THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Posted in Rants on November 12th, 2017 by Ed

As the folks at Deadspin said, the last thing the world needs is another Cletus Safari. We get it. America's crappiest crapholes are full of terrible, sad, terrible, angry, terrible people who are very stupid and will reliably say very stupid things and they absolutely love Donald Trump like I love elastic waistbands. Every journalist capable of sharing some kind of useful insight in this format has already done so, and everyone doing it now is either flogging a dead horse or short on original ideas.

Of course, they said this in the context of linking to a Cletus Safari on Politico and highlighting elements of it that are enlightening.

I agree with the premise that this is a piece the world needs no more of. I've read it a sufficient number of times from different authors in different outlets in different Rust Belt shit-pits. But like Deadspin, the explicit racism aspect of this Safari piece had some real resonance for me, personally.

Gonna warn sensitive types about some language in the following paragraph. If you're white it's probably going to sound very familiar to you though.

I grew up around what in hindsight really was a staggering, pervasive amount of racism, almost all of it directed at black people. It is not much of a stretch to say that race was a lens through which the entire world was viewed. Michael Jackson wasn't Michael Jackson, he was "that n*gger music." The Cosby Show was "that n*gger show." Any negative characteristic about any human being anywhere was contextualized with "like a n*gger." The sole, almost exclusive goal in life for many of the people in my community, who ranged from lower to upper middle class, was to get as far away from "Them" as possible. The greatest shame in life was to have to live with them, or anywhere near them, or to even have to see them. You knew you had done well if you lived in a shitty house but a shitty house on a street where everyone was white.

I've shared these experiences as an adult with some other (white) people and while some are surprised, many recognize it down to the last detail. The talking points, the stereotypes, the obsessive focus (in hindsight it's REALLY weird that people who appeared to have no contact with black people whatsoever spent so much of their time thinking and talking about black people), the pseudoscience; it's a complete package and people who recognize part of it from their own experience generally recognize the whole.

Until I was about 18, I used racial slurs pretty freely. Why wouldn't I? Everyone did, constantly. People thought it was funny. People nodded in approval when they heard it. Congratulations, you're one of us.

Vignette: My friend told me she said the n-word when she was 3 and the whole family thought it was the funniest, cutest story ever, repeated at every get-together. Her dad wanted to recount it in the toast at her wedding.

Then I moved, and I grew up (a little). I'm not embarrassed to admit that weaning from this stuff is a long process. They say that for recovering addicts, every day is a struggle to stay clean. I'm 39 and 20+ years gone from that way of seeing the world and I *still* fight it. Maybe you're looking at me in horror right now because you've never had a racist thought in your life and this seems like little more than rationalizing a neanderthal mindset. Congratulations. But when you expose people to this stuff the moment they're old enough to understand language, it becomes close to hard-wired.

Another vignette: a guy I once worked with regaled us with the nursery rhyme he liked to sing his daughter at night: "N*ggers and Jews, N*ggers and Jews, we'll never lose to N*ggers and Jews." This was 2003.

The thing about being white is that other white people think nothing of saying this kind of stuff in front of you because they assume that everyone else thinks exactly the same way they do. That is one of the foundations of their worldview; all black people hate all white people, all white people hate all black people, etc. It's tribalism. White people who don't think the same way are either n*gger-loving liberal pussies, or they agree but won't say it out loud.

When I saw the following quote in the Politico story, a lot of things came rushing back to me. It was so familiar that I could list off a dozen people I've known at some point in my life who have said the same thing, almost verbatim, in other contexts:

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”

I stopped him, informing him that, yes, Barack Obama liked to golf, but Trump in fact does golf a lot, too — more, in fact.

Del Signore was surprised to hear this.

“Does he?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

Unless you are immersed in the worldview of people like this guy, this might seem either unexceptional or an example that largely serves to illustrate how stupid he is. Ha ha! He doesn't know basic facts! He just repeats everything he sees on Fox News!

While that is undoubtedly true, it overlooks the larger point. To people who structure the world this way, "lazy" isn't about who spends more time sleeping and golfing. Lazy isn't even a "code word" for black. Lazy and black mean exactly the same thing. By saying "Barack Obama slept til noon and golfed a lot" and "Trump is the hardest working president ever," he is, in his own way, simply making two statements of fact. Donald Trump is white; Barack Obama is a (redacted).

"Hard working" is a synonym for white the way "corporal punishment" is a synonym for spanking. The former is merely a more socially acceptable way of saying the latter. "Lazy" and "Hard Working" are both totally independent of any characteristic about Obama and Trump other than their race. Trump is white. Therefore all positive descriptors apply to him. Obama is black. Any bad characteristic a person can have applies to him. He is irrelevant as an individual, because regardless of what he is or does he is, above all else, one of them.

I've sat through enough "hard working vs. lazy" arguments in my life to recognize what Cletus is saying here. I did not enjoy reading this piece, not because it has any inherent flaws but because it reminded me of a lot of things I don't like to remember.

If anything good comes out of the Trump Experience it will be a broader recognition that the centrist discourse fetish is a fruitless strategy. You don't "reach out" to people like this. You can't communicate with them because their mental universe is based on rules that don't apply to reality. All that is to be done is to out-vote them. They, like the places they live, are dying out. To the extent that I have any hope for the future, it is based on the idea that the politics of today are the last hurrah of people who cannot, or perhaps will not, see the world in any way other than as a simple racial dichotomy. White = good. Black = bad. All events and information are shaped around that basic worldview.