A recent commenter to one of my articles made the “stunning” observation that I was biased against people of color and, for that reason, he was never going to read my articles again! His rationale? Because within a certain arbitrary timeframe (as defined by him) I had excoriated OJ Simpson and Bill Cosby in separate articles.
What he’d missed is that between those articles I had similarly condemned five white people in a row. In other words, my problem wasn’t that I was always picking on black people, my problem was I had exceeded my quota.
This is of course patronizing nonsense. I call balls and strikes on everyone according to how they behave, period. If you murder two people or rape 64 women I’m going to call you out on it, just as, on the other hand, I frequently praise Barack Obama as the greatest president of the twenty first century. Race plays no part, and if it does then it’s not prejudice it’s patronisation.
Nevertheless, we are all so steeped in subtle racial biases that we can barely see straight. Decades of growing up in the midst of it makes it very hard to shake off. I am no exception. But I will not be condemned for racial prejudice where none exists. But I do take it as automatic that I am prejudiced in ways that are quite simply beyond my control. I can’t see past it.
This tendency has been documented by Harvard’s “implicit association test” (IAT). The vast majority of white people fail this test. Even some black people fail it as well. Malcolm Gladwell, from whom I found out about the test, famously failed it. We humans are imperfect vessels for judging our biases. (If you’ve never taken the IAT I urge you to do so. It can be found online and taken for free.)
All of which is to say, we humans, the imperfect vessels of prejudice adjudication, are quite probably about to be slammed by a tsunami of crudely overt racial bigotry in the next five years or so. The reason? Because candidates for Congress and other public offices are becoming more and more brazenly and overtly bigoted in order to impress Donald Trump and Trumpism.
I also expect a resurgence in the use and abuse of the ugliest word in the English language. You already know what word I mean. Expect to see candidates using it and getting away with it. No, not just getting away with it, prospering because of it. The race to racism has begun, and you can thank the largely silent Republican Party for making it possible. Republicans refuse to condemn bigotry when it’s practised by one of its own.
It is of course a natural consequence of trying to “Make America Great Again.” MAGA is nothing more than a dog whistle for bigotry, to “restore” the United States to the 1950s, when bigotry was overt and human rights were constantly and openly under threat. Tommy Tuberville’s recent racist remarks are another in a long series of mini-steps in that direction.
So 1950s-style racism is making a sickening comeback. We will all have to do our very best to counter this unspeakable trend despite our own shortcomings. With all the other horrors the last six years or so have brought us, this one, that carries with it some of the greatest evil, will be among our greatest challenges. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.