Sunday, February 07, 2010
Why we should be happy that the racists are out of the closet
WWW--There's a theme I keep coming across with some of my compatriots on the progressive left, and I think that it's unnecessary: the fear of traditional American racism coming out of the closet. These people are literally the lunatic fringe now, but they're white and they're loud, if not proud (OK, they're that too, just without any basis). The problem--mainly--is our reaction to them, and reaction in itself is the problem, there's too much of it. We need to be more proactive about these people rather than reactive, and that's not an endorsement of Scientology. That's why I support the legal actions of the SPLC and its director, Morris Dees. His targets seem to understand intuitively, as some of the mentally ill do, that he's got their number and that he's using the proper cure. This provokes very dramatic responses.
Just looking at the words behind the anagram tells you where they're coming from at the SPLC: The Southern Poverty Legal Center. I have had great admiration for Mr. Dees and his work for ages, and the key to his work and that of his great staff has been in tracking these groups and bringing them to the attention of the public while going after the very worst, the most dangerous of them, in the courts rather than in the streets where they're only going to be emboldened by physical attacks. Hate movements thrive on the victim mentality, but we should also remember that these folks are victims in their own right, frequently victims of poverty that breeds this form of mental dysfunction. Dees knows that this isn't simply a Southern problem, but an American one, and while it is a bit alarming that these groups have grown in numbers since the election of a black president, it's also a reason to be thankful for the fact that we have one. They're out of hiding and easy targets again, just as they became so in the 1960s. They were always out there, their number haven't really grown.
The Civil Rights movement of that decade (really beginning in the mid-1950s and cresting roughly ten years later) brought the flat-heads out of the woodwork. The ranks of the KKK swelled as they had with the great influx of European immigration during the 1920s and "White Citizens Council" offices sprang-up everywhere...and they lost, badly, to the civil rights workers and activists because history and moral authority weren't on their side. Crucially, the federal government was pressured into action and the FBI unwillingly had to conduct a barely submerged war on the Klan and other hate groups. Indeed, non-violence proved to be a vital tactic, but so too did African-American groups like the Deacons for Justice and the original Black Panthers in the South with their militancy and their rifle clubs, meant to protect black communities from terror tactics. But the real fight was won in the legislative arena and the courts and the laws are still on the books to this day and aren't likely to be rolled-back anytime soon. That's not to say we shouldn't be vigilant, however.
In the 1990s, the late Stokely Carmichael, one of the founders of SNCC and one of the central players in the rise of black nationalism said that the problem had become deeper, that racism had "gone into hiding" and was therefore harder to combat, and he was right. Racism became institutionalized and very much a phantasm, a free-floating force that was almost impossible to pinpoint, let alone to fight with traditional methods. That has changed now that the loons have come out of the woodwork and are now shooting their mouths off, not to mention committing some very heinous acts of violence again. But that's what people do when they're desperate and feel they have no other options. They'd better enjoy the fun while it lasts, because it's not going to for very long.
In other words, they feel very threatened in their racist beliefs and identities, and that's a good thing since those culturally pathogenic personalities can ultimately be isolated and marginalized out of existence. These small, reactive faux-personalities--once again--intuit this and that's when the fear comes, when the ego externalizes its innermost and darkest tendencies. The shadow side externalizing itself can be dealt with by civil society more easily. Now they're visible targets, even their goons they've embedded within the military. But we tend to take these revelations the wrong way, we react, and we become part of the fear. This is a mistake. We know who they are now, we have their number, and it's time to go round-'em-up when they misbehave. We can also make sure that they never come into being by fighting for social and economic justice. Poverty is a breeding ground for this kind of faux-personality.
A recent cross-burning in my community has had some alarmed, but I'm not especially worried. As much as I have a problem with the FBI on other issues, they're good at criminal investigations like this and they're likely to find out who was behind it. When-and-if they do, the perpetrators are going to be dragged into court and could face real jail time if not civil penalties, meaning heavy fines that have shut them down in the past. We should also keep in mind that not all rabid racists are poor and that this is a pathogenic cultural stream predicated on keeping things as they've been in America since the beginning: oligarchical and unequal. The name Tony Zirkle should come as a good example of the privileged racist flake.
Economic elites must become racists by-definition in order to hold onto that power, something that they're more-than-willing to do. The reality is that they're more frightened of the rest of us, these groups, and while it makes them dangerous, they're still marginal. Nonetheless, vigilance and awareness is the key, and now we have the added advantage of visible targets.