Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Whenever the subject of bigotry gets touched upon in this blog we see certain readers who will not only disagree with the premise that bigotry exists, but who will assert that those who claim it does, are the “real bigots.” Last week on the thread following Mike Appleton’s post “Racism Once Removed” http://jonathanturley.org/2013/08/11/racism-once-removed/ and the week before in my guest blog “Call Me Queer” http://jonathanturley.org/2013/08/03/call-me-queer/ , we saw numerous comments that not only denying that their viewpoint was unbiased, but that our assertions of bigotry were themselves bigoted. While Mike Appleton’s post dealt with racism and mine dealt with homosexual rights, the reactions to presenting these different topics were essentially the same. So much so, that what I saw clearly as racial prejudice even got inserted into what was a thread dealing with homosexual rights. My sense as to why these two disparate issues were conflated by the same people is the subject of this piece, as I will attempt to put the concept of prejudice into the context of the American political scene. For many of us, including me, bigotry is viewed as the stuff of irrational hatred, but I’ve begun to sense that this is too narrow a perspective on this phenomenon. In attempting to counter prejudice, we must first be aware of the dynamics involved and stop looking at prejudice as a monolithic structure.
Those who are the object of prejudice and scorn will no doubt find my distinctions to be of little moment as their lives are so hurt by this hatred. My own sense is that the reaction of Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans to this nation’s history of oppression has been relatively mild when compared to the murderous viciousness with which it has been imposed. It says much for these people of color that they have had the intelligence and restraint to understand they were dealing with an implacable enemy and act accordingly. As someone who views their struggles merely from the outside I know what rage boils up in my gut when I see it and hear about it, quite frankly I don’t know how much restraint I would put on myself if I directly experienced the same oppression. With that caveat let me try to explain my thinking about the distinctions that need to be made when we look at the phenomena of prejudice in this country, from my understanding of it that has developed over a long lifetime and the panoply of changes that have occurred during my existence.The way I see it we can roughly divide those who are prejudiced into two broad categories: the “Haters” and the “Politically Correct.” (PC) The “Haters” are those who have a gut level anger at a specific group that precludes any rational thought in the matter. The “Aryan Nation” and the various “White Power” groups typify this when it comes to people of color and indeed also when it comes to homosexuals. Their feelings about the hated entity are visceral and when they are confronted with their feelings they openly take ownership of them. In one sense we can almost admire their blatant hatred since they at least take ownership of it and so there is no sense of confusion about where they stand. The other sides of this divide which I label the “Politically Correct” are those that justify bigotry in its usage by their political allies by using PC to silence criticism of bigoted statements. They may or may not be bigoted personally, but they protect their political allies by covering for their bigotry and by accusing the accuser. Many conservatives that oppose President Obama for instance are probably not personally prejudiced against black people, but then many of their supporters are and if they are politicians they do not want to alienate their base. This is true too of the Gay rights movement where we have seen many legislators and religious leaders, who have been strong opponents of Gay Rights for political gain, get caught literally with their pants down. Then to just because one is a liberal and/or a progressive does not mean that they are not bigoted. Yet the PC needs of their political positions lead them to act PC publicly.
Many Black people during the Civil Rights Era held the point of view that with racists such as these they could at least understand the boundaries of their relationship to them. They contrasted that with those “liberals” who only secretly harbored their prejudice, while publicly proclaiming their solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. They correctly pointed out that these “liberals” were fine with imposing corrective actions against bigotry, as long as those actions affected others. It would seem from this dichotomy that the term “Politically Correct” arose and to some extent that is true, yet in my personal experience I think there was a prior step that took place and those particular “liberals” were affected by it.
Sometime in the 1930’s the Communist Party in the United States realized that organizationally they were reaching the limits of their ability to recruit. Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” had to a great degree tempered the impact of the Depression upon those who would be the Party’s normal base, the White working class. It must be understood that although Communists have always talked a good game when it came to the oppression of working people and the underclass, the movement itself was always led by a segment of the intelligentsia. Seriously, who else would slog through the mind numbingly boring and dense works of Karl Marx, but someone with intellectual pretentions? The problem for the Communists in America was that the poor and the working classes were not sold on the ideology, when it was put into opposition with the “American Dream.” The most oppressed therefore most approachable underclass in America from the Communist perspective was “people of color” and so the focus became to recruit them. They had some notable success especially with one of the most multi-talented and impressive human beings of the Twentieth Century Paul Robeson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Robeson . Paul Robeson was a certified genius, who also was an All-American Football Player, great Actor and had an extraordinary voice. He was also an avowed Communist and was for years the Party’s greatest asset in America.
