I get a fair number of responses to this column. It’s enough that I don’t actually have the time to respond to all of them. But even if I did, some I would choose not to. For example, there is a letter to the editor about last month’s Racisms in this issue. I would never engage with that sort of thing, but I do think it is valuable to talk about, because it’s a marker. It’s showing a specific place in time. It shows me that the time of the disingenuous bigot is coming to a close.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that bigotry is almost over. I wish. There will always be disingenuous bigots, and they will always cherry pick history and ignore context and avoid commonly known, easily researchable facts, and draw false equivalences, and argue against points not being made. And lie. They’ll alwayslie, but as time goes on it becomes easier for others to see the lie.
A classic disingenuous-bigot talking point is that the KKK was started by Democrats. I guess the point is to say that the Democrats are the real party of the really real racists? I don’t really know what the point of that statement is, but ever since I can remember, it’s always been the same kind of person who brings it up. Whatever the point is supposed to be, it’s obviously been undone by the KKK themselves, as they’ve exclusively endorsed Republican presidential candidates as long as I’ve been alive. Also, and I know it feels like a very long time ago, but this country recently had a black president, and with a little research one could discover which political party he is affiliated with (hint: it rhymes with “democrat”).
The newest talking point by disingenuous bigots is to counter the fact that all the hate groups and hate crimes come from the right wing with cries of “Antifa!” That is a verypopular one. I think the idea is supposed to be that Antifa is essentially the equivalent of a left-wing hate group.
Sure, everyone knows that Antifa stands for anti-fascist. And, yes, while right-wing extremist groups are responsible for most murders by domestic extremists in this country (74 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism), death-by-Antifa is still clocking in at a whopping zero. But no, none of that matters.
It doesn’t matter because it’s not the reason for the argument. The argument is not meant to persuade. The argument is meant to get you to acknowledge that their lie is equal to thetruth. Maine’s very own Rep. Larry Lockman, Republican of Amherst, does this all the time.
Lockman’s most recent proposal is LD 589, a law that he says is designed to keep teachers from “singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.” Last year, Lockman was talking about the “war on whites” — in case you weren’t sure exactly which “racial group” he aims to defend with this bill.
Somewhere near the center of this is the idea that “white” is a race, but it isn’t. I can show you a traditional black American dance, sing you a traditional black American song, or cook you a traditional black American meal. These are signifiers of how we understand race in this country, and those things have no “white” counterpart. You could show me a traditional Irish dance, sing me a traditional English folk song, or cook me a traditional Italian meal, but while all of those groups are considered “white,” they do not share a common culture. Tell that Italian chef his meal tastes Irish, or that Irish dancer that he dances like an Englishman, and I’m sure they’ll explain the same point — albeit, most likely, less calmly.
Whiteness means the societal reaction to the color of your skin doesn’t result in segregation, or being pulled over, or having your vote stolen, or not getting a loan, or laws being written with the purpose of erasing the historical evidence of such things. Or worse. Whiteness is a permission, a permission to move through the world not only without being affected by any of those things, but without even having to acknowledge their existence.
Still, choosing to acknowledge something is not the same as being aware of it. It’s 2019. The Internet has been around a long time. The mid-term elections showed us that most people are aware, and while some still pretend to be unaware, fewer and fewer of us are willing to pretend with them.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.