You, sir, are a racist!
If, as even a mild fan of this site and its years’ long crusade against linguistic abuses and the pernicious and cynical assignation of malign motives by way of self-serving antifoundationalist narrative conceit so easily adopted and institutionalized by the left (and, sadly, now being used more and more by an unprincipled “pragmatic” right to marginalize its own base), you only read one thing today — other than this, directing you what to read, I mean — make it Kevin Williamson’s piece, “Racism! Squirrel!,” reprinted from the Dec 31 issue of National Review. Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:
It is no accident that American progressives put so many of us in mind of our Puritan ancestors: not for their virtues, such as they are, but for their sanctimoniousness, their humorlessness, their grim little mouths set permanently in rictuses (surely Mr. Salesses would insist on “ricti”) of self-satisfaction biting down on disgust. Like the accusers in 17th-century Salem or the contemporary Wahhabist eager to behead such witches as may be found lingering upon Saudi soil, the progressive sees the work of the Archnemesis everywhere at all times — especially when there is something to be gained from doing so.
As in the case of witchcraft, trials on charges of racism admit spectral evidence. Martin Bashir on the IRS scandal: “Republicans are using [it] as their latest weapon in the war against the black man. ‘IRS’ is the new ‘nigger.’” Touré on Mitt Romney’s vocabulary: “[He] said ‘anger’ twice. . . . I don’t say it lightly, but this is niggerization.” Jonathan Capehart: Mentioning that Obama went to Harvard is racist “because it insinuates that he took the place of someone else through affirmative action, that someone else being someone white.” Lawrence O’Donnell: “The Republican party is saying that the president of the United States has bosses, that the unions boss him around. Does that sound to you like they are trying to consciously or subconsciously deliver the racist message that, of course, of course a black man can’t be the real boss?” Janeane Garofalo: “Do you remember teabaggers? It was just so much easier when we could just call them racists. I just don’t know why we can’t call them racists, or functionally retarded adults. The functionally retarded adults, the racists — with their cries of, ‘I want my country back.’ You know what they’re really saying is, ‘I want my white guy back.’” Karen Finney on Herman Cain: “They like him because they think he’s a black man who knows his place.” Chris Matthews: “It’s the sense that the white race must rule . . . and they can’t stand the idea that a man who’s not white is president. That is real, that sense of racial superiority.” Etc., ad nauseam.
Touré’s concept of “niggerization” is very subtle, so subtle, in fact, that only the most discerning of sensibilities — presumably Touré’s — can detect it, like one of those world-class master sommeliers uncovering notes of burnt pencil shavings in an ’82 Bordeaux. The less subtle forms of that phenomenon — for example, using the famous racial epithet on national television — have been in the 21st century restricted to members of the political party that Touré supports, for reasons that are no doubt subtle beyond the brute understanding of the uninitiated. And that is the state of play today: When Robert Byrd, a Democratic senator and Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, helpfully elucidates the concept of “white niggers” on the evening news, that’s an unfortunate episode that demands sympathy for the wretched old coot. But when the Associated Press accurately transcribes the current president’s faux-folksy “g”-dropping — “Stop complainin’,” etc. — the verdict from MSNBC is not just “racist” but “inherently racist.”
Except he really does talk that way. Sometimes. And if you’ve ever noticed that Barack Obama’s propensity for slipping into ersatz southern cornpone preacher-speak correlates with the complexion of the audience being addressed, you might wonder who, exactly, is behaving in a way that is “inherently racist.” [...]
In a Buzzfeed piece on racial “microaggressions,” a young woman complained that she was victimized by racism in the form of having been picked to play the part of Dora the Explorer in a school skit “just because I’m Mexican.” Dora the Explorer, for the record, is not Mexican, but instead belongs to a demographic cohort of recent vintage: generic Latina.
The question of the nationality and ethnicity of fictitious characters known to us mainly through cartoons is a hot zone of bizarre 21st-century racial politics, as Megyn Kelly of Fox News found out when, in the course of pretending to believe that Santa Claus is real, she noted that he is a white man. This was in the context of a discussion about a daft column by Slate’s Aisha Harris, headlined “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.” In that column, Ms. Harris describes the pain and humiliation she felt at having the image of a white Santa inflicted on her as a child, noting with disapproval that “even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas.” She suggested replacing the jolly old saint with a penguin. Penguins are awesome, even if there are none near Santa’s North Pole HQ, but unlike Dora the Explorer, Santa Claus has a pretty well-established point of origin: The character is not only white but Dutch, which makes him so white that if it weren’t for his rosy cheeks you’d lose him in a snowstorm. In other news of fictitious ethnicity, Hamlet is a Dane and Othello is a Moor, and Stephen Dedalus is an Irishman with a non-Irish surname. But things being what they are, Ms. Kelly’s affirmation of Santa’s white-guy status was a national mini-scandal, while Ms. Harris’s odd confession of being disturbed by images of people who are racially unlike her was not. One of these things is much closer to racism than is the other.
