At first glance, this seems to set new records for irony. A majority of white people are worried about racism against white people. It’s hard to make that up. But in fact, it’s not ironic at all. It’s actually predictable. And more than predictable, it’s a fundamental precondition for white racism to exist.
Why? Because nobody wants to be the bad guy. Nobody wants to be the villain. Everyone wants to justify their beliefs and actions. It’s human nature.
And so victimizers often cast themselves as victims. And more subtly, those who profit from an unfair system paint themselves as the real losers in grand social equations.
That’s why open racists have long complained that they are on the short end, they are the ones suffering, they are the ones unfairly penalized by the very group they are oppressing.
Nazis blamed the Jews for ruining their economy. Early Americans blamed the Indians for wasting valuable land and preventing hardworking Americans from using it properly. Slave owners blamed slaves for being childlike incompetents who required white people to support them. Nativists blamed poor, non-white immigrants (including even the Irish, who at one point weren’t considered “white”) for taking their jobs.
Now a majority of white Americans think they’re the real victims here. It makes perfect sense.
Most people need to justify their ugliness. That’s true of Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, men and women.
“If you apply for a job, they seem to give the blacks the first crack at it,” said 68-year-old Tim Hershman of Akron, Ohio. “And, basically, you know, if you want any help from the government, if you’re white, you don’t get it. If you’re black, you get it.”
How does Tim Hershan of Aakron, Ohio sleep at night? How does he live these lies despite irrefutable employment and welfare statistics to the contrary? How does he make himself the good guy?
Is Tim a Republican? Who knows. Ohio’s a swing state. And quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, he’s just another scared, pissed off white person who’s not comfortable with black people. Maybe he’s afraid of them. Maybe he’s angry at them. Either way, he’s got a bone to pick with them. Why? Because he’s racist. Maybe he’s a kindly grandfather, loving husband, loyal friend, and all around swell fella. But yes, he’s also racist. After all, only a racist twists facts to blame an entire ethnic groups for his personal emotional, psychological, or economic woes.
But that answer won’t do. Tim doesn’t want to think of himself as a racist. He probably doesn’t really want to confront any of his issues, even though we all have issues. So he externalizes. It must be something else. Maybe it’s because they get unfair advantages. Maybe it’s because he’s the one actually getting discriminated against.
Maybe that was Tim’s Aha! moment. Or maybe it’s just what he’s always heard, so he went along with it. But either way, in the post-Civil Rights era, that’s white America’s party line, and he’s sticking to it.
The Civil Rights movement changed this country in many ways. One of the most important changes is that popular culture says it’s no longer okay to be racist.
At first, that was a pretty tough pill to swallow for your run of the mill racists (see: Bunker, Archibald). Nowadays, it’s damn near untenable for a basic, middle of the road racist like Tim. No one wants to be a pariah.
It’s highly unlikely that Tim’s a Klan member. He probably doesn’t even think about minorities all that much. But when he does, the thoughts usually aren’t good. What to do?
Blame them. It’s been the stock racist mentality since the dawn of racism. Blame them for something. Make it their fault. Now your racism is justified. They’re bad, or winning unfairly; you’re just pointing it out and responding rationally.
Only when that mentality is commonplace can more egregious acts of racism take place.
When people think of racism, they tend to think of aggression and violence. They think of unapologetic bigotry. They think of Nazis and the KKK, segregation and lynchings, genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust and Trail of Tears.
But those those extreme manifestations of racism could not exist without the quieter, subtler, and more common forms. Grotesque, in-your-face racism is merely the icing atop the big ole cake of racism.
Many white people only see the frosting. They don’t think about the cake. Because they are the cake.
Being just another grain of flour baked into the cake makes racism easy for everyday folks.
When white people believe that the only important or “real” form of racism is the extreme form, the loud form, the nasty form, the kind that is very easy to identify and condemn here in 21st century America, then they get to let themselves off the hook. After all, they’re not like that. Tim’s not like that. I’m not like that.
So we all get to pretend and insist that we’re not racist. We all get to be surprised when white supremacists march in Charlottesville.
It’s the same with sexism. It’s the same with rich people turning their nose up at poor people, or ubanites ostracizing hicks, or coastal folks joking about fly over country.
This is how bigotry works.
The bigot is never wrong. The bigot’s just joking. The bigot gets to blame the victim for being dumb or lazy or ditzy or animalistic or greedy or slutty or immoral. Anything, so long as it’s their at fault. That’s what makes the bigotry okay. That’s what allows the bigot to sleep at night.
Sleep tight, Tim. Goodnight, America.