Judging by the incredible amount of pushback, kvetching, and downright denials of “Nuh-uh!” for my series on the racism embedded in America’s deep culture, I’d say a couple three things here: (1) I hit a nerve. You’re welcome. #MyJobHereIsDone. (2) Folks don’t really get deep culture. (3) There is some deep denial about racial attitudes. And (4) people don’t get racism.
Here’s a bit more of an explainer of deep culture and how racial angst and racism works. We’ll start with how racism works., then move on to deep culture.
Racism, How Does It Work Again?
Let’s start with one of the easy ones. In my list I said, people don’t get racism. I committed the same error that many of my readers did. I assumed the white default. I can assure you that PoC get racism. They experience the hurt of it every day they are in contact with white America. White people experience racism every day, too, they just don’t realize it.
Here’s another example:
You know the Super Bowl Jeep commercial that everyone is talking about? The one that got us all weepy about coming back to the middle? If you don’t or haven’t seen it, watch it now. Let us know what you think of it in the comments.
I heard some commentators commenting that there were no people in the ad, other than Springsteen, because we have trouble figuring out how to represent the average American, any more. Like Springsteen isn’t the average American, amirite?
They wondered about whether any number of people shown would’ve been criticized for being either too inclusive or not inclusive enough. They meant Blacks and other minorities. Would there be too many minorities or not enough? We used to know who to show when we talked about “average” Americans. We used to agree on who was “average.” What “average” looked like.
Really? We did? I bet we didn’t. I bet white people agreed on what or who used to represent middle or average America because we used to only show white people. Inclusive used to mean white people from the country AND the city, or white people from New England, the South, AND out West. It was only when we started being racially inclusive that we started to lose our way on what represented the “average” American because too many Black people on the screen can cause white America to lose the plot.
I’ll get some pushback here, too. People will say that it isn’t racist to forget to include Black people. That showing mostly white people in America is okay because there are mostly white people in America. That insisting that we include people that look like all the groups that make up America only makes white people angry and defensive and is divisive.
Default to White
But, that is the problem. It is too easy for white people to look past Black people and assume that the default is white. If we are to overcome racism, we have to get comfortable with the idea of including all people in America whether it is in our commercials, TV shows, movies, parks, restaurants, study rooms in dorms, or in our thoughts. And, the only way we do that is by including all people in America in our commercials, TV shows, and movies so that white people are no longer surprised when they encounter PoC in spaces that they were expecting to be all white like parks, restaurants, and dorm study rooms. See what I did there? I listed the places where Karens got famous objecting to finding Black and brown people.
Racism is white people expecting that there will be all white spaces and being surprised when a Black person or other PoC pops up in them. Racism is feeling resentment when you’re asked to include PoC in your representation of America. Racism is feeling angered when you’re asked to accommodate PoC by changing the language you use — not using the n-word or using more inclusive language. It is hard because you have to monitor what you used to do automatically, make corrections, and, worse, make mistakes, and tolerate having someone point them out to you.
Our racist deep culture isn’t overt, but it responds by making us anxious and angry when it feels criticized. We feel justified in our anger because we are acting instinctively, and our instincts are leaving us vulnerable to criticism by the PoC and liberals, which makes it even worse because they are not seen as legitimate sources of criticism for white people.
Remember that culture is the unwritten, unspoken rules and norms that we live by. These tell us how to behave and what to think in certain situations. Culture divides into two broad areas, surface and deep culture. Surface culture governs all those things that we can easily see and think about: weddings, clothing, traffic lights, that sort of thing. Deep culture governs the things that we don’t see and think about. It exists outside of our conscious awareness but causes most of our behaviors and mental processes.
Racial attitudes, assumptions, and “rules” are based on our deep culture. As explained in the post on the Puritanism and Calvinism, much of our attitude towards other races, ethnic groups, and religion originates with the original settlers of the US British colonies.
