“Racism: A Place without a Self” by Myron Moses Jackson


photo by Michael Casim

The steadfast persistence of racism is particularly acute in an America which has found no way or means of honestly dealing with this flabbergasting inhumanity. Was there ever a council for truth and reconciliation, such as was the case at the end of South African apartheid? Have any attempts at across the board, non-discriminatory reparations been made? America has passed civil rights legislation, for example, but that simply asserts and attempts to validate what the nation proclaimed from its beginning: that all men are created equal. But no one will seriously contend that a national discussion has ever taken place or will be seriously considered despite the hoopla of O.J. Simpson’s and Michael Brown’s, or Oprah specials, presidential town-hall meetings, or building up black God-like celebrities. This is a significant symbol, I believe—the absence of real dialogue on race in America—which portrays how racism has permeated and been practiced for a very long time in American culture. Essentially, we have an epidemic of absentee selves who promote discrimination and systemic racism, both intentionally and unintentionally. With the self-righteous attitude of one’s own (false) superiority we find the mass deception of self-denial. Hypocrisy is the face of the self-righteous! The voyeurism of white privilege operates in “bad faith.” Now anyone can be racist, but the key difference is that whites have been able to enjoy the advantages of institutional and systemic discrimination based on the history and their envelopment of bigotry. But through the pressures to interpret the world as post-racial and overlook individual complicitness in such multifariously oppressive practices, white supremacy and privilege has arguably grown stronger today through its pervasive and subtle existence.

The evidence of this can be seen in the way that those who engage in racism will profusely deny it. Not even the racist wants to be recognized as racist. Despite having audio recordings or video evidence, bigots like Donald Sterling or Donald Trump will adamantly deny such affiliations. Friends and colleagues, both past and present, will come to the rescue and reassure the public there is no racism here despite what we may have seen or heard.  When philosophers write—“affirmative action is ultima facie unjust”; “There may have been white supremacist attitudes toward Native Americans, but there is no evidence of any intentional deception or mistreatment—let alone massacres—of these people”; or “benefiting from white privilege is not wrong, so white privilege is no basis for an apology.  Any regret here does not have the moral significance required for an apology.  White privilege cannot be surrendered, so an apology for retaining it is inappropriate”—they will not only become the chairs and affirmative action officers of their departments, but minorities of all stripes will be coddled to accept that racism will not be tolerated under any unequivocal circumstances, in such places. Therefore, we are more likely to complain that towns, companies, or institutions are racist as a default identifier, given the snake-like elusiveness of racists. Evasive and cowardly, racists refuse authentic transparency and present a false self. In this sense, can racists forever be associated with the symbolism of the white hood of the KKK and the fear of being seen. The closest you will likely get is to the shadows of this culprit. Racism is the boogie man or monster under the bed that keeps us guessing about whether it’s there or not! It is the American equivalent of the concentration camps that stand there as reminders of the evil that was and can still be!

I want to interpret this malleable form of racism as the obliteration of selfhood, from both the standpoint of racists and the attempt to do so to their victims. My contention is that racism is a dark place to which one can go, regardless of your race. But the cost is to sacrifice one’s own selfhood, which the ground for the dehumanization of others—I contend that one has to necessarily dehumanize themselves as a sufficient prerequisite condition to engage in the efforts to dehumanize any other person. Further, racists unlike those who suffer racism, are more likely to disown one’s past and work to manipulate social memory, insofar as it pertains to racism. How many times will you hear the narratives of “it’s my heritage not hate,” as told from an escapist position of post-whiteness and blackness. But such historical reconstruction and opportunism is more conducive to a place without an actual self.

From the standpoint of the victims of racism, these experiences come with affirmations that you are not what they claim or label you to be. The act of being unwilling to dehumanize oneself for the sake of the other’s objectification and stereotype, is the nemesis of racism. A genuine self as an expression of humanity and the freedom of possibilities we all strive to achieve is the great antidote of racism. We should work hard to cultivate and commend the courage of people who retain the self and resist the pressures to go to this very dark place. Racism is about closedness and the incubation of oneself—you don’t need to build a literal wall in order to become enclosed and establish a claustrophobic self of the xenophobe. Racism not only advances a thin and narrow notion of selfhood, but fails to see how this hostility to the outer world of the other is actually self-inhibiting and stifling. The racist hero, who openly practices racism and is proud of it, will follow the recipe of a culture that will grow stagnate and wither away. The kind of culture uninhabitable for a free self and one that is not widely envied. The exclusivity and de-spiritualization of racism spreads an Antarctica-like culture of fear that makes post-racial nirvana an illusion and works on behalf of the abdication of King’s Dream. As those who have suffered from racism will remind you, it’s a dire and scary place so why would you want to go there, especially when it’s clear even the racist doesn’t want to? We must stay committed to uprooting and eliminating these places that take over the soul’s of our fellow brethren like demons, where no “hearts and minds” are left there to listen or be convinced.