Column: Living in a ‘Post-Racist’ Society

Photo by Dan CostinThe MSNBC documentary series Lock Up ran a story earlier this month featuring a Maricopa County Jail inmate charged with identity theft named Cecil Kunkel. The 29-year-old Kunkel has a swastika tattooed on top of his “skinhead.” He’s covered in “white power” slogans and imagery. The only ink-free spot on his body is an empty space in the shape of another swastika over his heart. The crew first finds him spending time in the hole for refusing to house with black inmates. When asked why, Kunkel offers, “Because it’s wrong – nothing personal – it’s just the way it is.” In the next scene Kunkel is caught on camera beating an African-American inmate who is, of course, smaller than himself.

Filmmakers for the series interview a close family friend of Kunkel’s, also locked up in Maricopa County. When asked about Kunkel by the producer, the self-proclaimed cousin seems concerned we may not like Kunkel the way he does and clarifies, “He’s not a racist.”

So, here is Kunkel – being documented on national television proudly boasting about sucker punching black inmates, while sporting more Nazi ink than a copy of Mein Kampf – and the person closest to him thinks the term “racist” is insulting.

The whole conversation about race has turned into a rigged game of Whac-a-Mole where every time you hit a mole with your tethered mallet, the mole declares, “I’m not actually a mole, and how dare you use such a horrible label to describe me and my mole-like actions, appearance and affiliations.”

Denying racism while being overtly racist isn’t a new thing. In the hilarious 2001 book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, British journalist Jon Ronson spends time with the KKK during their attempted image makeover. Not using the “n-word” was part of the New and Improved Klan. Yes, the Klan wants you to know it’s no longer anti-non-whites…just very pro-hood.

Making a living promoting a fictional idealized version of 1950’s morality while having saucy nudie pics on the Internet, Dr. Laura Schlessinger last week felt she suddenly needed to move us all forward about how an affluent white woman should be able to use the “n-word” with impunity. Dr. Laura said the slur on her syndicated radio show – some 11 times. Then the ideologue decided to become the arbiter of what’s funny and said to the caller, the black wife of a bi-racial couple, “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race!”

After taking such a definitive stand, Dr. Laura apologized the next day. See, she’s not a racist.

Racial agitator Andrew Breitbart is best known for promoting the heavily edited Sherry Sherrod video to show, according to him, the racism of the NAACP. That ordeal resulted in the firing of Sherrod from the USDA followed by the discrediting of Breitbart after the complete unedited video was released. And guess what? Breitbart is also not a racist. Sure, almost every one of his slanted stunts, including the one that brought down the community organizing group ACORN, targets black people – but that’s just a coincidence. How dare you imply race has something to do with it!

The right-wing is now frothing at the mouth over a Muslim community center within walking distance (as are most things in lower Manhattan, including a couple of existing mosques) from where the Twin Towers used to stand. President George W. Bush at least gave lip service to the Muslim community’s being “peaceful,” but now he’s an embarrassment to his party, so the GOP thinks they really have a winner in denouncing and “refudiating” American Muslims with their nefarious goals of living inside buildings. The subtext is that all Muslims are terrorists. This goes along nicely with Republican leaders attempting to make all Latinos into job-stealing, people-beheading, baby-dropping threats to national security. If you whittle down enough groups of people, you do eventually make a point. A pointed neo-Republican talking point.

But the GOP isn’t racist.

Apparently hatred, intolerance and discrimination based on race are no longer racist. So surprisingly, the next wave of the Barry Goldwater-founded Southern Strategy is no longer “racist.” Pandering to our darkest fears about “the others” coming to our side of the island to kill us is, also, officially no longer racist.

Perhaps the term “post-racial society” is a typo. What they mean is “post-racist.” Racism no longer exists because the word for it is too offensive to those who practice it. Nice twist.