(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/09/chris.jpg)Once upon a time racism used to be relatively easy to pin down. It was segregated lunch counters and slave ships, it was nooses and chains, it was the legal oppression of a group of people on account of the color of their skin. Then racism stopped being a set of laws and became an abstraction, first a set of attitudes and then a set of attitudes implying another set of attitudes.
Racism changed from laws that deliberately discriminate against black people to policies that serve to disadvantage black people, whether or not that is their intent. In 1971, 17 years after its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court decided that schools shouldn’t just not be forcibly segregated, but that they could be forcibly desegregated with the use of busing, even if there was no actual intent to segregate and in places where the racial differences were the result of geography. That same year in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Court ruled that a high school diploma job requirement was racially discriminatory because fewer black people possessed them.
From an attempt to overturn racist laws, the war on racism had shifted to forcibly legislating big government’s idea of racial equality. The goal was no longer removing inequality, but artificially creating a desired statistical outcome.
In 1965, LBJ introduced Affirmative Action as the “next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.” The new goal was “not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.” And manufacturing equality first required manufacturing inequality to achieve a perfect balance. Equal opportunity in the free market was traded for an equal result in a planned racial economy. And it worked about as well as all planned economies do.
In the process, racism was conflated with socialism. Principled civil rights objections to government laws were the new racism. Obstructing the unlimited power of the Federal government had become the equivalent of bigotry. To truly support racial equality, one had to support racial inequality and to show one’s opposition to past government racial laws, one had to support the new government racial laws meant to redress those laws… even 60 years later.
Racism had not only become an abstraction, it had become the abstraction of an abstraction, transcending race to fuse with attitudes toward government power returning to the old Civil War Republican formula of Federalism as anti-racism and States’ Rights as racism. 150 years after the Civil War, federalism as anti-racism is a false formula imposed on a debate going back to the Washington Administration about where the center of political power should rest.
Throughout the 20th Century, Democrats searched around for a compelling justification for seizing and wielding unlimited power. President Wilson did it in the name of a global crusade. FDR did it in the name of an economic crisis and the underclass. But his Democratic successors zeroed in on race and made it their own, abusing power in the name of combating racism.
Racism is no longer about race. Not when Bill Clinton was the first black president and Allen West is a racist for bringing fried chicken to a Congressional Black Caucus meeting. Liberalism is the new race, and it is a category that transcends and encompasses race. Liberalism defines race, allowing white liberals to be defined as black and black conservatives to be defined as white.
The race in racism is nothing but a symbol now, but since most people still assume that racism means hating black people, rather than questioning government power, it helps to have a half-black man around as a symbol of why abuses of government power are justified for the greater good of race relations.
Most people, black and white, don’t understand the switch that has been pulled on them or that the racism being talked about is not the kind that involves a white man hitting a black man, but a debate over unlimited political power between two political parties, both of whom have at one time eroded the “States” part and emphasized the “United” part with a variety of justifications, among them that of treating black people as wards of the Federal government.
Racism accusations are delivered by white people speaking on behalf of black people and black people speaking on behalf of white people for an agenda that is not about race, but about power and wealth. These accusations have become increasingly ludicrous as they have become disconnected from actual racism and even from race.
On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell insisted that “golfer” is a racial stereotype and Chris Matthews dubbed “Chicago” a racial codeword. Besides the obvious display of hackery, the search for codewords is a sign of how abstract racism has become. Racism is no longer a slur or a stereotype of a black man, but any criticism directed at a Democrat who happens to be black.
The decline of racism and the unholy union of race and government have turned it into a wholly abstract thing that means nothing at all. The language of racism no longer has a coherent grammar. Racial accusations are everywhere, but they no longer mean anything because they have lost even their most tenuous connections to race. The national grammar of race has shifted and while liberals talk incessantly about race, they have nothing to actually say about it.
Racism was never really about race, it was about power. It was about power when slave votes and slave labor were being used to shift the balance of power. And it is about power when black votes and accusations of racism are used to shift the balance of power. And in one of history’s great ironies, the same Party was responsible for both sets of actions. The ideology, whether that of the permanent racial inferiority of black people of yesterday’s Democratic Party or the permanent social inferiority of black people in today’s Democratic Party, was and is just the clothing that the naked emperor wears on his power trips.
Racism still endures in the nooks and crannies of the country, but it isn’t the kind of racism that’s talked about in the news. It’s the unextraordinary and unexceptional bigotry of small petty men, of any color and creed, who practice their small mean-spirited acts outside the law. This is not the political racism that we talk about as a national phenomenon. That political racism is not about a man being beaten outside a bar, it’s about the power of the bar’s lawyers to wield unlimited authority in the name of a problem that can never go away, no matter how abstract it becomes, because they have turned it into the source of their power.
Real racism is slowly dying out, but political racism can never go away. Instead it is rediscovered in ordinary words, in “Golfer” and in “Chicago.” The more it declines, the more it emerges everywhere in dogwhistles and hidden codes that become more and more abstract until no one can find it anymore.
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