Somewhere in the dark recesses of that maze of cold filing cabinets and sallow-eyed office workers that makes up the entirety of the Human Resources Department, there’s a three hundred page, leather bound volume sitting behind ten inches of bulletproof glass. This book, believed by many to be nothing more than an urban legend, is my employer’s hard copy of my official disciplinary record. I’ve never actually read any entries from it since a recent executive order handed down from the Department of Homeland Security now requires a Freedom of Information Act request be filled before I can see it and I don’t have the patience required to write my name out in bubble letters that many times. I assume much of it has to do with my many failed attempts to disable to company firewall that stands between me and the vast sea of nudie pictures that the Internet has to offer and there’s bound to be more than one entry concerning a recent spree of stabbing that has not yet been officially traced back to me; but other than that, I’m not sure what’s in it.
Regardless of its actual content, what we can extrapolate from the fact of its existence is that there’s a lot of stuff that can be blamed on me. I accept this since I know I’m human (mostly) and subject to the same failings as any of my other fellow men (theoretically). In my defence, I would like to state that much of my troubled past has to do with an experimental cocktail of anti-psychotics I take every morning that sometimes causes me to believe that I’m Liam Neeson’s character from the movie Taken. Also, I sometimes get confused as to what counts as toilet paper and what’s an official court document and that puts me at a distinct disadvantage during regular judicial proceedings. But, out of respect for the three people who are likely to actually read this essay in its entirety, I’m not going to waste your time with my perfectly reasonable excuses.
There is one thing that can’t be blamed on me, though: racism. The stink of that shit is on all of us.
I’m not going to say that I don’t have my prejudices because that wouldn’t be fair. In fact, I’m very prone to acts of discrimination. It’s just that race isn’t the basis for any of them. For example, I have less than amicable relations with the following kinds of people:
- Any grown man who wears shorts that don’t come to knee-level when sitting down (this is American and you need to shop smarter);
- Any child who looks me in the eye while picking their nose (that just makes it all too personal); and
- Any woman who identifies herself as “Gidget” (that’s not a real name and you fucking well know it).
So there you have it, a list of my deeply held (and, in my opinion, morally unassailable) prejudices and none of them have to do with the makeup of anyone’s genetics.
Of course, I’ve also found that the easiest way to spot a bigot is to find the guy who’s gone through the greatest lengths to prove that they’re not a bigot. This, I assume, is because being a racist is one of the fastest routes to the bottom of the moral landfill where you will be consigned forever to live in the murky haze of collective societal hatred with the child molesters and people who wear corduroy as a mode of choice. No one wants to think that they’re a racist; no one ever identifies as a bigot; no one thinks that they’re the problem; but one thing that’s becoming more and more clear is that there is a problem, and sooner or later we’re going to have to look at the big ugly stain on the carpet (the one next to the big ugly stain I made that weekend when they were cleaning all the bathrooms on my floor — but I’m actually quite proud of that one).
But what do we do to about a problem this intrinsic to our society? How do you even address something that has haunted this country since its inception and the rest of the world for as long as we’ve been able to distinguish between colors? How do you solve an issue that half the population refuses to believe even exists? I say we handle it the same way we eat pizza: cut it up into parts, digest them, then take a nice long, painful dump afterwards.
This is the modern go-to theory for conservative pundits who think the mere fact that there’s a black guy out there with more money than them means that not only has the racial divide been fully mended but the pendulum has begun swinging in the other direction. It used to be that racism was a river of shit that flowed in one direction and you could count on it to end up exactly where you expected. Now, apparently, its morphed into something more like a broken fire hose, spewing sewage in all directions, making sure that everyone has a epic smell that they’ll have to explain to everyone else how it’s totally not their fault.
The problem with dismissing this theory is that it exists in the realm of logical possibility. If you can discriminated against someone because they’re black it’s just as easy to do so because they’re white. You can even point to incident after incident where this appears to have happened. I can’t do it personally off the top of my head — and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my time looking up some bullshit — but if you’re interested, just tune into Fox News and watch one of their lilly-white talking heads for ten minutes and I’m sure they’ll clue you in.
There’s no point in trying to dissuade certain people that this is something that goes on regularly; it just seems like the natural process of an evolving society, changing demographics and the empowerment of a people who have long been oppressed.
When you think about it this way then it almost sounds like a good thing.
