Heard a caller to Mark Thompson’s show on Sirius/XM Progress (good channel) last night and it crystallized this action/reaction/re-reaction paradigm we have going on regarding race as a political football.
The caller claimed to presently be a Libertarian who voted for Johnson and against Trump in this election, but had been a Democrat, even worked for Clinton/Gore in 1992. His concern that turned him away from the Dem. column was identity politics and specifically that the “race card” is constantly being played, the word “racist” constantly being thrown out there.
Thompson, who is a black activist, did not engage him in any real way. I think this election has frayed his last nerve and his ability to calmly discuss this is at 0% right now. He attacked instead, saying he didn’t believe the person’s claim about being an erstwhile Dem. Thompson called him a troll. Now Thompson gets a lot of trolls, but this guy likely wasn’t. It made me think about what the correct response would be.
I think (I believe) it’s engagement and to find some agreed upon ground. “You would agree there’s racism, right?” “Do you agree that when unarmed black people are shot dead, it’s at least partly racism?”, that sort of thing. Reasonable people almost always agree on these matters, and you can talk from there. If not, they are a troll and likely either a racist or willing to brook racism, so hang up.
What we have is a political atmosphere where if a potentially racist act takes place, individual or systemic, then activists call attention to it. Then those activists are called out by conservatives/conservative outlets, reflexively, to blunt the political power and negate the message of the activists. Which only heightens the stakes.
At some point the word “racist” is invoked, angrily!
And the conservative responds with equal anger, claiming equal victimization “so we’re all racists who disagree with you?” Then they go over the line and invoke reverse racism saying “Really, you’re the racists.”
And then everybody shouts and CHAOS!!
So frustratingly, (soooo frustratingly!!!) you have gone from calling out racism to a he said/she said with both sides calling racism! It’s another brilliant media manipulation by conservatives because then a lot of media backs away and says “bothsides!! no one right!!”
So it’s a trap. There’s no way to avoid that trap except to call it out before it even happens. That doesn’t mean that activists need to be more cautious in stepping in and calling out situations that may have a racial component. You can’t hesitate to do that – although granted it should never be done capriciously. And by the way there are so many at any given time, that activists are spread quite thin, nobody needs to invent racist incidents in this country, even before Trump.
The answer is always to be calm and keep asking questions. Individuals who are open to the message that there’s not as much racism as the activists say and the activists are the bigger problem, need to be asked:
“Which is the bigger problem, racism or activists calling out racism?”
“Should people just let racism go?”
“What do you propose they should do, other than protesting?”
“Why is it such an important matter to you that acts that may be racist are not called out? Again, do you believe that more often than not when people are accused of racism they are being unjustly accused?”
“Is it that in your judgment that the activists call racism too much? Well, how much is right? Why do you judge them harsher than their targets and why is it important to you?”
“Isn’t it also identity politics, to call reverse racism and defend potential racist acts without the facts, as a counter-political act?”
If we agree that calling out racism is important and appropriate, and reasonable people do, then setting yourself up as a counter to the activists to become questioners of the activists is also identity politics – that trope is just hypocrisy. We should always let the facts guide us on whether there’s actual racism involved in any instance. Can’t the broader public decide on that without some reflexive political backlash questioning the accusation. If we’re being generous we could call it a dialectical equation of thesis/anti-thesis = synthesis, but it doesn’t feel like a process that adds understanding. It feels like obfuscation and cognitive dissonance for political purposes.
I think that if you remain calm and question their actual beliefs and motives you will either come to some agreement that their concerns are maybe not as well thought out as they thought. You don’t have to accuse them of racism, or white privilege (although it’s the definition of white privilege to deny racism because you don’t see it).
The conservative trope that the liberals call all the conservatives “racist” is just a way to dismiss real racism. Not “everybody” is being called racist. Those people who are extreme enough to do so (and I don’t know any) are not given media time.
My bottom line is that one side is fighting for racial equality and justice, the other for a political point in the guise of justice and grievance. So how do you give equal power to both of them?
It is the epitome of identity and grievance politics to reflexively defend people who may be racist because they’re you’re race and claim equal grievance in doing so.