This movie has had far too great of an influence on my moral code.
I still remember the days when, if you wanted to say something racist, you had to first say, “I’m not racist, but…” then lower your voice, glance around, and then say something obliquely racist, like “So I saw somebody sideswipe a car in the parking lot at Target and the driver was Asian,” or “I saw someone embarrassing himself on the dance floor and it was a white guy who was apparently named Truman or something.”
Those were just the rules – first you had to insist that you weren’t racist, because in all likelihood you weren’t, and then you quietly and delicately rehashed an event in which you saw a person living up to an ugly racial stereotype. It was PG-13 racism for the 21st century, with no nasty words and the guilty acknowledgment that it was wrong to be talking about this sort of thing in the first place.
That, I think, is about as un-racist as America is ever going to get: People still know and think about the stereotypes, but they feel incredibly guilty whenever they privately discuss them with other people. It’s impossible to eradicate racism, but when you take all the fun out of it people are way less likely to engage in it as much.
What I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, though, is that racism seems to be coming back in what is arguably the stupidest possible way.
There’s the bar owner in Atlanta who uses his reader board sign to call the president and Michael Jackson the N-word* and compare them to monkeys, or the girl in Sacramento who hoped that the N-word would get assassinated in his second term, or the old white couple in Michigan who lynched an empty chair in their front yard after Clint Eastwood compared the president to an empty chair.
*As a student of Louis CK I know that it’s dishonest of me to write ‘N-word’ instead of the actual term, but I’d just as soon people not be able to Google ‘hair guy’ followed by a racial slur and be directed straight to my blog.
The one thing all these events have in common is that the people responsible for them all insist that they aren’t racist. After their initial shock that their racially charged displays have drawn media attention, they bend over backwards to make it explicitly clear to the press that they aren’t racist, but are just exercising their First Amendment rights to make a political point.
Protip: A good way to avoid being accused of racism is to not lynch chairs in your front lawn or splash racial slurs all over your place of business or Facebook page. I’m not sure exactly what political point these people were trying to make, but don’t blame us for thinking you’re a racist when the medium you use to convey your message is so damn racist.
If you want my opinion, I think these people are all pretty racist. Not Strom Thurmond racist, mind you, but on the Racism Spectrum™ I’d put all three of them somewhere between Drunk Mel Gibson and Angry Michael Richards levels of racist, which is definitely an above-average level of racism.
Now, I can safely say that these people really piss me off. And it’s not because they hate the president I like so much – hell, it’s not even because they’re being racist. It’s because they’re being racist but they’re too chickenshit to actually own up to the fact that they’re being racist!
Racism is toxic and stupid, but there isn’t a law against it – it’s completely protected under the First Amendment. It’s not like saying, “I’m not racist,” is some sort of cop out to avoid jail time. It’s something that you say when an offhand comment or bad joke you’ve made gets taken out of context and blows up in your face.
If you’ve taken the time and energy to cover your home or business in racial slurs and imagery, damn it, be proud of that shit! I’m not saying racism is anything you should be proud of, but you’ve clearly thought out and prepared your message in advance. It’s not like you’re on the fence about race relations; if you’re racist enough to turn your front lawn into a public tribute to lynching, why can’t you just admit that you’re racist? You’ve already carried the racist ball to the 5-yard line, at that point why the hell wouldn’t you just make the racist touchdown?
Sure, maybe they’re scared that if they admit to being racists they’ll face reprisals from the black and non-racist community. Thing is, whether you admit that you’re racist or not, you’ve still got a huge racist display in front of your home or business. Everybody already assumes that you’re racist; by saying that you aren’t you’re only lying to yourself.
I’ve never been to a KKK cross burning, but I imagine when they do they aren’t chanting, “We’re not racist. We’re not racist,” the entire time. I’m pretty sure that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t end every speech with, “But seriously, guys, I’m not anti-Semitic.” Osama Bin Laden’s last words weren't, “I don’t really hate America! 9/11 was just me trying to prove a point!”*
*Speaking of Osama Bin Laden being dead, happy Veterans Day, everybody!
Racism is fundamentalism – to be racist you have to assume that every single member of a given minority group behaves in the same shitty way. You can’t half-ass fundamentalism. If you’re a racist, and you want to be racist in public like these people, then you need to understand that the tradeoff is that normal society isn’t going to be happy to see you anymore. You’re going to have to find a new group of friends. Spoiler alert: Most of them sell guns out of the trunk of their car and have some pretty interesting tattoos.
That’s what I find the most shocking about these racist displays – it’s that members of the neoconservative movement, which historically prides itself on eschewing the liberal value of ‘political correctness’, are so concerned with what other people think of them.
It all comes back to that invaluable lesson from Wet Hot American Summer: “If you want to smear mud on your ass, smear mud on your ass. Just be honest about it.”
Truman Capps hates white people.