Token Outrage and “Oafish” Racists

The recent racism controversy over Donald Sterling prompted me to examine more on two Americas and ask, Where Is Outrage for Systemic Racism?

To that question, I found a powerful and important response by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist.

At the center of Coates’s piece is how token outrage allows the U.S. to simply ignore systemic racism:

But style is the hero. Cliven Bundy is old, white, and male. He likes to wave an American flag while spurning the American government and pals around with the militia movement. He does not so much use the word “Negro”—which would be bad enough—but “nigra,” in the manner of villain from Mississippi Burning or A Time to Kill. In short, Cliven Bundy looks, and sounds, much like what white people take racism to be.

The problem with Cliven Bundy isn’t that he is a racist but that he is an oafish racist. He invokes the crudest stereotypes, like cotton picking. This makes white people feel bad. The elegant racist knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt. Elegant racism requires plausible deniability, as when Reagan just happened to stumble into the Neshoba County fair and mention state’s rights. Oafish racism leaves no escape hatch, as when Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond’s singularly segregationist candidacy.

The “oafish” racists, then, are subject to outrage, but as Coates confronts, “elegant racism” persists: elegant racism 2Yes, we must expose and rebuke “oafish” racists, but we must also be diligent not to allow those moments to impede the larger need to expose, confront, and then change the greater systemic racism that remains in the U.S.

Here’s one place to start:

U.S. Should Significantly Reduce Rate of Incarceration; Unprecedented Rise in Prison Population ‘Not Serving the Country Well,’ Says New Report

Based on this report:

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014)

And the question remains: Where is the outrage for systemic racism?

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Token Outrage and "Oafish" Racists | Educational Policy Information
  2. Pingback: Blacked Out: “you must consider what happens to a life which finds no mirror” | the becoming radical

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