Scott Rabb: “Like many nice Caucasians, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected. It was one of the high points in American history. And all that’s happened since the election is just a sh*tstorm of hatred. You want to weigh in on that?”
Chris Rock: “I actually like it, in the sense that—you got kids? Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last—this is the act up before going to sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them—and the next thing you know, they f****ing knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.”
It’s bombast, I know. “All that’s happened since the election” (both 2008 and 2012) is clearly not all hatred, though this President’s death-threat count has been off the charts since way before day one. Nor would I label the Tea Party racists…exactly. It’s just that some of their ideas about how society works and their misunderstanding of how heavy racism actually is give loads of comfort to racists. I go with one writer who said, “The Tea Party isn’t racist, it’s just colosally stupid.” But not totally, so. I actually agree with some of their ideas. I, too, think if you can keep government out of something you ought to. It’s just naive to think you can keep it out of all the things they want it out of. Specifically, I think that government regulations could be lessened to encourage more entrepreneurial spirit among poor people, so there could be more of the microenterprises we see in the Grameen-sponsored projects in Bangladesh, for instance. As for the greedy macro-enterprises of Wall Street: those need more, not less, regulation.
I doubt that many official Tea Party-ers are members of extremist hate groups either—though, again, it bears repeating that many of their mouthings really encourage extremists, racist and otherwise. “Official” membership in hate groups is just over 200,000 nation-wide. The comfort is that “just over 200,000” is only about 0.0007 of our total population. Still, that averages over 4,000 haters per state, and it’s no comfort whatever when one of those walks into a Sikh Temple, as one did in Wisconsin last August. That kind of sick racism will probably always be with us because there’s no fool proof way to regulate sick minds, no way to convince those that any violence of this kind is by definition pathologically inhuman.
What Chris Rock meant, I’m sure, is that “normal,” everyday, personal (as opposed to institutional or systemic) racism might almost be over. That seems like a fantasy, too—though, now that I think of it, I said something similar in a 2002 newspaper piece called “Turning a corner on racism” (read it HERE), and again in a longer 2004 essay (read it HERE) when I wrote: “‘This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.’ This [James Baldwin] sentence seems to sound loudly in the imagination of the old order, causing it to lash out in denial, causing it to cling to notions of racial and ethnic purity even while most of us realize more each day what violence and death result from such ideologies. Things change in the imagination first, I tell myself. You cannot change until you imagine not only what that change could be, but also the very possibility of change itself.”
Doesn’t have quite the brevity of Chris Rock’s formulation, but I’m a scholar only half-given, most of the time, to bombast. Believing racism is almost over isn’t quite as distant a hope as a generation ago, but you still have to go way, way, way out on a limb to believe it.