Tuesday, December 06, 2016

This Election Marked the End of America's Racial Detente


thefederalist |  There is a misconception that political correctness was responsible for the breakdown of the racial détente. This is incorrect. Political correctness, as loose a term as it is, was the means by which we continually renegotiated the terms of the deal. After all, the primary rules for whites had exactly to do with what was acceptable to say.

Privilege theory and the concept of systemic racism dealt the death blow to the détente. In embracing these theories, minorities and progressives broke their essential rule, which was to not run around calling everyone a racist. As these theories took hold, every white person became a racist who must confess that racism and actively make amends. Yet if the white woman who teaches gender studies at Barnard with the Ben Shahn drawings in her office is a racist, what chance do the rest of have?

Within the past few years, as privilege theory took hold, many whites began to think that no matter what they did they would be called racist, because, in fact, that was happening. Previously there were rules. They shifted at times, but if adhered to they largely protected one from the charge of racism. It’s like the Morrissey lyric: “is evil just something you are, or something you do.” Under the détente, racism was something you did; under privilege theory it is something you are.

That shift, from carefully directed accusations of racism for direct actions to more general charges of unconscious racism, took away the carrot for whites. Worse, it led to a defensiveness and feeling of victimization that make today’s whites in many ways much more tribal than they were 30 years ago. White people are constantly told to examine their whiteness, not to think of themselves as racially neutral. That they did, but the result was not introspection that led to reconciliation, it was a decision that white people have just as much right to think of themselves as a special interest group as anyone else.

Blame and Destroy Whitey 
The unfortunate place where we now find ourselves is one in which blatant attacks on white people, often from white people, are driving them further into a tribal cocoon. Samantha Bee’s awful and irresponsible berating of white women as the evil force behind Trump’s victory, while condescendingly describing magical people of color as the only ones who can save us, is a clear example of where white defensiveness and victimization are coming from.

Furthermore, the ever-present drumbeat from the Left that every conservative victory is the death throes of bad, old white people who are about to be swept away by waves of brown immigration is making many whites dig in. On a certain level, how can you blame them? They are explicitly being told that their values and way of life are under the sword. How do we expect them to react?

The détente was far from perfect. It often allowed quieter racism to lurk unchallenged. In some ways, it was a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. But Band-Aids have a role to play in treating bullet wounds—the body heals itself better when the wound is clean and free from infection. This is true of discourse’s ability to heal our body politic, as well. Under the détente, there was still racism, but Steve Bannon, whose publication Breitbart has traded in vile explicit racism, could never have been considered for White House chief of staff.