Here’s the problem: racism usually has with it an institutional element. Back in 1950, this was easy to see: a white guy would order his “Whites Only” sign for his business making white picket fences or something, and then he’d throw a black guy two cents to hang it for him before he was escorted from the property by a white cop. If you were a black man being oppressed there was no place you go to and complain about it because the entire framework of society was part of the problem.
Therein lies the problem with this whole reverse-racism thing. In order for the roles to have truly been reversed, the entire power-structure would not only have to not be white, but it would have to be flipped entirely. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten an e-mail if that happened. Racism is a societal force that singles out a demographic to completely fuck over, not just a series of unfortunate interactions between people with different skin colors. That means that just because a black guy was a dick to you once it doesn’t logically follow that the incident was reverse racism; it’s just a bad moment in life that you should be able to walk-off because you’re not seven years old and shouldn’t need a hug afterwards. If you’ve got a problem with that fact, remember it’s the same excuse we use when we’re accused of being bigoted (not that I’ve ever had to defend myself from that accusation).
Racism Is Over
According to this theory, the fact the we have a president who is half black proves that there is no more racism left in America and accusations of racism are merely excuses made by people who are lazy, incompetent and/or otherwise deficient. If the name Barack Obama is too much of a mouthful for you, you can substitute Oprah in a pinch but the logic remains the same. From this viewpoint, the fact that there are black people with more money and power than you means that the playing field has to be level, otherwise the machinery of society would have stripped them of their rightful dues and relegated them back to the ghetto to appease the underlying arch of bigotry.
The problem here is that it assumes that in a black and white world there can’t exist any shades of gray. It’s like people think there’s a bald guy sitting in a swivel chair, perched in front of a bank of monitors, petting a cat and secretly controlling the specifics of who will be allowed success and who be subjugated and forgotten. There’s kind of a comforting thought in there because it means that there’s one individual or group of individuals who can be pointed at and blamed for all of our racial woes; and if they’re the ones to blame, then it can’t be you.
Life sure would be a lot easier if the world worked that way, with good-guys and bad-guys who can be identified by the style of their facial hair or their lack thereof. But the truth never comes in neat little packages like that unless you buy a box of fortune cookies (and even then, it’s kind of a letdown). That being the case, then it’s only natural that some people from disenfranchised backgrounds would make it to stations of wealth and influence — there’s no real codified and crafted effort against that. The modern day of racism is a lot more complicated. It’s not one big decision that trickles down from the top; rather it’s the sum product of a bunch of smaller decisions made throughout society and a veiled attitude that runs through our culture. Every now and then it finds purchase enough for you to notice, but otherwise it just keeps going at a level you can ignore all too easily. I have no doubt that much of it isn’t even intentional — it’s not a conscious choice people make, but a knee-jerk reaction that we all seem to have when faced with something that strikes us as being foreign.
Look, no one wants to think that we live in a society that has yet to overcome its centuries-long issues with racial disparity and I get that. If you have anything even resembling a conscience, you’ll chafe against the thought that when you walk tall, you do so on the shoulders of people who have been denied their intrinsic civil rights.That one little fact can take the sense of accomplishment out of every personal victory and leave a greasy, inexplicably garlic-smelling residue on your achievements. Conversely, if you started out with an advantage based on your race, then any failure on your part is all the more pathetic. It’s like the time when I punched the mail-room clerk in the throat: I could brag all I wanted about how he’ll never make the mistake of knocking over my coffee again but all anyone wanted to focus on was the fact that he was blind. As much as it pissed me off, I did have to admit that they had a point.
But They Get to Use the “N-Word” and We Don’t!
Yes, that’s how it works. Get over it.
And you should be ashamed of wanting to use the word so bad that you’re actually jealous. Seriously.
The Confederate Flag Is About Heritage, Not Hate
The catalytic incident for this argument is something that I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone. Unless you’re being kept in some cold, dark basement and regularly fed Happy Meals by a guy wearing a mask made out of human flesh then you should be familiar with the recent mass-shooting in South Carolina. The fact that Dylan Roof’s action on that night were the result of what happens when malignant racism meets epic crazy can’t be argued. At this stage we can probably rest assured that he was acting alone and responsible in full for his own actions. So one could take the stance that this tragedy isn’t indicative of any kind of societal trend and stands as a morbid anomaly in an otherwise tranquil sea. Of course, you’d have to have not read any other part of this essay in order to come to that conclusion, but that would be completely understandable and not really the point here.
