Casual Racism and the Need for Social Ostracization

While I’ve been happy to share others’ posts and converse with friends in person about the current circumstances of the continuing civil rights movement in this country, I’ve been somewhat hesitant to do a deep dive into my own feelings through this blog. That’s because I think my feelings on the subject aren’t that important. What are important are the voices of black and brown people in this country who have been continually targeted for abuse, marginalized, and gas-lit. Because I still feel this way, I’ll keep this quick. But every once in a while I am consumed by the overwhelming urge to say something the way I want.

If you have not noticed racial injustice in this country you are, in fact, a racist. Yes even if you have black friends. Even if you support black businesses. Even if you have consciously never made a decision against someone on the basis of the color of their skin. If you’ve been able to look on at American life at large and see little or no discrepancies in the way people are treated in relation to the melanin in their skin, you are the reason we have a fucking problem.

I know this has been said before, but I just want to stress how clean-cut and simple this is. As primatologist Frans de Waal discovered, even monkeys can tell when a friend is being short-changed:

 

So if humans claim not to notice injustice as it unfolds in front of them, what does that mean? To me it’s pretty clear. If someone doesn’t notice that their fellow human keeps getting a cucumber while they get a grape, it’s likely they don’t actually see that fellow human as fully human. As a deeply social organism, injustice speaks to our very genes. The only way to turn this off is to convince oneself, consciously or unconsciously, that there is something inherently different about the cucumber recipients. That they are, in fact, being treated fairly by being treated differently and this jives with the social order.

This is why I don’t play ball with so-seeming “casual” racists. Sure, it’s easy for everyone to cut off the crazy uncle who drops the N word. But I see so many people maintaining relationships with people who continue to live without acknowledging racial injustice. Who continue to vote and live and speak as if the very lives of black and brown people in this country weren’t continually, disproportionately at stake.

If we want to take a cue from early humans or even, as I did prior, from other social primates, we have a powerful tool in our hands that we are not always using. Short of outright eliminating a threat to a tribe or troupe, social primates ostracize. In our society assault and murder are illegal (for good reasons) but social exclusion is not. You reward and condone people for their behavior by maintaining relationships with them. If you can hide your revulsion of someone who sees an entire group of people as less than human long enough to play 18 holes of golf with them you are not revolted enough.

Social isolation is often the only language short of violence people understand. We cannot continue to act as if indifference to systemic human suffering is a political view. It is a threat as real as disease, war, or famine. Make no mistake. To accept anything less than anti-racism is to continue to watch the growth of a malignant tumor on the human species.

Categories: Activism, Culture, Ethics, Humanity, Philosophy, Politics | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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