An Ounce of Sensitivity is Worth Six Tons of Macaca
Unfortunately, whites in America tend to only recognize racism in its most virulent, Big “R” form. For them, Racism means burning crosses and white hoods. When the subject comes up, they might point out rather forcefully that Racism has been stamped out in this country. What they are saying, accurately, is that the days when African-Americans couldn’t vote and the county Sheriff was a member of the Klan are behind us. That’s good for everyone. And let’s not forget that it was no small thing. It took centuries of bloodshed for us to reach that point.
But blacks in America experience racism in ways almost completely invisible to whites and in as many types and subtleties as Eskimos see snow. Unfortunately, our language hasn’t kept up. When a black man sees white women board an elevator with him, then nervously huddle in the farthest corner of the car, he sees racism. The women, confronted with this accusation, would probably be deeply offended. They have nothing against black people and wouldn’t tolerate mistreatment of another person because of race. They were just afraid for their lives (??). They might not recognize the racism and fail to understand its impact.
Little “r” racism is certainly not as violent as its big brother, but it is still terribly corrosive. It places blacks under a lingering, subtle disadvantage in a society that is organized to reward people purely on the basis of merit. The misunderstandings and miscommunication that dominate our racial interaction create painful barriers to progress.
Most whites would be shocked to witness the (mostly) tiny indignities that relentlessly dog African-Americans in the course of their daily lives. Many African-Americans under the pressure of this barrage see the ghosts of a darker era.
How does this affect the party? Picture a caucus meeting in which one or two African-Americans show up for the first time. At least you can count on the fact that no one will drop an “n-bomb” in the course of general discussion. What’s more, you can expect that blacks will be welcomed without reservation, which is great. But how many times in the course of arguments about education, crime, or welfare, will someone make an awkward comment about a certain neighborhood, or make a carefully couched claim that “a certain Democratic constituency” is milking the welfare system, feeding crime, or refusing to work? Too many.
You might complain that this concern about language is just political correctness. If so, I call Bullshit. What is really revealed when someone has one of those “Macaca Moments?” Not Racism, and they are justified in being defensive about the accusation. The trouble is that they are revealing racism with a little-r, that nasty combination of ignorance and subtle bigotry that dogs nearly everyone raised in a certain climate. We all need to recognize it. When a politician drops one of these goofball comments he is not just making a jerk of himself. He is exposing a mental map of some disturbing territory.
As a white person you might find it unfair that a political figure would be judged by such a slip-up. But that could be because you’ve never stood with your hands on the hood of your car during an unwarranted police stop, or been on the receiving end of those looks from security guards when you venture to shop at certain stores.
This is not such a tough concept to grasp. With a little interest on our part we could gain the insights to recognize this kind of little-r racism in ourselves and in the Party. With a modest effort we could weed it out. The gains we could experience for the Party and for the country would be massive.
An ounce of sensitivity is worth six tons of Macaca.