What happened in the wake of this tragedy is where the current controversy comes to play: the removal of the confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Without taking sides, I’ll just say that one group of people feels that the confederate flag stands as a symbol of racial repression and the glorification of slavery and the other side believes that it’s merely a symbol of the south’s heritage and should be viewed in a racially neutral context. Again, I shouldn’t have to explain the details of any argument; if you need a brief run through, just listen to AM Talk Radio for half a second or check your Facebook.com feed. Then, once you’ve regained full control over your bowels, we can continue.
The problem with the entire controversy is that it’s a war of completely irreconcilable absolutes: the flag is either a symbol of racism or it isn’t and there’s no real middle ground. I can’t really navigate through one side’s rationale or the other for two distinct reason: the fog of history and the unarguable fact that I just don’t care that much about it.
The first issue to address is the fog of history. The major problem with history is that, by its very nature, it happened a long time ago and we don’t know anyone who was actually there. Since it’s just our best guesses mixed with the records left behind by generations that have gone before, there’s actually a lot of room for revisionism. Among the most revised points is the idea that The American Civil War was actually not about slavery. Apparently we were more concerned with the question of whether or not the states could sever their ties from the union than we were with the grave moral implications of keeping an entire race of people as slaves and treating them as property. I have a feeling that revisionists hold to this idea because they think it makes the south look less like bigots than the mainstream view that the north was fighting to abolish slavery and the south wouldn’t cooperate. Personally, I think that makes the entire country look like crap because that would suggest that no one even considered the ethics of slavery.
History, of course, isn’t really on anyone’s side. It’s true that states’ rights were a big issue in The Civil War, and it’s also true that several of the states fighting under the Union’s banner were slave states. This casts doubt on whether or not the north was fighting for the altruistic reasons that Yankees like me would like to promote; and so it should. The fact of the matter is that if you take any random cross section of any people living in one central locale, you’re going to find fundamental disagreements on the concepts of right and wrong between individuals. So yes, the north had slaves and they were racist and so on; it turns out that human beings were total shit-bags back in the nineteenth century too and the south didn’t have a monopoly on it.
That, however, merely muddies the water and doesn’t change the overall facts. The south was reliant on slavery to keep their agrarian society pumping out enough beats to make sure all the farmers daughters could grow proper tits. Lincoln was an outspoken abolitionist who was popular in the north and managed to get elected without carrying a single southern state. The south, feeling that the north would trump them on any national issue — effectively relegating them to the king of second class territories that we would later shoot Spring Break based pornos at — wanted to write their own rules and break from what they thought was the oppression of the north. Of course, the irony of pretending to be oppressed when you’re keeping slaves has been lost on them since the days of reconstruction and we probably shouldn’t push the point as they’re kind of sensitive about it. Let’s just accept that saying that slavery had nothing to do with The Civil War makes about as much sense as saying that all my health problems are caused by my obesity and there’s nothing to do with the steady stream of cupcakes disappearing down my throat.
With that in mind, we have to look at what the confederate flag actually means. “The Southern Cross” flag that we’ve come to know as the confederate flag was actually the battle flag of the Northern Virginian Army, but let’s face it, we call it the confederate flag because it’s the one whose image has survived to this day as the most recognizable symbol of the separatist states. I have no doubt in my mind that the reason it’s survived this long is that it’s actually a really nice looking flag with a great design that’s pleasing to the eye. In fact, with the red-orange hue contrasting with the deep blue, if you stare at it while squinting, it looks almost indistinguishable from a movie poster for the film Jupiter Ascending. Mark my words, this is the one issue regarding the confederate flag that I’ve not yet heard discussed by angry white people on the TV box: it’s pretty and people like pretty things.
But a flag is really just a symbol and that makes discerning its meaning more complicated. The army for which it stood hasn’t existed since the middle of the 19th century, so what we have is a symbol surviving when its original meaning has gone extinct. Left behind is a vacuum that we can fill with any meaning we want. For some people it stands for the rebellious spirit that runs through the American people, endowing them with the courage to fight for what they believe is right and also giving a certain dignity to the movie career of James Dean that would otherwise be unwarranted. To others, it’s a remembrance of the systematic aggression white people will exhibit when you tell them they can’t fuck over black people any more. And still to others, it’s stands for the simple fact that the southern states are very much different than the northern states, complete with their own history and culture that should be preserved independent of the mainstream view.
