Sunday, November 14, 2010

Check Yo Self

An anti-Lincoln campaign poster making the rounds on the internet prompted a commenter at Matt Yglesias' blog to make this observation:
The similarities between "Negro worship" and mockingly calling Obama his supporters' Messiah intrigues me.

They really do need to get some new material.

Fascinating.  The conservative relationship with racism is very strange.  It has become conventional wisdom that liberals accuse conservatives of racism simply because that is what they do.  Therefore any suggestion is dismissed out of hand.  And since modern man knows that racism is unequivocally wrong, it can never be admitted or stated explicitly.

But we know that hatred is largely an unconscious and unreasoned phenomenon (otherwise it would no longer exist).  Yet to the conservative, who has never been interested in understanding its roots (how many conservative scholars or intellectuals have set out to understand it; how many have sought to point it out?), racism is largely a matter of conscious belief - "Are blacks or minorities racially inferior, yes or no?"

If the answer is no, then there is no racism.  So one can literally have a poster of the president with a bone through his nose, or watermelons on the white house lawn, and if they claim not to be racist then they must be taken at their word - certainly if they honestly don't believe they are.

Yet the problem with this is that hatred has always largely existed in these sort of nebulous, ill-defined boundaries of human consciousness.  People feel hatred, and it colors how they view the world, how they express themselves.  But they don't know why.  How could they?  Many people will say outright that gay sex makes them feel disgusted.  This was a common feeling among whites with regard to blacks in prior decades.  They didn't know why, and yet it was still acceptable to express explicit racism.

In modern society, where being racist is one of the worst sins, one must never admit to such feelings.  So what to do if they exist?  And further what to do when a part of you wonders if they are hateful, yet a cultural norm of political incorrectness gives you a pass and says it is OK to go right on expressing them?

Most people probably don't feel outright disgust, which is maybe one of the strongest forms of hatred.  But there are many ways in which hate can bubble around in our unconscious without quite making itself known.  Even the most open-minded among us will experience such feelings, and the degree to which we allow them to influence our thoughts can be modified by conscious examination of how hatred works - what cultural and historical forces drive it, what premises and cognitive biases it operates from, etc.

Yet these are exactly the sort of tactics that conservatives A)deny are necessary and B) unlikely to have been trained in.  So, now you have a situation in which conservatives can view racism as wrong, yet like anyone experience hateful feelings, and then lack the cognitive skills to keep them from influencing their ideas.  In fact attempts to do so are countered by a cultural norm of political incorrectness which provides a sort of foil under which to allow hate to flow freely.

What is more, conservatism as a movement can adopt broad platforms based upon hate-influenced premises, even though the degree to which the hate is coloring the assumptions is not understood.  An example of this would be the Arizona law legalizing the profiling of illegal immigrants.  White people who believe themselves to not be racist, rationally consider Hispanics their equals, nonetheless support a law the burden of which falls grossly on Hispanics.  But because they lack the understanding of how racism and hatred have historically operated, they don't know how to critically examine the assumptions underlying their support of the law.  And when liberals criticize the law on racial grounds, conservatism - having experienced this accusation throughout its history (including when it was defending explicit hatred, and today with homosexuality), closes ranks and denies the mere possibility that race "has anything to do with it".

So we get stuck in these cycles in which two competing narratives are built in reaction to the other, and objective examination of the specific issue is almost impossible.  If liberals have become the movement of people seeking to root out racism and hate, conservatives have become the party of denying its existence in all but the most explicit possible cases.  Even if hate has never worked, and never will work this way.

Humans have demonstrated a limitless capacity to fall victim to hateful bias, and therefor must be on constant guard for its infiltration of our unconscious.  This requires understanding how hate works, the structure of its formation within society.  It also requires active resistance, in the form of meta-cognitive analysis, or as the poet Ice Cube famously put it, "Check yourself before you wreck yourself".

No comments:

Post a Comment