Does Racism Even Mean the Same Thing?

I’m really, really getting sick of people who do horribly racist things and claim to not be racists. I’m not sure if they are perennially stupid or lying (are there other options in this case?), but there is a pervading trend among public figures that you can say or do anything and follow it up with “not that I’m a racist or anything,” and it’s expected that people are supposed to ignore the horrendously racist thing preceding it.

Let’s go to the board for an example.

On December 20, Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote an article for the Atlantic about Ron Paul’s name being all over a bunch of astoundingly racist newsletters from the late 80s and early 90s. Paul claims to have not written them, which I believe, and that he didn’t know what was being written, which I would prefer not to believe rather than accept that a major competitor for the GOP nomination was such a moron that he allowed people to use his name with no oversight. Then again, his insane ideology is such that he may have believed the free market would take care of keeping his name clean.

Whether or not Ron Paul is a racist, we must examine what that even means. In the comments section, one commenter came out with this gem:

When it comes to something like him stating he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act, it’s not because he hates minorities.  It’s because he understands property rights.  If someone wants to ban blacks from their store or exclude their business, they have every right to do that.  Chances are extremely high they will be boycotted and lose their business, which they should IN MY OPINION, but they should have that right.

Arguments like this suffer from what is often called “presentism,” that is using present-day ideas and biases in analyzing the past. For example, asking why women in the middle ages didn’t just rise up and refuse to be treated as property. I mean, women today can do it, why couldn’t they? It ignores the basic reality of the situation in context, applying today’s attitudes to it.

This particular bit of presentism is popular among free market worshipers and their ignorant minions. “If people would have just waited a little longer, good people would have boycotted the racist businesses and they would have had to change or go out of business. Then we’d all live in a wonderful utopia and eat candy canes for every meal. Yay!” What this idealistic and short-sighted view misses is that it was government forcing the businesses not to discriminate that lead to the era we have today in which modern people would boycott a business like that. In the context of the period, however, there was nothing wrong with banning minorities from your store, and boycotts would be unlikely as there had been constructed a complex justification for why segregation was really a good thing for everybody. Boycotts did happen, but they were often by the white majority against minority business owners who dared to stand up for civil rights, such as the Citizens Councils in the south.

But does this qualify as racism? Actually, I’d argue that no, it doesn’t technically, but it’s a differentiation without a difference. Does it really matter whether you actively hate somebody if you’re basically saying that their suffering and inequality will have to wait until people magically change their opinions? Integration forced people to interact with minorities, thereby humanizing them and creating the attitude we have today that would lead to store boycotts for discriminatory practices. Without it, we are unlikely to have changed our opinions even today without some sort of magical intervention. Pretending otherwise may not be racist per se, but it is so close to it as to be indistinguishable in practice.

But let’s leave Ron Paul alone for a moment and instead discuss some more obvious examples. Such as the lovely Jamie Hein in Ohio. Ms. Hein, a landlord, decided that she would put up a sign saying that her swimming pool is for whites only. Yes, she really did that. Yes, in 2011. The state civil rights commission found this to be discriminatory, and Ms. Hein doesn’t understand why. She is appealing the decision because she doesn’t think she was being racist, she only put that up because black people use all this hair product that makes the pool water cloudy. Nothing racist about that.

Now, for the top of the pile, Jules Manson. This Tea Party supporter claims he’s not a racist for calling the president a “nigger,” his children “monkey children,” and calling for his assassination. In a later interview he did say he was a racist, but I think he’s trying to make it into an acronym of some sort and doesn’t exactly understand how spelling works.

The pervading wisdom that seems to be spreading, and there are countless other examples, is that one is only racist if they think they are racist. So long as you don’t believe that you hate other races, you can work against their equality and inclusion, you can call them whatever you want, you can prevent them from using public facilities, etc.

This is not only moronic, it’s a lie. There people are liars of the first degree. Jules Manson is an arrogant asshole who has convinced himself that he’s standing up for the First Amendment and against political correctness. Rather than try to take down that argument, I simply point you to MovieBob’s video on the subject.

Ron Paul is probably not a racist, but ultimately it also doesn’t matter since his ideology means that he would simply allow racism to flourish rather than do anything about it since he can’t wrap his mind around the reason why anybody would patronize a business that discriminated. In all fairness, neither can I, but I have the excuse that I wasn’t alive when segregation was being enforced. Ron Paul was. He has no excuse for being unfamiliar with the prevailing attitudes of the time and it does nothing for his credibility to presume that he doesn’t understand that when you prioritize the property rights of bigots over the civil rights of individuals, it doesn’t matter whether you hate black people or not, the result is the same.