[...] Practically anything can be racism in the 21st century — except racism. Internal memos from Senator Dick Durbin’s office reveal that he took special care to sabotage the court nomination of Miguel Estrada because “he is Latino,” a fact that made him “politically dangerous.” Jesse Jackson can use anti-Semitic epithets all day, Philadelphia mayors can attest that “the brothers and sisters are running the city” (small boast!), Joe Biden can mistake Apu from The Simpsons for documentary evidence about the lives of Indians in the United States, and Robert Byrd can use the most offensive racial epithet in the English language in front of millions of people, but . . . can we talk about “microaggressions” instead?
The Left needs racism, because unlike their good, old-fashioned Marxist forebears, the postmodern Left’s politics is not rooted in economics or history but in narrative — the most adolescent narrative: Good Guys and Bad Guys. (You could call it Cowboys and Indians, but that would be . . . ) If the other side is Hitler, then almost anything is acceptable, because Hitler can’t win. But, unfortunately for the inventors of national crusades, you don’t get a lot of Hitlers. So Hitlers must be invented.
At this point in history, the Left needs a spectral standard of evidence when convicting its opponents of racism because there is so little actual evidence to be found. Right = Racist is an article of faith on the left, facts be damned. The Republican party has relatively few black officeholders, which is taken as evidence of Republican racism. But the Republican party is also extraordinarily solicitous of its black officeholders: Mia Love is in many ways an impressive mayor, perhaps the best mayor Saratoga Springs, Utah, ever has had, but it is difficult to believe that a middle-aged white male Mormon Republican who could not manage to win a House race in Utah would have become a superstar of comparable incandescence. But the Left’s story is that Republicans have few black officeholders because they are racist, and if they try to encourage black candidates, that’s racist, too, just another quest for a “black man who knows his place.” So Republicans are racists both when opposing affirmative action in the public sphere and when practicing it in the private sphere. And Democrats are pursuing virtue when they block a judicial nominee simply because he is Latino. Those are the new rules.
The old rules were better. To accuse a person or a movement of racism is a serious thing. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had a deep appreciation of that fact, which is one of the reasons he often pointed out that Barry Goldwater was not himself a racist, though he opposed civil-rights measures for which the Reverend King and his associates fought and bled. Perhaps there is something about the literal bleeding for a cause that makes men more serious. Another reason that MLK did not call Senator Goldwater a racist is that he did not wish to look like a fool, the charge being utterly unsupportable.
It is that last bit — fear of looking the fool, or feeling what should be a strong and vehement backlash against the “throw racism charges against every wall then see if we can make it stick to some of them” strategy used by so many on the quasi-academic left — that has for too long been removed from the social equation, as political correctness and, yes, the poststructuralist “death of the author” (that is, the institutionalized transference of the locus of meaning from the individual to some motivated interpretive community who assumes ownership over another’s signifiers, re-imagines them as new signs, and then appends that often diabolical vulgarity back to the original utterer whose meaning was precisely the opposite) has gained traction, even on the right, where so many on “our” side rush (ahem) to get out in front of certain utterances made by their own at least ostensibly ideologically compadres by being quick to express their own showy outrage, not because they believe the utterance they’re quick to condemn was meant maliciously by one of their “own”, but rather because they fear what they’ve come to accept, almost fatalistically, are the political realities of language and cultural narrative: the left owns meaning and controls the national dialogue, and thus it is the job of the right to speak in the most careful, benign terms possible to avoid what are sure to be the attacks on their messaging, with each utterance set upon by progressives combing them over for hints of homophobia, racism, sexism, nativism, ageism, etc.
The proper answer to all this — and I’ve spent over a decade now saying it in various ways — is to point out the incoherence of the interpretive paradigm we’ve come to accept as legitimate. But that get’s boring, and as it oftentimes moves into the jargon of semiotics — when what we all know bloggers on the right who aren’t fundamentally unserious should be doing is spending each day pointing out the latest leftist hypocrisy or malignancy — I’ve refined what should be the new rote response to such charges. And here it is: “I don’t hate races; but I do hate individuals, irrespective of their race, who so casually accuse me of the most disgusting of social offenses. So either get out of my face, or invite my hand across it. Your call.”
I believe it was Samuel Johnson who once said, “nothing so clarifies the mind as the prospect of a good bitchslapping.” Or at least that’s how I think Boswell tells it. But maybe I’m just paraphrasing.