Racism as Self Delusion

Blog entry 3 of 4 on the George Yancy situation.

What did George Yancy say that has brought all this backlash. His New York Times opinion piece from December, 2015 is written as a letter addressed “Dear White America.” In it he asks white America to listen with love to what he has to say. He admits he is sexist despite his best efforts, because he harbors subconscious beliefs that oppress women and he participates and benefits from a system of male privilege. His words:

“Yet, I refuse to remain a prisoner of the lies that we men like to tell ourselves — that we are beyond the messiness of sexism and male patriarchy, that we don’t oppress women. Let me clarify. This doesn’t mean that I intentionally hate women or that I desire to oppress them. It means that despite my best intentions, I perpetuate sexism every day of my life. …  As a sexist, I have failed women. I have failed to speak out when I should have. I have failed to engage critically and extensively their pain and suffering in my writing. I have failed to transcend the rigidity of gender roles in my own life. I have failed to challenge those poisonous assumptions that women are “inferior” to men or to speak out loudly in the company of male philosophers who believe that feminist philosophy is just a nonphilosophical fad. I have been complicit with, and have allowed myself to be seduced by, a country that makes billions of dollars from sexually objectifying women, from pornography, commercials, video games, to Hollywood movies. I am not innocent.”

Similarly he argues that:

I’m asking for you to tarry, to linger, with the ways in which you perpetuate a racist society, the ways in which you are racist. I’m now daring you to face a racist history which, paraphrasing Baldwin, has placed you where you are and that has formed your own racism. Again, in the spirit of Baldwin, I am asking you to enter into battle with your white self. I’m asking that you open yourself up; to speak to, to admit to, the racist poison that is inside of you….

You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism. After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.

As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering. Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist.

He ends by asking:

White America, are you prepared to be at war with yourself, your white identity, your white power, your white privilege? Are you prepared to show me a white self that love has unmasked?

This then was his crime; asking whites to shed the self delusion that they are not racist just as he is working on his delusion that he is not sexist. He sees this as James Baldwin does, as a form of love. For this he was vilified and subjected to death threats.  The people who have written these nasty comments, phoned in these death threats, are obviously beyond doing the self reflection for which Yancy asks. They may be beyond hope. We may have to just cordon them off and wait for them to die. What about the rest of you? Even if there are hundreds of people willing to direct their vitriol at Yancy there are millions more who didn’t. Are you willing to perform the kind of deep reflection Yancy recommends? It is not an easy thing to do and some black folks or other people of color might have to do it too. Can you hear me Kanye? It may be the only way through this racist morass we are in and the path to the beloved community King dreamt about.

In Graham Nash’s words:

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick, the one you’ll know by.

In the next blog entry I will take a stab at answering the question “America WTF is wrong with you?”

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