Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Not Racist."

Common People - William Shatner feat. Joe Jackson (mp3)
Tennessee - Arrested Development (mp3)

Some serious bitch of a lady has written a piece on “Hipster Racism” over at It’s received some 96,000 Likes on Facebook.

I call her a “bitch” not because I am a sexist ass clown, and not because she’s a bad person, but rather because she, in a single column, opines repeatedly in ways that would lend one no other conclusion than that Lindy West must be a bitch.

Today I’m taking off my PC badge and placing it on the sink. I’m Sergeant Hulka, and it’s time to kick some whiny white opinionated butt.

The very first published sentence I ever wrote was a confession that I was a racist, sexist, homophobic white male. It was true in 1993, and it is true in 2012. I wish it weren’t. Every day I go to bed hoping I am fighting the good fight and being a better person in matters of discrimination and prejudice, but I never wake up the next morning thinking I’m clean or faultless.

Look in the mirror. Are you white? Then as your doctor, I have some bad news for you: You’re racist, too. White men are born like alcoholics and cancer survivors. Racism and sexism courses through us like carbon dioxide.

It’s not a terminal illness, but it’s nothing you can completely cure. The best we can hope for is to be in remission, to be on the wagon.  We can all work, every day, the rest of our lives, to be less racist than we are today, and our children can improve upon our efforts.

Ms. West, a woman about whom I know 0.04% of nothing, is a bitch because she is snarky and over-the-top superior as she compiles the many ways white people are capable of being racist while believing themselves not racist.

Ms. West is incredibly gifted at acknowledging and damning the syrupy ironic sarcasm in others whilst spewing out gallons of it herself. Ms. West thinks she’s the Dexter of hipster racists. Because she’s out there stabbing the really obnoxious ones, she is a more noble kind of serial killer.

Maybe she doesn’t fall into any of the traps she mocks or identifies, but that doesn’t render her some white queen of blameless behavior or thought. She is the KONY2012 of hipster racism, and I just don't think she deserves to be an unscrutinized heroine.

On our last trip to New Orleans, my three middle-aged white cohorts and myself came up with a fun new game. It was inspired by the time-honored tradition of adding the words “in bed” or “between the sheets” at the end of all fortune cookie fortunes.

Somehow -- and I don’t remember the specific moment -- we realized that you could include the words “Not racist” at the end of virtually anything you or someone else ever said and instantly make it seem like a racist comment.

“God I’m starving. When do we eat? Not racist.”
“That is the best gin and tonic I’ve ever had. Not racist.”
“What time did you wake up today? Not racist.”

Is this game some hipster ironic smug version of racism? Frankly, I don’t know or care. It’s funny. It’s especially funny if you play it in an elevator with lots of other uncomfortable white people who don’t know the game.

Seriously, it’s funny. Not racist.

It’s even bolder if you play the game with them and they don’t know it. Except it might get your ass kicked, because white people don’t like being called racists.

Not even redneck mega-racists from mega-racist Mississippi like being called racists. Even their black friends defend them and all of the vomit-inducing things they do for racist amusement. To read this Newsweek report after reading Lindy West’s column just makes me more disgusted with m'lady.

She can argue that my mere reaction -- that I find it more horrifying that punk rednecks in Mississippi are running over black men than the depiction of "slumming" in Lush's "Common People" -- makes me racist. Hell, maybe it does. Maybe Zoey Deschanel really is more dangerous to the future of unity and world peace than violent drunken hate-spewing Southerners.

Ms. West seems to have created her own expertise on What Is Funny and What Is Racist, and she seems comfortable insinuating that she is (a) Totally Funny and (b) Totally Not Racist Like All You Asshole Hipster Racists. All of which seems to be, intentionally or not, pointing to how much more Not Racist she is than her idiot hipster white brothers and sisters.

At best, Ms. West, you’re better by a teensy matter of degrees. So long as you’ve got a melanin level on par with mine, and so long as you grew up in a family of white people, you’ve got it, honey. You’re racist, too. So get down here and help dig us out of this mess, or shut your smug ass up.

Not racist.


Bob said...

I saw this play out in a mild way in class. Seniors planning a lunch class were voting between a Mexican place and an Asian buffet. When it became clear that those who were opposed to the Chinese place had never been there, I play put the final vote as either "Chef Lin" or "Racist." Quite a number of boys thought it would be cool to vote for "Racist."

I know this is not a serious example, but I do sense a reality that racism has been so maligned and pointed out as being so obviously wrong that it has earned a certain cache.

An odd circumstance, indeed.

Sara C said...

I'm in the process of drafting a post that will link to this one, so clearly I've got some comments. But can I just go on record as saying how obtuse I feel? Because no matter how many times I read this, I cannot understand the "not racist" game. I've tried to make it work in my head, I've said it out loud to my self in my empty house, I've even imagined y'all doing it and me being a bystander, and I don't understand the funny. Am I just being dumb?

Billy said...

@Sara - Valid observation. Personally, I'm fascinated that "racist" has become such a nuclear word that it is a conversation killer. To accuse someone of being racist is to create a chasm between you and them. Any following words are tainted with the reality that You Are Not Racist... But They Are.

I happen to believe what is perceived as a line dividing Racist v. Not Racist is a much more complicated grayscale gradient. We all wrestle with matters of race, gender, identity, preference, etc. Our differences are more matters of degree. But the minute you say "racist," all conversations change, and rarely for the better.

Nothing annoys me personally more than someone who introduces a sentence with, "I'm not a racist, but..." because it means that what they're about to say is probably racist.

Instead of acting like "racist" means wearing a hood and burning crosses, we need to start accepting "racist" as a part of our cultural identity and accepting that our challenge is to minimize its damage rather than pretending that only a few bad people struggle with the issue.

Does all of this mean I expect you to approve of or find our little "not racist" comments funny? Not one bit. I just personally don't take kindly to white people standing up on too high a soap box acting like they're above matters of race, like they're cured*. And to define any humor as "bad" that someone out in the world might not find funny or might find offensive is, at best, humorless, and at worse something more disturbing.

As Trip (Denzel Washington) says in Glory, "And we all covered up in it, too. Ain't nobody clean." He's right. About white people.

"Be nice to get clean, though."

* - referring to Ms. West's column, not to you

Sara C said...

Here's the post, ie the rest of my comments.

Bob said...

Sara,the key to the game is that the qualifier "not racist" is linked to a statement that has nothing to do with racism. That's the joke. In a world where any critical comment is scrutinized for its possible motives, the quasi-defensive use of "Not racist" covers anything from a complaint in, say, a Chinese restaurant (a situation that happens in any restaurant at one time or another) that the food has arrived late and cold to a statement that one of our Indian students who has grown a full beard would most certainly receive extra scrutiny when trying to get on an airplane.