Unfortunately, no view is wrong. Keep in mind that they guy who designed the confederate battle flag stated that it was meant to symbolize the supremacy of the white man over the black man, but then again, he’s been dead for a while and fuck him anyways. The truth is that we are a free country and we can ascribe any meaning to that flag that we want. So when we’re arguing over what that flag means, then we’re really arguing for the unsanctioned right to assign a meaning to a somewhat ambiguous symbol and you really can’t keep the moral high ground when doing that.
Then again, the KKK really does seem to like that flag. I’m just saying.
In any case, the fact that the underlying meaning of the confederate flag has a slushy quality to it is just the reason why its removal from the grounds of the South Carolina state house was both justified and necessary. Logically speaking, a symbol that can mean anything to anyone means that the symbol doesn’t really mean anything. Nature abhors a vacuum, so sooner or later, it was going to mean something to someone that made its presence there unacceptable. All that was ever needed was an inciting incident.
If you’re of the mind that it’s a remembrance of a time in history that we should never forget, then do yourself a favor and write down everything you know about The Civil War, have it framed and hang it on your wall. That way you’ll never forget that it happened. To continue to celebrate the confederate army this long after the fact is your business and not the business of the state. And if you’re looking to remember something about The Civil War, remember the most important fact: The Union won and the Confederacy lost.
Or, in other words, “America: Fuck Yeah!”
All Lives Matter!
way to push your critical thinking skills to the very limit with this one.
The repeated mantra that “Black lives matter” came up in the wake of a recent spate of police actions/over-reactions while interacting with African Americans. Again, there’s no need to bring up specific incidents, but honestly, it goes back at least as far as Trayvon Martin back in 2012 (and yes, I’m aware that it didn’t actually involve the police, just a guy who thought it’d be a real hoot to play cop with a live gun). In the wake of incidents like Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York there seemed to be this overwhelming feeling in the black community that the police were gunning for them while enjoying complete impunity.
Whether or not these beliefs were based on reality is beyond my pay grade. The point is that this feeling of vulnerability to police brutality mixed with conservative media outlets — like Fox News and your drunken uncle ranting at Thanksgiving dinner — lead to the development of the phrase “Black lives matter” — something you’d think wouldn’t need t be stated but here we are.
The fact that this phrase itself appears to be exclusionary at its very core seems to be rubbing certain people the wrong way. The common response is that “All lives matter”, showing solidarity to the fact that we are all one people at heart and it’s not fair to single out black lives as being more worthy of preservation than whites. Following that train of thought you could easily come to the conclusion that to says “Black lives matter” is kind of racist in and of itself, right? I mean, up with people!
Considering my many, many, many interactions with police officers, I have to admit that I don’t see that brutality or racism is an affliction intrinsic to the job. And I say that as someone they’ve been ordered to shoot on sight on numerous occasions. I’m not going to spend any time criticizing the police or the way they do their jobs and I want that out there and on the record before my next arraignment. But there’s no rationale to say that the police are targeting white people, at least not that I’ve heard. After all, they haven’t killed me yet.
It’s just this fact that leads me to see pronouncing that “All lives matter” when faced with the phrase “Black lives matter” is, at best, misguided. Of course all lives matter, that’s an indisputable, mainstream fact that’s been drilled into my head by every judge that’s ever handed down sentencing on me. That being the case, declaring it is completely meaningless; however, “Black lives matter” does have meaning. It means that the African-American community feels that lives are in danger because of the illicit use of excessive force against them. To respond to that concern with the politically correct phrasing of what amounts to a tabular-Rosa is a total dick move and shows minimal support for what it a reasonable concern.
The above is pretty limited in scope, but it’s already noon and I’m late for my nap so I have to leave it to you to go the rest of the distance on your own. Or, you could just ignore any aspect of societal racism that isn’t conducive to the production of an erudite sounding dick-joke (that’s what I like to do). Either way, this is far from the entire bulk of what can be said on the subject of racism in modern day America, it’s just as far as I’ve thought through right now.
As my coworkers will readily tell you, any interaction with me has a distinct possibility to turn ugly very quickly — a fact that I wear with a badge of pride. Any time we’re talking about this kind of subject where the admission of a problem is just as painful to some as the problem itself, things are going to come out looking like they’ve been through a meat grinder. If you actually enjoyed reading this, then either you’re fucked up in ways that only a court-ordered psychotherapist can help with, or you’re like me and you don’t mind airing out the dirty laundry once in a while. But remember, we have to pull this out once in a while and look at it. If we’re not going to change, then we’re at least going to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit we’ve got a problem and don’t have the balls to fix it.