breaking news: people often feel racial panic
This story is making the rounds. I think it has a lot of troubling race-baiting going on in it. Check it out.
Now, setting aside the fact that there is almost nothing more annoying than someone who is self-aggrandizing while pretending to self-deprecate, there’s the very troubling aspect of race in this story. The guy makes a constant show of the fact that he and his friends are white, and that they were in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. The idea of racial panic– the notion that three white men should feel threatened or unsafe in a Puerto Rican neighborhood– suffuses the post. The poster tries to dance away from that by saying in an update, “Besides a bit of self-mockery, I don’t think I said or implied a single negative thing about anyone’s race.” But, of course, that’s the point. He didn’t have to say anything explicitly negative about race to get his point across. We were merely to take the fact that it was a Puerto Rican neighborhood as proof positive that he and his friends were endangered. After all, if he intended no racial cues to be sent, then why did he find it necessary to make constant references to race in the first place? And anyone suggesting that a clear message wasn’t sent by his constant invocations of race is undone, I think, by a quick perusal of the comments. The commenters, it seems, read his intentions loud and clear.
Matt Yglesias has been doing yeoman’s work lately in pointing out that for many, many people, anti-racism is seen as a greater crime than racism. That’s certainly true in the comments of this post, where a few people meekly pointing out that there are some unpleasant racial undertones going on got hit with the usual barrage of anti-“PC” invective. Merely suggesting that anything racially charge or improper has gone on, these days, apparently regulates anyone to the status of the unserious. You can, in the comments of that post, allege that walking through a Puerto Rican neighborhood as a white person ensures that you will be shot, but you cannot suggest that there is some troubling racial politics going on. That’s just untoward. This is the world that conservative intransigence on race issues has created, a place where charges of being overzealous in prosecuting racism are more disqualifying that charges of racism itself. It’s not on.
Note that I’m not charging the person who wrote this post with racism. I am suggesting, instead, that there are some racial politics going on here which are troubling, and deserve inquiry, and perhaps sanction. My purpose is to open discussion, not end it. But those who immediately and harshly react to any suggestion of racial impropriety don’t want any discussion at all. And that’s what a really huge amount of our racial dialogue, at present, amounts to, a sustained campaign to whittle down the parameters of appropriate debate, and to cast anyone who alleges racism or something like it out of the bounds of respectability. We don’t live in a post-race society, and we aren’t moving towards one, but we are moving towards a post-race-discussion society. That’s an incredibly dangerous thing.
Nor am I suggesting that I am entirely unsympathetic to unchosen feelings regarding race. I personally don’t feel entirely the same way, walking through a largely black neighborhood or largely Hispanic neighborhood, as I do walking through a largely white neighborhood. I can only respond to those feelings with a rededication to making my actions equitable and fair. But admitting to certain unconscious racial feelings or codes is a far different thing than playing those same feelings for laughs, or using the tacit understanding that “Puerto Rican=dangerous” to further lionize yourself in a self-aggrandizing blog post. And, as careful as the poster was in writing the post, it provoked comments that are far more unapologetic and frank in their racism. I suppose you can’t blame people for writing them. They are only making plain precisely the attitudes the original poster is quietly relying on.
Update: I eliminated a pointless anti-Apple dig at the beginning of the post.