Culture is passed down from one generation to the next. Gatekeepers are the people who pass culture along. They include parents, other relatives, teachers, textbook writers, entertainers, novelists, clergy, all of the folks who get to tell you what is right, wrong, and possible in terms of your behavior. In this way, Calvinism influences all of us since many of our educators, clergy, politicians, and writers are all from them. It is no coincidence that Harvard, Yale, and the other Ivy League universities are all in the Northeast.
Racist Dog Whistles
- Take back our country. This one is obvious, right? Who are we taking our country back from? The Blacks, Browns, Muslims, and liberals. It voices the threat that many white people feel when the once and future slaves begin to exert themselves. If white people have to start accommodating the needs and desires of Black people, they’ll just take everything. First it’s the vote, then it’s reparations, and, then, it’s lock up white people because we fought like hell to keep the Blacks, browns, Muslims, and liberals down. How is that even fair? Better to fight it out now.
- Southern culture and history. When white people talk about defending statues honoring the seditious insurrectionist traitors of the South and their battle flag as defending their history and culture, they are being accurate if not a bit disingenuous. They literally mean they want to defend their history and culture of owning Black people and how much they think we should be going back to it, and if we can’t get there, at least, suppressing and oppressing them.
- Law and order. Ahem. Black people are criminals who need to be jailed before they can rape white women and murder white people in general.
- Defund the police. The police defend us against the Black criminals without whom, white women would be raped and white people murdered.
Those are the easy ones. There is a set of more subtle racist dog whistles that get used. They are the conservative social issues that conservatives get all red-faced about, but they are correlates of racist views. In the explanations, I’ll give voice to the racism in our deep culture that it taps into:
- Abortion. Abortion is one of the more subtle ones. If abortion were safe AND legal, there’d be NO REASON for women not to fuck like men, and then we’d all be going straight to hell. Women has got to suffer if they aren’t willing to be pure. It relates to race because white people project all their pent-up sexual desires onto Blacks. We all know what avid fornicators Black people are. What did Mick Jagger say, Black girls just want to get fucked all night? Aren’t all Black men just dying to rape white women? They are little better than animals, right? So, if white people are going to be safe from the evils of wanton fornication, we cannot allow Black people to seduce us into their licentiousness. If we don’t control women through unwanted pregnancy, next thing you know, not only is it the Black girls who want to get fucked all night, it’s the white ones, too. And, they say that like it’s a bad thing.
- Gun rights. If it weren’t for guns, how could conservatives defend themselves against the gubmit, Blacks, Browns, Muslims, and liberal hippy-freaks who hate us for our freedoms. The guns is what puts the fear into them and keeps them in line. Makes ’em treat whites polite like, respect white folks.
- Immigration. Immigration is one of the most straight-forward connections to racism. People who are anti-immigrant are likely so because they hold these racist views of other ethnicities. Foreigners are dirty, diseased, immoral criminals, after all. You let them in here without being slaves or subjugated and suppressed, the next thing you know we’re all praying to Mother Mary and swearing their representatives into office on Korans and our menus will have kosher food on them. It’s our country! Nothing should ever change.
- Religious freedom. Conservative Christians don’t want YOU to have the freedom to worship as you please. That isn’t what is meant by religious freedom. Religious freedom means that they get to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious beliefs, and, that’s pert near everyone. Without the Constitutional freedom of discrimination, conservatives might be forced to socialize with Blacks, browns, and all sorts of PoC. First thing you know the gays can enter into holy matrimony and you’re forced to sell them wedding cakes and flowers, then you’ve got share your parks, restaurants, and dorm studying spaces with PoC. It is a slippery slope from allowing people to worship as they please and participating as equals in the marketplace to fraternizing with the Blacks.
Because we have these stereotypes of Blacks, browns, Muslims, immigrants, and liberals swimming around in our deep culture, any time a word, phrase, or concept becomes references one of them, it resonates, which means we kinda like it. It strikes us right, it seems like instinct. You don’t need to even think about Black people when someone says law and order or defund the police or abortion or religious freedom, but it’s there. And, it influences or behavior and mental processes. That’s the point of the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests.
Keep up with all the psychological insights into our politics by signing up for the email list!