I’ve heard friends say something I really disagree with, that a person can’t be racist so long as they don’t have racist intent.
What I suppose they mean is, there’s a distinction between proud racists and well-meaning white people who may say/do something on Tuesday that was only deemed officially racist by the Internet Monday. Putting these two people in the same category feels wrong, right?
I think they mean: social mores are changing fast, people are busy with work and family, and if a nice white person commits a racial faux pas because they can’t keep up with ever-evolving PC nomenclature, they shouldn’t have their lives ruined by the rabid SJW Social Media Mob.
Anecdotally, enough people have told me more or less this. Here is why I don’t think it’s logically relevant to consider a person’s intent when determining whether or not they’re racist.
First, agreed: there is a moral distinction between the white person who, for example, supported slavery because of the Economy and the white person who supported slavery because they thought black people were subhuman. The second person is morally worse! But who cares??
This kind of moral distinction only matters to the white people worried about self-image (theirs or someone else’s), or to people who make abstract philosophy out of brutal physical/psychological violence, but it doesn’t matter at all to the people actually suffering and in desperate need of relief.
If you vote for trump, your reasons for doing so don’t matter to anybody but you, when it comes time to defend your choice, so you can find a way to sleep at night. I heard someone express this point differently. “The German language has a word for people who voted for the Nazis only because they were economically anxious: the word is, Nazi.”
If you support something racist, you are racist to the precise extent that you support that racist thing. There’s just no other way to look at it. And we know this. Does someone need to self-identity as an asshole, or can you safely call them an asshole if they keep behaving like a fucking asshole?
How can people who mean well become very racist? An analogy and thought experiment:
Imagine a Christian fundamentalist knocking at your door, trying to convert you because, being of a different religion, you’re a heretic, and heretics burn in hell for all eternity. We’ll call this guy Peter. Peter is trying to save you from hell.
If hell was a real place, Peter would be doing a real kindness! Peter’s intent is very good, but in reality he’s an annoying idiot unwelcome at my doorstep. The problem with Peter isn’t his intent, it’s that his intent is not aligned with reality. He’s not morally wrong, he’s factually wrong.
But imagine if Peter had a different but still wrong world outlook, and thought black people were naturally inclined towards criminal behaviour, and rather than a bible Peter carried a gun because he’s a cop, which gives him legal permission to shoot and kill somebody if he feels threatened.
Now imagine Peter feels particularly threatened around black people, not because he was born evil but because he grew up inundated with images on TV of black violence, which nothing in his adolescence counteracted. Now, Peter didn’t create the racist imagery in the first place, or ask to be exposed to it. There are countless ways to imbibe racism because it’s everywhere, so even if he isn’t responsible for becoming a racist, he is one now. But he’s a cop, and in his mind he only wants to protect his community and return home alive to his family when the shift is over.
But one day on the job, feeling threatened, he shoots and kills an unarmed black man. What is a white jury/public likely to see?
They watched the same TV promoting racist ideas about black violence Peter saw growing up. The white public sees a person daily risking their life to save the (their) community from threats (invented, in this theoretical case, but very real in their mind, which matters a lot). They put themselves in the cops’ shoes, and imagine how scared they’d be too. Wealthy white people often side with the police in an unspoken understanding, that they, the wealthy white people, are the ones in need of protection. Cops only exist to protect them and their property.
So the white cop kills a black person, the white citizen sides with the police, the white reporter frames the story/headline in a pro-police stance because they also identify with the police, and all of these white people may earnestly believe they’ve done nothing racist!
Even though a black person is dead. You see, throwing the term “racism” around is what’s divisive, not state agents killing innocent people.
So, if you read that a cop killed an unarmed black person, don’t respond saying that the cop probably didn’t wake up that morning looking to kill somebody.
The ghastly and concrete reality of police brutality and other horrific outcomes that stem from racism need to be concretely addressed. Racism is real and it kills.
Sitting around guessing whether the perpetrator had full or only part mens rea is decadent crap for people who, thankfully, will never be on the wrong end of a police officer’s bullet.
(Random, semi-related thoughts: the Blue Lives Matter movement is absurd: nobody denies police lives matter! rob ford gutted every public service and even he gave police a raise, despite the fact that they were investigating him for crimes!
If police became cops from birth rather than choice, and innocent officers were semi-regularly murdered by the state, and the justice system basically looked at this murder with approval, then Blue Lives Matter would be legitimate, except it would be indistinguishable from Black Lives Matter.
That Blue Lives Matter formed in opposition to Black Lives Matter, rather than sitting down to discuss with that community how it could improve, is just more proof that Black Lives Matter has the truth on its side.