Americans, Race, and the Luxury of Denial

24 Jul 2010

In a July 24 editorial in the Rocheseter Democrat and Chronicle, “Racial Obsession Generates Backlash”, Stanford University Historian Victor Davis Hanson writes:

…in just 18 months of the Obama administration, racial discord is growing and relations seem to have been set back a generation.

Actually, I believe that the rhetoric we are seeing these days goes back to the mid-1800’s, but otherwise, I agree. However, Mr. Hanson places the blame—and, by suggestion, the recent Shirley Sherrod maelstrom—squarely at the feet of the President, and anyone else who still brings up the issue of race in a country that “passed the old white/black divide years ago.”

Ignoring the fact that this is an open question, and forgetting (for now) the parade of racial imagery that has been passing by ever since Obama’s election, I see in this argument a prime example of what I call The Luxury of Denial. When someone says that race doesn’t matter, it’s a good bet that, for him, anyway, it doesn’t, and probably never has. Having been brought up in supportive families, in safe neighborhoods, with decent schools, and the educational and financial wherewithal to attend college, some people are about as close to racial concerns as they are to the Rings of Saturn.

I first started seeing LOD in the trans-racial adoption debates, usually in the form of the assertion that, “Race doesn’t matter, only love does.” When carried over into politics and the media, the LOD prompts people to argue that bringing up race only serves to stir up a maelstrom, or that it’s being kept on a respirator by self-serving groups like the NAACP. Recently, I saw both of these arguments at work in a comment on a transracial adoption blog: In response to a story on a cross-cultural visit to a Black Church, one woman accused the author of keeping racial differences alive, since she, herself, had been raised a brunette in a family of blondes, and never found such discrimination to be a problem.

The New Face of LOD?

In extreme cases, LOD, and the position of power which gives rise to it, can be positively dangerous. Thus we have the example of Fox’s Megyn Kelly who, after playing the bowdlerized video of Shirley Sherrod, said that America needs to be schooled on the new face of racism—a Black one—and that she’s just the one to do it. Fox took Sherrod down in a heartbeat.

Mr. Hanson closes his article by asserting,

…the more political issues are framed by racial divisions, so all the more such racial obsession creates a backlash among the racially diverse American people.

Actually, racial divisions have framed American political issues for hundreds of years, but some of its citizens have had the luxury of not needing to notice, not caring, or even benefiting from such framing. And where is this racially diverse backlash that is supposedly taking place? I see it only among the Kellys, Breitbarts, Tea Party leaders and other CFO’s of American cultural capital, who are finding that certain luxuries can’t last forever, even among the privileged.

America’s racial problems aren’t over—they’re simply becoming more democratic.



One Response to “Americans, Race, and the Luxury of Denial”

  1. R. J Black Says:

    It took South Africa one generation to come to terms with the horrors called apartheid with the living oppressors of the regime of this evil. Stating that love and forgiveness is a type of utopian healing myth is a falsehood.

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