist. The parallel is unknowingly carrying a lethal genetic defect discernible only under an electronic microscope. The defense "I am not now, nor have I ever been a racist" counts for nothing. Predictably, socially conscious scientists have developed medical-like tests and electronic devises to uncover this hidden, usually denied inclination.
Three, racist thinking impairs the victim independent of the racist's actions. Racism resembles an invisible force, like gravity or magnetism, that just pulls blacks down. The injured party might not even recognize the debilitation. A white, racism-infected doctor may thus hinder his black patient by making seemingly offhand remarks about their jobs. The all-time favorite here is how black youngsters fail academically due to the hidden racism of white teachers and, if the teachers are black, the veiled messages in white-authored textbooks.
Four, truth is a totally inadequate defense. Intent to inflict psychological harm, even if unconscious, trumps data. To insist, for example, that blacks commit more crime than whites, and that this fact is indisputable, again, counts for zero. Broaching this fact signifies racism since the only reason for its expression is to wound. Such facts are sometimes called "hate facts" or "dangerous stereotypes." It is tacitly assumed that while such "hurtful" facts exist and are truthful, a non-racist person can -- or should -- live an entire life without bringing them up. Only racists make them public.
Five, the victim of racism is the best and only judge of racist intent. The alleged racist speaker's intentions and purity of heart count for zilch. Even seemingly innocent praise might be racist. To say, for example, that Obama is articulate might signify racism since it singles out a black for this compliment, an act that would not occur if Obama were white. Just ask Harry Reid on this one.
Six, the hanging judge of racism is the most thin-skinned, sensitive person of all those who might be offended. It is the jury system in reverse: one vote to convict out of twelve seals the verdict. Given that rewards, including litigation settlements that might flow to the most thin-skinned, a Darwin-like competition exists for discerning "racism" invisible or inaudible to others. Nor can the accused counter with "you are being overly sensitive" since "being sensitive to racism" is celebrated in today's identity politics.
Seven, the powerless, which means any allegedly suffering racial or ethnic minority, even women, cannot by definition be racists (whites, no matter how poor, need not apply). So for an African-American to insist that whites are bloodsucking devils is not racist. When 90% of blacks support a black candidate, this is called "community cohesion," but the same pattern among white voters is racist.
What is politically relevant about his cosmology is that it is unfalsifiable, and attempting to refute it scientifically only makes matters worse.
So, Tea Partiers, abandon ye all hope of defending yourselves. We are all familiar with the hapless white sinking into the quicksand all the while exclaiming, "But it's true, government statistics prove it and everybody knows it to be true." And the greater the assembled hard evidence, the more clever the science-based arguments, the shapelier the rejoinders to factual error, the greater the harm inflicted, so the greater the displayed racism. This explains why the Bell Curve was so loathed -- it's the copious documentation that made it so awful.
The history-minded will immediately recognize the quintessentially non-rational human pattern. Jews in medieval Europe were regularly accused of horrific evildoing, and there was no defense. Alleged witches were similarly guilty of wickedness regardless of circumstances. But at least medieval Jews and witches could prove their innocence walking across hot coals or being held under water until God rendered His judgment. Alas, today's Tea Partier enjoys fewer redemption options. Not even having black Tea Partiers helps, since these participants have "obviously" been brainwashed or are not "authentic" blacks.
Is there any escape? Corporations and universities have figured it out. They just hire countless community coordinators, outreach specialists, special assistants, role models, and mentors, donate to black causes, and put Al Sharpton-like agitators on the payroll. But Tea Party folk lack the financial resources and are mostly clueless about this realpolitik.
The Washington Post story recounts how one Tea Party group (FreedomWorks) is trying to exclude the "worst elements." Useless. Imagine investigating prospective participants for past racial indiscretions, requiring them to sign anti-racism pledges, and monitoring them for dangerous remarks (no small problem, since dishonesty abounds when asking about racial issues). Will chronic offenders be expelled -- though not told, of course -- to never darken our door again, since that phrase hints at racism? Might rally organizers censor placards to excluded iffy ones -- e.g., "Go Back to Kenya"? What about double agents shouting racist slogans? Might the movement insist upon affirmative action at rallies lest a demonstration forfeit the "Tea Party" name? More troubling in the long run is the absence of a central Tea Party membership committee to stop rogue "racist" chapters from springing up. Should they be required to have a sign saying "Crispus Attucks died fighting tyranny"?
Ignoring the charges is the only viable solution. The racism indictment is effective only to the extent that it draws a response, and as we saw, the more "reasonable" the response, the worse it becomes for the defender. That's the point -- make Tea Partiers siphon off time and energy better spent elsewhere. Eventually, without any Tea Party rejoinders, the racist charge will be dropped from the Left's repertoire, just as they have cast "warmonger," "elitist," "lily-white" and countless other terms from their verbal weaponry.
Disdaining engagement will not immediately silence the mainstream media ever trolling for "seemingly normal white people gone wild" stories. But the good news is that the public easily tires of such sky-is-falling nonsense. Attention deficit disorder does have its advantages. So when the charge of racism is leveled, ignore it, or just respond with something on the order of "How original! When did you first notice?"
Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana. His latest book is Bad Students Not Bad Schools. badstudentsnotbadschools.com