comments_image Comments

Jonathan Chait's Teachable Moment: 10 Lessons About White Supremacy in the Age of Obama

Share

The Yellow King still has me. Jonathan Chait's  new essay on race in the Age of Obama is even more poorly reasoned and problematic than its predecessor.

Obama, Racism, and the Presumption of Innocence is a rebuttal to his critics that finds its momentum in a "reasonable" claim that "evidence" must be provided for the "terrifying" accusation that (white) conservatives are racist. Moreover, Chait would like "liberals" to be fair to conservatives by giving them the benefit of the doubt that while the latter's policies may support white supremacy said actors are not in fact racists.

The second claim is easily dismissed. Why presume fairness in the treatment of movement conservatives on matters of race when their political outreach and strategy has, for at least four decades, been predicated on the unfair treatment of people of color, and the use of white racism to mobilize white voters? While they/we may be too generous and forgiving--this is a flaw of ours--black and brown Americans are not that stupid or gullible.

The Republican Party is a white racist organization.

As I  alluded to in an earlier essay, by way of metaphor, the post-civil rights era Republican Party is comprised of political arsonists on matters of race and social equality. Because of a fundamental concern for personal and public safety, when I see a white conservative with a can of gasoline, matches, and standing in front of a burning building, I will not for purposes of "fairness" assume that this is just a coincidence.

Chait's first demand that "evidence" must be presented as a means of "proving" white racism (or racist outcomes or intent) is worthy of more attention. There, like many others who excuse-make for White Supremacy as a social fact and quotidian reality, Chait is asserting the opposite of reality in order to force a conversation based on an incorrect assumption which then leads to an erroneous conclusion.

Chait shows this intellectual sleight of hand in the following passage:

A few years ago, Melissa Harris-Perry — in a column ironically accusing Joan Walsh herself of racism — argued that those accused of racism should be considered guilty until proven innocent. “I am baffled by the idea that non-racism would be the presumption and that it is racial bias which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt,” she wrote. “If anything, racial bias, not racial innocence is the better presumption when approaching American political decision-making.” Just how a person so accused could overcome the presumption of racism, Harris-Perry did not explain.

A huge proportion of these intra-left debates concern establishing the boundaries of precisely when and how one liberal can fairly accuse another of racism. When it comes to making such accusations against conservatives, do liberals have any evidentiary standards at all? Reading the liberal objections to my piece, I fail to detect any.

In his defense of the White Right and their racial innocence, Chait is demanding a type of racial habeas corpus as a guarantee that white conservatives will not be victims of the "terrifying" power of racist accusations by liberals and progressives.

On the surface, this is a sensible claim; however, many apparently sensible claims are actually masks and smokescreens for the absurd and ridiculous.

The bodies and lives destroyed by white racism and White Supremacy litter the American past and present, the imaginations and futures that will or would not be, as well as the long-past and of today's moment. Jonathan Chait only has to open his eyes to see them. His racial privilege allows him to ignore them. Others are not so deaf or tin-eared to their cries and yearning.