Why are Liberal Pundits Like Jonathan Chait So Afraid to Call Republicans Racist?
White racial terrorism in places like Tulsa and East Saint Louis was the tyranny of white supremacy in human form, bombing, killing, raping, and burning black people alive and their communities to the ground. Anti-racism has created no such terrors or blood-letting where white conservatives are victims.
I would like to develop my earlier thoughts on Jonathan Chait's bizarre feature for New York Magazine about race in the Age of Obama a bit more.
Tommy Christopher, writing over at The Daily Banter, kindly linked to my criticism of Chait's false equivalence excuse-making for white conservative racism.
He featured the following observation from a longer essay where I argued that:
Jim and Jane Crow were terrifying. Lynching parties that dismembered black bodies, cut them apart, forced black men to eat their own penises as the price for a “merciful killing”, or the white rampaging mobs that destroyed black wealth, life, and many dozens (if not hundreds of black communities) during the Red Summers of the American post World War one era, are terrifying.
The slave ship and the many millions killed during the Middle Passage are terrifying. The chattel slavery auction block is terrifying. The mass rape and murder of black men, women, and children on the charnel house plantations of the American slaveocracy, both after the seasoning process and in the hell that awaited the survivors of the Middle Passage, is terrifying.
Men like George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn who can kill black people at will under Stand Your Ground Laws are terrifying. Police who have the power of life and death, and can use that power to murder black people who are “armed” with house keys, wallets, phones, or their empty hands is terrifying. The “don’t get killed by the cops” lecture that responsible black parents give their children is terrifying.
The thought that how despite one’s successes and educational accomplishments that because they are identified, however arbitrarily, as “black” in America means that their resume will get thrown in the garbage, a mortgage will have higher interest, or how doctors will not give proper treatment or necessary pain medication, is terrifying.
It would seem that in some ways I "buried my lede".
The most troubling part of Chait's essay "The Color of His Presidency" is his suggestion that anti-racism is some type of "terrifying" social force in American life.
Few liberals acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally. Though the liberal analytic method begins with a sound grasp of the broad connection between conservatism and white racial resentment, it almost always devolves into an open-ended license to target opponents on the basis of their ideological profile. The power is rife with abuse.
Of course, such a claim is absurd. However, it is compelling for those who believe that white supremacy is a passing fad, something vanquished from American life, and how people of color--black folks in particular--are now the "real racists".
Shorter version: if black and brown folks would stop talking about racism the problem would go away. This is the central fantasy of aggrieved whiteness with its delusions of white innocence and black bullying along the colorline. American society was forged by white racism and white supremacy. The valiant resistance against the status quo by people of color and a few white allies helped to make America a more inclusive democracy.
I have read The Color of His Presidency several times. It has received praise from Isaac Chotiner at the New Republic as a "superb" piece of work. Others have also said kind things about The Color of His Presidency. I remain vexed and disappointed by it.
I generally like Chait's work. But, his latest essay makes me feel like I have watched some Lovecraft-inspired play that makes its viewers go insane. As a piece of work that purports to analyze the role of race in American politics, The Color of His Presidency is akin to the Yellow King: one cannot study it too much or they will go mad.
[I wonder how President Obama, who counts Chait as one of his favorite political essayists, feels about The Color of His Presidency? I worry that Barack Obama would agree with Chait's central thesis about racial "paranoia".]
Nevertheless, I have gleamed several conclusions from Chait's riddle.
The Color of His Presidency is the very type of writing on race by supposed "liberals" which makes people of color and serious anti-racists deeply suspicious of the commitment of the mainstream "Left" (who are really centrists and Left-leaning Republicans of another age) to social and racial justice.
The Color of His Presidency rings of a default type of white tribalism and an effort to understand and excuse-make for white racism across the political divide. As such, racism is just a bad habit or an outlier of bad behavior practiced by otherwise good and decent white people who we may happen to disagree with politically.
The centrality of white supremacy to American politics and history is lost and pushed away because it is inconvenient for how Whiteness (and White people) imagines itself as benign.
Chait's piece also seems to rely on a logic that racism in the service of politics is "just" politics as usual. Politicians will use any tool to gain leverage. If racism and white supremacy--or white racial animus and resentment--are part of the toolbox, then a given political actor should be judged not as a "racist" per se, but rather as someone who uses racism for political advantage.
Politics is about power, the allocation of resources and opportunities, and basic matters such as safety and security. For people of color, white racism and white supremacy are political projects that profoundly impact our life chances, health, sanity, and freedom from violence in negative ways.
America practiced state-sponsored racial terrorism and tyranny against non-whites for most of its history. Apartheid was not a crime against humanity only in South Africa. American Apartheid, de facto and de jure, was beaten back as a force of law, but remains entrenched institutionally as a type of day-to-day practice in the post civil rights era.
The victims of white racism, especially those people of color excluded from systems of white privilege and white advantage, cannot sit back and compartmentalize white supremacy as some type of interesting intellectual puzzle, or a footnote asterisk on public policy. That is a luxury allowed for those who do not have to deal with the lived consequences which result from excuse-making for white racism.
Chait's exercise in white victimology and excuse-making for Republican racism exhibits a common habit of white liberals and centrists among the American pundit classes (and likely of many white folks in their private lives) when the "race issue" comes up in conversation.
Racism is complicated and multi-dimensional. Nevertheless, we can develop a basic rubric for understanding it. We are what we do; our habits are reflections of our values and beliefs. As such, racists do racist things. As Chait concedes, for decades the Republican Party has relied on a concerted effort of white racist appeals, dog whistles, and other tactics under the guiding principle known as the Southern Strategy, to mobilize its base.
At present, the Republican Party is a White identity organization, a White People's Political Party, and the "polite" face of White Supremacy in America.
Conservatives who advance those interests are racists.
This plain on the face fact is dodged, avoided, talked around, and denied by the mainstream news media. Why? because to tell the truth is to risk career suicide by falling into the trap laid by the White Right and its propaganda machine wherein charges of racism are fuel for the rage engine.
Movement conservatism in the post civil rights era is functionally the same thing as racism. The Republican Party has developed this brand name. They should be held accountable for the decision.
White supremacy and racism are civic evils. By implication, those who practice, enable, support, or use white identity politics for political gain--such as the Republican Party in the Age of Obama--are practicing civic evil.
Why are liberal pundits like Jonathan Chait afraid to hold conservatives and the Republican Party accountable for their racism as opposed to making excuses for it?