Most Racists Are Good People

Ian Heney LopezIn Namibia, then under South African control and also an apartheid state, the towns were widely spaced in a desert of sere geologic beauty. A farmer who gave me a lift lived some hundred-plus kilometers outside of the next town, but recognizing that there would be little traffic and so virtually no chance that I could secure an onward ride, he drove on past his homestead in the fading sunlight. This generous act added hours of needless driving to an already long day for the farmer. As we got close to town, though, he apologized and explained he would have to drop me off several hundred meters from the outskirts. He had killed a “kaffir”—the local equivalent of “nigger”—for poaching, and the constable had asked him to stay out of town for a few weeks until pressure for his arrest subsided. I was stunned speechless. Then the routines of normal etiquette kicked in and carried me through a ritual of thanks, goodbye, good luck with your travels.

Like most, I have been conditioned to think of racism as hatred, and racists as pathologically disturbed individuals. To be sure, sadistic racists exist, and racism is frequently bound up with the emotional heat of fear and hatred. But as I began to intuit while hitchhiking through the landscape of apartheid, most racists are good people. That bears emphasizing, since it runs so profoundly contrary to the dominant conception. Even the farmer who killed another human being for the petty act of poaching, I came to understand, was not a homicidal lunatic but a complex person capable of both brutal violence and real generosity.

—Ian Haney Lopez
Dog Whistle Politics

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