And sometimes racism isn’t subtle

I have, on occasion, waxed on at great length about how most racism in society today operates behind the scenes. While we’ve pictured it in our minds as flaming crosses and jackbooted police officers beating up black men on the freeway, it usually tends to happen in much more insidious ways, percolating behind the veneer of our arch-liberal “treat everyone equal” mantras. Of course when the more “classic” examples of racism manifest themselves, it shocks everyone except those of us who have been paying attention.

But those of us who are not particularly sensitive to this new definition of racism can rest a bit easier knowing that the old type is still very much alive:

A sign excluding black people from a future Abbotsford, Wisconsin business is enraging some people in the small town. It’s a sign generations of people may have never seen, yet Mark Prior says it’s his right to discriminate. “If I’ve got a problem with you it’s going to be on the front of my store,” says Mark Prior. Prior posted his ‘No Negros Allowed’ sign after he says he had some problems with black people in the past and needed to make a policy against them.

Wait wait wait… did he actually post a sign that says ‘No Negroes Allowed’?

Yep. He did.

There is a particularly odious argument out in the ether that people should be allowed to serve whoever they want, regardless of what kind of systemic prejudices such a policy props up. On the surface of it, the argument appears to have some validity. After all, if you open up your own business, who is anyone to tell you that you must cater to people you don’t like? Your individual rights of autonomy are being violated, dammit!

“I’m going to stick to my guns because I think I have the right as a business owner to reject service to anyone. It’s not all the black people there are just a few bad ones,” Prior says of his problems in the past.

Of course this is an argument that, like many conservative calling cards, has its basis in the idea of “I got mine, Jack!” So what if the autonomy of others is violated? So what if that pattern of violation fertilizes a de facto second-class citizenship for people based on something completely trivial like skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief? As long as I don’t get trampled on, the other stuff doesn’t really matter.

There’s another fun thing that happened in there. Did you catch it? “It’s not all black people, there are just a few bad ones.” Aaaaaand that’s why all of them are banned? It’s one of those cognitive dissonances that reveals the depth of Mr. Prior’s racism – the troublemakers are causing trouble because they’re black. It’s the colour of their skin that’s making them cause trouble, right? Otherwise why specify that it’s “Negroes” that aren’t allowed in? Of course the fact that the guys are causing trouble is not causally related to their ethnicity, but it sure is fun to stereotype.

I’m not a fan of strip clubs. I don’t think anyone should go to them, but people do, so whatever. I’m even less a fan, however, of telling a specific group of people “you’re not allowed in here because of what you are, nothing to do with anything you’ve done”. For nostalgia purposes, it’s nice that folks like Mr. Prior are still around to remind us all that we’re not done dealing with racism, no matter how much we might like to pretend we are.

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  1. says

    That’s my reaction every time something stupid like this happens up in Canada.

    Racism in the North is no myth – the only myth is that the northern states were some kind of milk and honey promised land for escaped slaves fleeing the evil south. The northern states had a diversified economy that included manufacturing more than agriculture, meaning the market for slaves was less, and abolition was easier. Money moves policy.

  2. says

    Haha, I remember learning about this in school (that the lack of agriculture helped drive the abolitionist movement in the north.) My husband always likes to say “the Civil War was about slaves in the south, even though southerners try to say it was about state’s rights; it was about state’s rights in the north, even though the northerners try to say it was about slaves.” The reality is probably a bit more nuanced than that, but he is more or less right.

    Let’s just kick out all of the stupid people north of the mason-dixon line. 😛

  3. says

    I can’t remember who said my favourite line about the whole “state’s rights” thing, but it went something like this:

    Guy #1: The civil war wasn’t about slavery.
    Guy #2: Sure it was
    Guy #1: No, it was about states’ rights
    Guy #2: … to own slaves

    Trying to reduce something as complex as the US Civil War to a single issue is a fool’s errand. I strongly dislike the current tendency to brand the Union as the “good guys” and the Confederates as the “bad guys”; slavery was a partisan device used to justify a horrible war, much like terrorism and Afghanistan. The “real” causes are multitude and more complex than a cursory review of history can adequately explore.

  4. Angela Squires says

    “Our mistake is sometimes we look for logic in something that is just plain stupid,” says Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, an African American historian at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

    Ducksworth-Lawton says she feels Prior is out to get attention.

    She says the second he opens his business, he’ll be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    ….I think this woman is right that he was looking for attention but did a very stupid thing to get it. Somehow I don’t think the adage of even negative publicity is better than none applies to this twit!

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