Part of what I think is wonderful about the contemporary wave of protest movements is that they’re teaching people about systemic causality. Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and social network feminism all discuss how you can have racism without racists.
|When I was young, I felt alienated from anti-racism|
movements because I thought my being white made me
unwelcome in their struggle. That's why I'm glad part of
the outreach of anti-racist movements today makes an
issue of how white people can join without being
condescending, without being some pathetic dork
shouting, "I can't be racist! I listen to Kendrick Lamar!"
But white people can fight white privilege by using
their existing privilege to amplify the message of
peace. I'll always love Kendrick, though.
Systemic racism: A system of institutions and social relations that are generally taken for granted, but which have a massively disparate impact on one group of people over another.
This is the kind of racism for which punishment and blame make no sense. It’s another thing that reactionaries don’t understand about these movements: they don't seek to punish white people. The goal is education, empathy, and progress toward institutional and social change. These movements seek reparative justice, not retributive.
But that’s not to say that the type of racism whose proper response is a slap to the mouth doesn't exist anymore.
Antonio Negri has a lot of interesting things to say about racism, as you'd expect from someone whose philosophy comes from such a post-colonial perspective. Better I should say post-post-colonial.
A major goal of Empire the book is describing the difference between the old model of imperialism and the new centreless globalization of empire. One aspect of that I’ve discussed before, the difference between state-driven overseas conquest (imperialism) and omnidirectional market integration (empire).
Another difference is how people think about race. Modernist racism, the racism of imperialism, conceives of race as a biological category. Race is baked into people’s essences. The difference between whites, blacks, east Asians, and Amerindians is either eternal, or moves at the speed of biological evolution, in epochs so long they may as well be eternal.
The imperialist way of thinking about race considered different races literal sub-species of humanity. They were ranked in power and potential with the same certainty as Linnaeus.
|Only a few decades ago in America, the marriage that|
produced Barack Obama would have been illegal. It's
not that progress isn't possible; what's disappointing is
how fucked up and weird institutionalized racism used
to be, even compared to the gross injustices of our era.
Reacting to this, anti-racist activism focussed on how racial differences were the product of culture. Dividing lines between races were cultural conventions, and behavioural and linguistic differences between races were cultural variations among communities all over the globe.
The roots of race lie in the contingency of cultural development, according to anti-racism in the imperialist period. But we can't continue speaking this language, because racism has adapted to that critique.
Racism now speaks in the language of cultural determinism instead of biological essence. The contemporary racist of the imperial / globalization / networked era accepts that racial difference is a function of culture’s contingency.
But those cultural differences make it impossible for different communities to integrate and co-exist without violence. Here’s an example from contemporary politics.
A lot of the rhetoric against allowing Muslims to move to European and North American countries revolves around cultural differences.
Muslims, so goes this perspective, are anti-democratic because they demand that all people live under their strict religious laws. All Muslims want to control women, consider rape ordinary, and think nothing of murdering their daughters for minor moral infractions. They accuse Muslims of being inherently violent.
Not only is none of this bullshit true, but it's rooted in stereotypes about the uniformity of Muslim culture. It treats Islam as a total cultural determinant of more than a billion individual personalities.
|These peaceful gun-toting militiamen held a peaceful|
protest outside a Texas mosque about a variety of issues
for which they blamed the existence of Muslim people
in America. So that's pretty horrible.
We combat this kind of racism, rooted in ideas of cultural determinism and uniformity, by throwing the singularity of unique individuals in the face of racists. We drag people kicking and screaming into empathy.
I don't want to say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that an attitude of empathy and genuine understanding is the ultimate cure for racism that, unlike the reaction to biological racism, can't be turned back against the cause of radical liberation.
• • •
One of the things I love about living in Toronto is how ethnically mixed the city is, and how much ethnic mixing goes on in the city. Walk around Toronto, and you won’t just see couples whose love would have been illegal in the days of anti-miscegenation laws.
You’ll see couples who those old laws wouldn’t even know what to do with. And the kids that those couples produce will contribute to a city’s population that's truly post-racial, and increasingly incapable of racism. They won't even know what race is.
In a society where love is possible between anyone, the existence of race is impossible.