[This is a companion piece to http://clarespark.com/2011/05/26/who-is-a-racist-now/ and http://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]
Hollywood liberals take great pride in their rectified conduct regarding minorities, especially blacks. It is amazing how quickly an overwhelmingly white supremacist country overcame its racism. A few assassinations, a few urban riots, a few token reforms, positive images of “African Americans” in the movies and television, a national holiday for the martyred MLK Jr. and the problem disappeared from view. The media, academic multiculturalists, and the Democratic Party (with the selection of Barack Obama) did their part in maintaining the fiction that white people were, or were about to be, cleansed of the national sin. Even the South was redeemed, thanks to those politicians who, overnight it appears, became Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass.
During my youth I never saw blacks as authority figures, nor did any of my teachers at two Ivy League institutions (Cornell and Harvard) fret about the race problem (nor were there black or female faculty). Nor did I have Communist relations who would have told me I was a racist, or otherwise educated me about race relations in the country of my birth. I can still recall my revulsion at the sight of a black male arm in arm with a white woman in Greenwich Village during the late 1950s. And was not miscegenation the linchpin in the racialist repertoire? That, coupled with scary images of angry, murderous black men. (Lee Atwater knew what he was doing when he summoned the image of Willie Horton to defeat Dukakis in 1988. It was my horror at that move that led me to ask the question “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” in a new series on KPFK.)
It was only during the civil rights movement as transmitted on Pacifica Radio in the 1960s that I had ever heard a black intellectual, and I heard plenty. That led me to James Baldwin’s Another Country, from which I gleaned the lesson that women were so boring that it was understandable that any sensitive male might prefer the company of other men, even in bed.
My education in race and gender only began in the 1960s, and it shook my psyche to its foundations. In my own defense, I remember thinking about my own negative views of black people that perhaps I was a bigot, that were these not humans like myself, with only one life to live? Were we not all in the same boat? During the years at Pacifica radio, I began producing programs about the development of American culture, focusing on such matters as artistic freedom from censorship, and the ecology of artists and the institutions that interpreted their work. By now it was the 1970s, and middle-class blacks were organizing themselves (as were women) to demand more space in galleries and museums for black and women artists. I remember the story of one art world Waspy socialite on the museum board, overheard by a friend, complaining on a telephone call, “Now we are going to have to show all that crappy art.” I also remember the pugnacity and defensiveness of the current director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, referring to these black and female outcasts as “my people.” Because I had given them air time, I was now similarly a pariah in the world of the haute bourgeoisie. It was good for my character to be thrown out with the trash.
During that period of radio production, I remember the first demands by media reformers from minority communities that Pacifica and all other media outlets must dispense with “negative images” of their groups in order to provide “role models” of strength to the children, who presumably would remedy their self-esteem deficits. (This demand was in sync with prior rules in the movies that entertainment should neither be offensive to any group nor propagandistic.) Nobody was demanding an entirely reoriented education from early childhood on, with the exception of a few visionaries. Nothing has changed since then, except that the visionaries (see Eva Moskowitz’s chain of charter schools in Harlem) are proving their claims that urban minorities, properly educated in the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, science, and such, are indeed not mentally or morally deficient, as racist propaganda would have it; nor were their self-images to be confined to white America’s most potent racist and sexist images: the Willie Horton rapist/murderer/star athlete/rapper, the blackface minstrel entertainer with a populist message, the femme fatale (Medusa, Gorgon, the “despicable” hag/witch Marianne Gingrich, disposable ex-spouse out for revenge, hence lacking in credibility), or her antitype: Mammy a.k.a. “Nigger Jim” in Huckleberry Finn. Cross-dressing may be cool, but it does not rectify the condition of women.
I would love to believe that all the white supremacists, North, South, and West, had not only had a change of heart, but were, more importantly, rectifying their own education with studies of black history, women’s history, and especially labor history, for competition between black, brown and white workers is a crucial element in our politics, past and present. Just as the competition between women for the favor of protective and powerful men is the engine that keeps many women focused on sex and appearance above their abilities to function either as healthy individuals, or as effective parents, or as proper citizens in a republic; i.e. women (including minorities of either gender) who are not averse to the study of military history, economics, accounting, political maneuvering, and the deciphering of all forms of authoritarian propaganda.
I am aware that many Americans in all sections of the country are working to change inherited attitudes toward “race” and gender. This blog is mainly about a public complacency that I find intolerable. Complacency and a distressing turn toward social relations that are not only irrational, but sadomasochistic. See http://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/huck-finn-and-the-well-whipped-child/.