My parents, who were quite liberal, had introduced me to politics at a young age as I was kept home from school to allow me to watch the important parts of Army/McCarthy Hearings, at the age of 10 in 1954. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army-McCarthy_Hearings . Senator Joseph McCarthy persecuted and destroyed the lives of many people for their possible associations with communists. In reality there never was a “Communist Threat” to this country, but it served as enough of a “bogeyman” to help enrich the burgeoning Corporate/Military/Industrial Complex (CMIC). McCarthy himself was a two whiskey bottle a day alcoholic who privately admitted that he used the “communist threat” as a political ploy. This then was the context of my understanding when I first began to meet real Communists in 1967. The Union in NYC’s welfare department where I worked as a caseworker was perhaps the most politically radical union in the country. I somehow became recognized and someone with potential and the various Communist factions tried to recruit me. What turned me off to them, besides their unworkable philosophy, was the concept of “Party Line”. This meant that if you did not spout the current part positions on all issues you were deemed to be “politically incorrect”. This was how I first heard that term and it grated on me then as it does now. The CPUSA “party line” then was “Black is right” and this translated into unquestioned support for any issue where Black people would claim was one of prejudice. There were issues where I opposed the Union’s Black Caucus choice for union offices and found myself being called racist and a “running dog of capitalism” when the reality was I just didn’t like the candidate’s positions on union issues.
The reality is that just because one might be a member of an oppressed minority, doesn’t mean that oppression has made a person noble of character. In truth to support someone merely because they are Black, Latino, Native American, or even in my case Jewish, is actually a bigoted position. There is but one race and that is called Human. To be human is to have flaws, no matter the melanin skin content, or the ethnic background. At the time many liberals were also affected by party line as lampooned in Tom Wolfe’s book “Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” which detailed the vapidity of “political correctness.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_Chic_%26_Mau-Mauing_the_Flak_Catchers My union experiences with Party Lines and political correctness seemed vindicated for me when I read his astute observations.
Among conservative strategists and intellectual this tendency of liberals and progressives hewing to a “part line” approach was instructive since their movement had its own problems. Nixon’s election heralded a conservative comeback into political legitimacy in America. FDR and “New Deal” liberalism had become a dominant force on the American political scene. The “Southern Strategy” was put forth to recapture political dominance and get Nixon elected. While the “Southern Strategy” was aimed to destroy the Democratic Party’s hold on the Southern States, its complementary tactic of the “Silent Majority” was to win the hearts of the White working class throughout the country. The undercurrent of both these tactics and their memes were race based and the message was hidden in code words like crime and violence. While the “Silent Majority” was ostensibly about support for the Viet Nam War, in reality it was about the backlash to “busing,” the burden of which was overwhelmingly placed on the White working classes and not on the intellectuals, liberals and progressives that supported it.
Conservative strategists saw the inherent flaw in liberal/progressive actions and took the term “politically correct” in hand as a means of not only ridiculing liberal/progressive thought, but also to denature the impact of many of their supporters bigotry, by turning PC loose on those who would call racism by its true name. With the election of Barack Obama as President we see how well this strategic twist has worked. One needs only to Google “Rush Limbaugh Quotations” to see how even the media has been so cowed by the use of PC that it countenances a racist mountebank as mainstream. http://newsone.com/16051/top-10-racist-limbaugh-quotes/
While many readers here try to label me as a liberal and progressive, thus to dismiss what I write as merely trying to be politically correct, the fact is that my experience in life had led me to distrust all those who use political “Isms” as their basis of wisdom. Would that life were so simple that we could merely adopt a philosophy with which to deal with the entirety of its vicissitudes. I’ve even written about the “pursuit of political purity” that prevents people of good faith from coalescing because of disagreements on fine points of policy, rather than broad perspectives of human need. http://jonathanturley.org/2012/06/02/the-pursuit-of-political-purity/
As I see it the main thrust of what I call “bigotry denialism” is to use the concept of PC along with reversing the attack onto the attacker. This tactic would have it made impossible to ever call out what is obvious bigotry by labeling the person who does so a bigot for naming bigotry. While from one sense we may be glad that America has evolved to a point where a Black man has become President, the cause of racism in this country seems to have only become stronger. Some conservatives and indeed some liberals have declared the country to be Post-Racial America, but this is far from the case. From my perspective of age I see that racism has come out of the closet again to a greater degree than it has been since the 1970’s. Part of this is due to the universality of the acceptance of the term PC partnered with the tactic of calling the accuser the bigot. Despite the successes of the Gay Rights Movement, the counter revolution has also borrowed these tactics and in some areas homophobia is even growing as a backlash to the success of Homosexuals beginning to obtain their rights as citizens.
At this blog and in my life, I have always worked to oppose bigotry and I will continue to do so until the end. Since I’ve been around here for quite a while I can anticipate the nature of those who will attack my premises in this blog. Rather than turn this into a massive guest blog by use of a pre-emptive strike on the attacks I will let the links below of my own guest blogs do my refutation.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger