I don’t believe in critical race theory.
I don’t believe in structural racism or affirmative action or that America is built on white supremacy.
But I do believe that something is wrong. Yes, racism is a two-way street, and both political parties stoke the bigotry of their supporters. Yes, the face of racism is found in every mirror, and the modern human heart seems wired for tribalism. Nobody wants justice, most want revenge. In the name of equality, most seek priority.
The fight against bigotry is largely just the replacement of one sort of discrimination with another, the claim of racism an effort to empower racism.
We all see these things in the actions of people who don’t look like us. But they are just as common in the actions of people who do.
That’s what I thought yesterday as I listened to the press conference. It was a rich dentist and his loopy wife and their bombastic lawyer, explaining how the Juneteenth party at their Rochester mansion wasn’t racist and they weren’t racist but, sure, they have a collection of Jim Crow knickknacks and, yes, of course, the wife had a “parody” Twitter account that ridiculed black people, but, no, obviously they’re not racist.
One of her posts was an old National Geographic-esque photo of African women, each with a superimposed bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Other posts were written in minstrel show dialect. Most depicted black people with exaggerated racial features, and seemingly having limited intellectual ability.
Sure, the wife and the lawyer said, the posts were racist, but she’s not a racist. It was just a “persona,” a “parody.” That’s how Twitter is, they said.
All while crying – literally – about cancel culture.
Sure, cancel culture is an evil. But so is racism. And on display, with undeniable reality, broadcast live on the radio, streamed to a laptop near you, was as disgusting and palpable a racism as most of us have seen in years.
Though, I guess that depends on who “us” is.
The black activists tend to see it all the time, and I tend to think they’re full of crap. But yesterday wasn’t black activists, it was white patricians. It was the elite of Rochester’s social and philanthropic communities, effete board members, people so white as to be translucent, admitting casually to things I honestly thought had been extinct for a generation.
No apology, no self-awareness, just victimhood and boasts of all the good they had done. Tears and snot and slightly slurred speech.
And the preposterous argument that the party wasn’t racist, but if it was, it was her fault not his, so, please, keep coming to us for your fillings, because we do, after all, have to keep our coffers full. And, speaking of which, I’m eager to bring my volunteerism and my money anywhere they can be useful, if, of course, it will buy us peace. Hell, maybe we could fix this all up with a gala.
And the preposterous argument that a purposefully racist Twitter account that repeatedly and pointedly and almost exclusively mocked black people with lynching-era stereotypes was in no way a reflection on the person making the posts and certainly shouldn’t be misconstrued as an indication that she is, herself, racist as hell.
There was no apology, no regret, no remorse. No realization or self-awareness. Just some trite words and some false assertions, and continued clueless self-incrimination as the TV reporters asked their questions.
It was one of the most intensely self-destructive things I’ve ever seen.
But it wasn’t just themselves they tore down. And it wasn’t just questions about them that went unanswered.
Because the racism that counts is the racism in the mirror. And this event demands an introspection, if not about racism then about how racism could so confidently presume it would be accepted.
America isn’t like that, I’ve told myself for years, but yesterday is undeniable.
Over the weekend, in line at a rural grocery store with my 11-year-old son, we stood behind a man with a White Pride tattoo. But he fit a profile, and driving away, my son and I could consign him and his statement to a “them” category. He was an “other” not an “us.”
But yesterday wasn’t a skinhead or a neonazi.
Yesterday was the white elites of a black city.
Yesterday was a troubling lifting of the hood.