Why So Many Racists Don’t Think They’re Racist

Human Rights

Wendy Bell, an anchorwoman at Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV, was fired this week after posting a missive to Facebook described by various media outfits as: racist, “racist,” racially tinged, racially insensitive and racially charged.

It’s easy to see where the outlets that frame these comments as “racist” (in scare quotes) stand. They see those comments as not really racist, but only interpreted as such by an overly-sensitive population.

It’s also easy to see why so many people are supporting Bell and insisting that what she said wasn’t racist at all. That all she was doing was commenting on “black on black” crime, and that she wasn’t expressing “hate,” that she was just being honest and “telling it like it is.”

In the post, Bell used her psychic powers to determine the race and familial situation of the perpetrators of a recent crime:

“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. … They are young black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”

I get how it can be frustrating to report the same stories day after day, with similar characters and similar problems. But concern-trolling over “the problem” of criminally inclined “young black men” and their hypothetically sexually promiscuous mothers and hypothetically non-existent fathers? That’s not “criminal profiling.” That’s just listing off a bunch of stereotypes.

Also, just because you call it “criminal profiling” doesn’t mean you aren’t being racist. The study of criminology was created by a Northern Italian man named Cesare Lombroso, who dedicated his life’s work to proving that Southern Italians were “born criminals,”  due to their physical characteristics and the fact that he believed they were part black. The Italian government, at the time, paid him well for this–because they wanted a “scientific” reason to rationalize their dislike of Southern Italians, because a “scientific” reason would not mean they were jerks.

Bell also cited an example of a thing that gave her “hope”–a young black man who did not appear to be a criminal:

But there is HOPE. and Joe and I caught a glimpse of it Saturday night. A young, African American teen hustling like nobody’s business at a restaurant we took the boys to over at the Southside Works. This child stacked heavy glass glasses 10 high and carried three teetering towers of them in one hand with plates puled high in the other. He wiped off the tables. Tended to the chairs. Got down on his hands and knees to pick up the scraps that had fallen to the floor. And he did all this with a rhythm like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s going to Make it.

This is not a “racist” statement, it is an obviously racist statement. But it’s the kind of racist statement that people don’t feel like “bad people” for making. Like complimenting a black person on how “articulate” they are, or congratulating an ethnic-looking person who was born here on how well they speak English. Being surprised, or “hopeful” about a black person doing their job and not being a criminal, is insulting and racist. Because it shows that you expect the opposite.

I imagine that Bell would not appreciate it if every time she met a person of color, they congratulated her on the real good job she did not burning a cross on their lawn or being a serial killer.

The reason a lot of people don’t see what she said as racist is because they believe racism necessarily implies hatred. So, unless she were to come out and say “I sure hate black people and think I am better than they are because I am a white person,” they do not understand how it could be racist.It also implies “being a bad person” and most people, generally speaking, think of themselves as “good people” with “good hearts.”

The fact is, you can be racist, or prejudiced, or say something that is racist without being explicitly “hateful.” You could even be downright perky about it—heck, you could even have a black friend. It’s still a problem. It’s better to acknowledge the problem and work to change it than to insist it cannot be true because you are a “good person.” The fact is, there’s no such thing as a “good person”—we all have flaws and we all have things we could improve on, and we can all hurt people even if we don’t explicitly intend to. If you walk into someone by mistake, you apologize—you don’t scream at them “I’m a good person and therefore I couldn’t have hurt you!” 

Predictibly, many of Bell’s defenders insisted that it was actions like WTAE firing her, and people complaining about her racist statements that cause the “racial division” in this country:

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This particular stance has become popular as of late. Very popular, in fact. It’s generally echoed by people who have never had to deal with racism as a direct problem in their own lives, and would very much prefer other people would just shut up about it so that they can go back to pretending that it isn’t a problem for anyone else, either. They need to pretend that it’s all made up for the purposes of causing “division,” or that we are all just fucking with them for shits and giggles, because they realize that if it did exist, and they were doing nothing about it, then they would be assholes.

It is also, of course, very important for them to pretend as though there is a “silent majority” of people backing up their stance on this.”The Silent Majority” of course, consists of a huge amount of people who have very conservative and often racist views on things, and yet somehow never mention it to anyone. How do we know they exist? We do not. But people think if they just keep saying they do, that everyone else will believe that their terrible views are actually very popular.

Then, of course, there are these people:

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There is always a frantic despair in the voices of white people who fervently demand more talk of “black on black” crime, and more talk of what they deem “problems in the black community.” It’s not about any kind of genuine concern, although they do try to play it as such–you don’t see these people demanding any talk about white-on-white crime, despite the fact that, contrary to what this person suggests, 83% of white homicide victims are killed by other white people. You also don’t see them expressing this concern when no one is talking about racism being a problem, or police brutality against black people being a problem.

Similarly, there are also many out there who, when confronted with a news item about a racist incident, will immediately jump to pointing out something they believe a black person did wrong. It’s like it would kill them to say “that was a wrong thing to do” and leave it at that. On some level, they see these things as personal attacks against themselves.

What they are saying, really, is “Can we pleeeeeaaaaase stop picking on what white people do wrong? Black people do stuff wrong too! Why can’t we talk about that! It’s not fair!” It’s basically like a kid trying to defend themselves after getting in trouble for something by pointing out something bad their sibling did.

Again, this is part of the “good person” fallacy. It’s “See? I care even more about black people than they care about themselves! If they really cared about themselves, they’d be on TV denouncing themselves every other day!”

It’s also a way of justifying racist beliefs: “If there are black people doing stuff that is ‘bad’ then I cannot be a bad person for holding racist views about black people.”

Wendy Bell deserved to be fired–it’s the job of a news anchor to be unbiased, and in this instance, she proved that she was not unbiased. It’s just that simple. The less simple thing here is the problem of people who can’t understand why what she said was racist or biased in the first place.

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