campus racism part 3: "I'm not racist but ... "

… nothing good ever follows that sentence. It’s solidly reemerged as a trope in the American cultural lexicon. I’ve been hearing / seeing it a lot. (I say seeing, because so much of the social fabric of America now unfolds over social media, and also because in face to face conversation, people seem to behave better.)

A few weeks ago, I was going to write a lengthy follow up piece to my post about white student unions, but so many other things (mostly shootings; also an uprising in anti-Muslim sentiment) have stolen my attention since I first began composing my thoughts about this new uprising of racism, all my ideas got eclipsed by distressing and immediate events that call for as much examination and which have faded from the spotlight in rapid succession. It’s good that we have all developed short attention spans, because it allows us to process shock and outrage in a quick compressed cycle and move on before another stunner hits the news. Back to it though, a summary of my philosophy on the matter: the Black Lives Matter movement, and before BLM the election of Barack Obama, have provoked an enormous racist backlash. Obvious. There’s a great book about the concept of backlash against social momentum, and though it’s about responses to female progress, I have stolen the term and applied it to social movements of all types. Social progress is hard earned and demands a fight. Demands it, absolutely. I do not use that word sloppily. But what happens when you fight? Someone fights back. Privilege fighting back, pushing against a movement for equality, is a backlash.  It is predictable, like a tide. Two steps forward, one step back (although when economic inequality grows, social progress erodes along with it ... a whole nother can of worms).

I was going to write about Amazon’s dumb retort to suggestions that they should remove (contextually appropriate but offensive to the unaware) subway ads for The Man in the High Castle; I was going to talk about a New York Times article about campus racism culture (if there’s rape culture, I’m going to call it if I haven’t already: there also is racism culture) that with some words changed, might have been mistaken for a fluffy human interest piece about siblings squabbling over TV time (I don’t know where that article is. Probably I read it in a fumed state of mind.) … but as I said, too many other things have grabbed my attention, and I could not follow up on any of those tiny tree branches.  So off they go into the wind. American culture needs a therapist.

Worth noting is that I read an article proposing that the white student unions were largely the work of one or a group of trolls. It's pretty flippant. I don’t know if that’s the truth, but it’s worrying even if so, and there are plenty of signs that racists are mobilizing whether more hate groups exist in real space or are just growing conceptually. I have removed the schools’ contact info from that post. I had written a few in California to inquire about their response to having a white student union forming, and none responded. In the letters I framed my concern something like this: although I am not a student at their school(s), the influence of students on the community around them is an important one. And I believe this. Student dialogue is important. This is where a lot of great thinkers and great writers (and great observers of human behavior and cultural trends) develop their communication skills. I was implying, additionally, that colleges have a connection to the rest of their culture and are not just elite institutions where rich kids talk about nothing.

Also I’ve rubbernecked, like a car accident, a number of social media conversations about Black Lives Matter and am always stunned by people openly expressing their hostility towards the movement, unaware or unperturbed by the frequency of police executions of people of color in this country (or possibly: unaware of their inner racist).

Further, I’m going to go right ahead and blame Donald Trump’s presidential bid for smoking out all the latent bigots.

And I guess that sums up the icing on what I would have written in the past month, if I'd had any philosophizing in me.