FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Amnesty for Racists?

by BRIAN J. FOLEY

The headline asked the right question: “Are We Bigots?”  But the story wasn’t about the George Zimmerman “stand your ground” trial, and it wasn’t even about Americans.  It was in the July 18 KOREA TIMES here in Seoul and reflected on whether Koreans discriminate against people from other countries.

What struck me was that “Are we bigots?” is a question most Americans don’t ask themselves. Americans seem to have given up on introspection and concluded that they aren’t bigots, aren’t racists. The U.S. has moved beyond racism and its Jim Crow past, the thinking goes, and as the United States Supreme Court concluded in its recent case gutting part of the Voting Rights Act.

Merely suggest to an American that he might be racist, and you’ll get responses such as, “I’m sick of being called racist because I think Zimmerman is innocent! I’m sick of being called racist just because I hate Obama! I AM NOT A RACIST!!!!”

The strong denials come because we’ve been conditioned to recognize that racism is awful. It’s one of the worst things one can be in America 2013.  If you admit to it, you’re cooked –just ask Paula Deen.  Racism ranks among child molesting, cockfighting, and blowing second-hand smoke in a baby’s face.

No wonder Americans get so defensive and stand their ground so strongly when they feel attacked in this way.

The widespread attitude among Americans that racism is evil is a sign of great progress.  But ironically, the strategy that made us see racism as so terrible is now keeping us from making further progress. We’re stuck, standing our ground in an America that refuses to recognize just how racist it is.

What’s happened is that our racism has been driven underground, into our unconscious minds. Many if not most Americans harbor some unconscious racism.  As Michelle Alexander wrote in her stunning book about how our criminal justice system disproportionately targets blacks, “the fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias. Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks even though you do not believe you do and do not want to” (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness (2010), p. 107, emphasis added).

It’s already hard enough to recognize unconscious racism in yourself. It’s even harder if you refuse to look for it.  After all, who wants to devote effort to finding out if he’s a racist, the lowest of scum, a monster?

So if we want make further progress against racism, especially unconscious racism, we have to adopt a new strategy.  Strangely, we have to make racism less of a dirty word, not more. We’re going to have to denounce it less.

Because the more we denounce racism and racists, no matter how well-intentioned we are, the more difficult we make it for people to ask, “Am I racist?”

We need to make it widely understood that unconscious racism isn’t a reflection of a person’s evil character, that it isn’t a “choice”; it’s an affliction, a disease, an infection from the wider culture, including ghosts from the past.

Think alcoholism. The recent practice of seeing alcoholism as a disease rather than as a moral failing has made it easier for alcoholics to seek help.  Support and understanding are more effective than denunciation in getting an alcoholic to take that first step: admitting he has a problem.

It’s time for an amnesty of sorts for racists, an attitude of truth and reconciliation such as helped South Africans begin to recover from apartheid. South Africans realized that denial would keep them stuck, so they brought the racism and all its consequences out in the open. Perpetrators faced their victims – and their own racism.

We may not have to do anything so drastic.  Instead, we can start by making it acceptable and indeed laudable for Americans to admit they’re racists – and that they’re working to understand and overcome their racism.  Why not create self-help materials and form support groups?  Why not Racists Anonymous?  If people are honest, the meetings will be crowded.  That would be a sign of progress.

Making it OK to admit that we’re a nation of racists would be a huge step toward eradicating racism and fostering true justice. Let’s try this strategy and turn the tragic “stand your ground” case into an opportunity to move forward.

Brian J. Foley is living in Seoul this summer. He’s a law professor and author of the satirical financial self-help book, A New Financial You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan (Gegensatz Press 2011). Reach him at brianjfoleyinc@gmail.com

 

 

 Brian J. Foley is a lawyer and the author of A New Financial  You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan (Gegensatz Press). Contact him atbrian_j_foley@yahoo.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail