The smart bigot’s argument against affirmative action is that the very idea is racist. As George Will is fond of saying things similar to this, “If you want to stop racism, stop being racist.” It all sounds so great. According to this theory, all we need to do is stop thinking in racial terms and everything will be fine. The problem is that we won’t all stop thinking in racial terms. We might stop talking in racial terms. We might all pretend that many individuals, institution, and system are beyond operating in racial terms. But racist thinking will then simply have free rein to work its pernicious magic. So all we’re really getting from people like Will is an appeal to ignore racism and hope it goes away (not that it matters one way or another to him).
A good example of how racism works can be found in Texas. Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act, Texas began working to make their voting system more racist. Of course, there is nothing new about this. According to a federal court ruling from last year, “The [Texas Congressional District 25] mapdrawers consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of CD 23’s Anglo citizens.” This is the kind of thing that the Voting Rights Act was designed to protect against. But now the Supreme Court has ruled that they have to be allowed to suppress the vote and only then stopped.
Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that the federal government still can go after this kind of behavior before it directly affects voters. In a transcript of a talk he gave to the National Urban League Annual Conference, he said, “Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder—as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized—we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
This, of course, is great news. But it gets to the heart of this ridiculous idea that if we liberals would just shut up about racism, it would go away. That’s just not true. Institutional racism existed that effectively made it impossible for blacks to vote in the south from the 1870s up through the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s roughly 90 years of pretending that there was no problem. If it really were going to work itself out, it would have done so in that amount of time. And that is not even counting the de facto Jim Crow that currently exists in the form of the massive over-application of drug laws against African American communities.
But don’t think that George Will and his band sophisticated bigots are an old and dying bread. Steve Benen brought my attention to an interview that Rand Paul did with Yahoo! News in Iowa. Now remember: Paul is one of the more “reasonable” Republicans. And he said, “I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do.” And he isn’t lying. That’s what he thinks. He thinks that explicit government racism is wrong. He even understands the drug law issue. What he doesn’t understand—and this is key—is how America isn’t otherwise a level playing field.
This is just willful ignorance—the kind of ignorance that is very flattering to a man like Rand Paul. For example, he is a doctor. So is his father Ron Paul. But I’m sure it never occurs to him that that is correlated in any way except that Ron gave him some really great genes. But all the evidence shows it is just the opposite. So Rand Paul can think that he’s the number one proponent of minority rights. But the truth is that just like the bigots who came before him, he just wants everyone to pretend. Unfortunately for him, most of us don’t have the talent for such delusion.