Confederate flags are coming down but denial of racism remains

Chicagoans gathered to honor the dead from the Charleston terrorist attack

After the terrorist attack in Charleston there were ceremonies across the nation to remember the dead and protest the atrocity.  But prominent Republicans and their allies stumbled all over each other denying that race had anything to do with it. Since then some have retreated a bit and asked that Confederate flags be removed from public buildings, but denial of racism is still running strong both in rightwing political circles and in the mass media.

Denial of racism is a characteristic of 21st century US white supremacy. In its roughly 350 year history on this continent,  racism has demonstrated a Darwinian adaptability to changing socio-economic conditions.

The US racial caste system evolved from the invention of lifetime African American slavery, while white labor was allowed limited freedom. This was a key feature of colonial capitalism and was codified into law by the early 18th century. It was understood by the ruling classes of the time that racial division was necessary for the survival of capitalism as they knew it.

But as capitalism evolved after the abolition of slavery, the racial caste system changed to a combination of legal and informal segregation with the racial division of labor still basically intact.

Today, thanks to the civil rights movement, the US racial caste system is technically illegal. But enforcement of anti-discrimination laws has been weak and inconsistent. That and concealing racism’s outward manifestations in a cloud of obfuscation and denial helps maintain the essentials of its existence.

I doubt most lower and middle class racism denialists really believe what they are saying, but think the racial caste system must continue to ensure their own socio-economic standing, which has become increasingly precarious. A white skin now offers less and less  protection from the ravages of 21st century austerity capitalism, so they cling to the lies of racism like a drowning person reaching for a scrap of wood after a shipwreck.

Some white people have chosen another path, multi-racial solidarity to change a socio-economic system that still requires  a racial caste system based on melanin content. This is a leap of imagination too great for many white people at this time, fraught as it is with the possibilities of social ostracism, danger and unknown consequences.

Yet we know that human beings are a very adaptable species and today’s racism denialist can be tomorrow’s anti-racist activist, once the cloud of lies and delusions is pierced. I’ve seen it happen, though not often enough. Whence, the mass propaganda campaign of denying that racism is a problem or that it even exists anymore.

Personally, I doubt capitalism could even survive racial equality in this country. But if it did it would be a form of capitalism unrecognizable to anyone living today.

After centuries of struggle, racial equality remains a distant goal, yet less distant than before because of the sacrifices made by our predecessors and by those working for it today. Fannie Lou Hamer once said that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

But she and others like her pushed on anyway, so that yesterday’s Jim Crow-style-in-your-face racism, though hardly extinct as the recent Charleston Massacre demonstrates,  has been forced into a retreat as denial of racism grows in importance.

The future is unwritten and making racial equality a part of that future   continues to be one of the greatest challenges this nation faces.

Denial of racial reality only delays us from reaching that goal.

June 26, 2015 by
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy, US politics 


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