Ed Brayton & I Created Overlapping Posts: “The real racists”, then and now.

I hadn’t read Ed Brayton yesterday when I created my discussion of the Trumpian defense of cissexism. However, as it turns out, he also posted something addressing the same phenomenon. He chose to emphasize the history of the argument, rather than how it comes about and what it says about popular understandings of practical ethics, meta ethics, and oppression. Nonetheless, it’s very relevant:

We hear a lot of racists claim that they aren’t racist, the real racists are the ones who accuse them of racism. One might thing this is a new argument, but George Wallace, who might as well have worn a white sheet and hood to the governor’s office in Alabama every day, made this exact same argument, word for word, in 1968.

[See Brayton’s post for a video of Wallace’s argument in Wallace’s own words.]

While the trans-hostile version of this isn’t that trans* people are the real anti-trans*ists, it’s quite close. The essence of the trans-hostile claim is that trans* people are killing gender liberation, and that anti-trans feminism is the only method of achieving gender liberation. Thus anti-trans feminists are the real pro-trans feminists, and pro-trans* activists (feminist or not) are actually anti-woman and anti-feminist.

But “the people who identify racism and racists are the real racists” argument has strong components of “Black people aren’t necessarily anti-Black, but they’re anti-white and their activism is also wrong in ways which make racial liberation impossible, while the the KKK and the CCCs and more generally the white anti-Black public figures who are commonly called racists have the only real solutions to racism. Thus George Wallace is the true hero of the anti-racism movement and the people who are given credit for fighting racism are actually retrenching it.”

Understood this way, the TERF statements and these statements made by George Wallace and his defenders in the 1960s are near-exact analogs. I’d like to think that we’d learned our lessons from past struggles, but not only have we not learned to recognize these cissexist arguments in the TERF context, too many of us still buy into the original racist form of the argument a hundred years after it was first made and more than 50 years after it was first widely criticized in mainstream media.

As an addition, I thought I would point out that George Wallace of the 1960s deserves all the scorn he gets, but not everyone remembers that after an attempted assassination that resulted in an irremediable spinal injury, Wallace became quite a different person. (It’s not clear how much of that would never have happened without the assassination attempt, but since it’s frequently mentioned by others I figure it’s worthy of mention here for context that is at least possibly explanatory.) While I don’t think he ever became anti-racist in the sense we would want to see from someone today, he did turn his back on his statement, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” As wikipedia reports:

In the late 1970s, Wallace announced that he was a born-again Christian and apologized to black civil rights leaders for his past actions as a segregationist. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness. In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He publicly asked for forgiveness from black people.

During Wallace’s final term as governor (1983–1987) he made a record number of black appointments to state positions, including, for the first time, two black people as members in the same cabinet. [footnote numbering removed by me – cd]

I like noting this part of Wallace’s story where it’s possible to do without minimizing the harms of racism, because it illustrates a capacity for human growth and betterment that is fundamental to the choices we make to educate others about oppression. People really can and do get over prior prejudices. They can and do change policy stances. They can and do identify and fix faults in themselves. While some people may, empirically, be beyond hope, we can’t know which people those are until they have died. As long as folks are alive, and as long as you can do so while still caring for yourself, efforts to educate even the George Wallaces among us just might be worth it.



  1. says

    The essence of the trans-hostile claim is that trans* people are killing gender liberation, and that anti-trans feminism is the only method of achieving gender liberation. Thus anti-trans feminists are the real pro-trans feminists, and pro-trans* activists (feminist or not) are actually anti-woman and anti-feminist.

    That’s an odd position. The first step to abolishing harmful gender norms would be to accept that every individual person ought to be free to break any norm according to personal preference.

  2. says

    When I was in high school, I invented that argument independently. It went: “if someone is bent on doing evil, and you stop them, aren’t you evil (to them) for stopping them from doing what they feel is appropriate?”

    That’s basic “moral relativism 101”, it turns out. It depends on the implication that all actions are equally moral and there is no way to say “X is evil” therefore all actions are equally acceptable. I’ll note that that argument is also what post-modernism depends on: since all actions are viewed through the distorting lens of culture and circumstance, we can deconstruct any action into a web of power relationships that moot any moral dimension to it. [I think I am not unfairly caricaturing post-modernism there, though there are many post-modernisms]

    Thus I note one or two funny things about people making that argument:
    1) They are abandoning any moral posture, by adopting relativism as a rhetorical dodge in order to win an argument
    2) They are implicitly post-modernist, by adopting a post-modern rhetorical tactic
    3) All of these things depend on moral nihilism; a rejection of the notion that we can say “X is evil” for any given X

    Conservatives have, literally, moved beyond good and evil in their quest to win a simple argument. This is the definition of moral bankruptcy. That they do this is in the service of political power and partisanship is not mere moral bankruptcy – they’ve gone bankrupt and are running up debt.

    The non-bankrupt argument about racism would entail presenting a moral case that racism was acceptable. That’s the first step. Once that has been demonstrated, then it is reasonable to say “sure, I’m a racist, and so are you!” Conservatives are trying to dodge that all-important first step.

    I need to do an Argument Clinic post about this, and have wanted to do so for months, but I haven’t fully formulated the argument myself – consider this a “test drive” and let’s see if the wheels come off.

  3. StevoR says

    Are there any real racists even when racism is really real?

    Races aren’t real – no sub-species of human biologically exists – but racism is.

    Precious few admit to racism yet racism soaks and seeps its toxic way into every part of every (nearly?) culture and politics and life despite generally (?) NOT being wanted.

    I know that I know too little here. I am sorry I cannot be better.

    Other people, all individuals, deserve far better.

    Than being judged by the colour of their skins or ethnicities.

  4. StevoR says

    .. or genitals or orientations need I add?

    – Apologies for triple post. Keep thinking of extra things I should have said and haven’t yet.

  5. George says

    My personal analogy: back in the day, Petrolium companies would spike gasoline with lead additives to boost the octane. As a result, lead contamination was everywhere and literally everyone on the planet was suffering from some degree of lead poisoning. Eventually, as the problem was recongnized, the lead was banned and phased out, so you can’t get leaded gas anymore.

    So it is with Racism, Sexism, and other similar congnative biases. They permeate society, and have a serious impact regardless of whether or not people are consciously aware.

    It’s the HR person who thoughlessly tosses aside resumes with “black-sounding” names.
    It’s the cop who’s more likely to pull over a black person.
    It’s the assumption that poor people are more likely to be on drugs.
    It’s that a man can throw a temper-tantrum and still get the job, but a woman displaying emotion is “weak.”
    It’s the idea that someone who’s rich and powerful is somehow wiser, smarter, or more worthy than someone who isn’t rich.
    It’s the idea that Jews are greedy, Asians are better at math, American Indians are more ‘spiritual,’ that black people can’t swim, that fat people are slobs, that gay men are likely pedophiles.
    That Men are Men, Women are Women, and anything else is “Unnatural.”

    Yes Racism exists (even if the concept of Race is mostly BS), and it’s effects are real, even if people don’t want to acknowledge the poison.

  6. John Morales says

    colinday @2, our host has written extensively on this, and not just in comments.
    Perhaps Google this search term:
    site:https://freethoughtblogs.com/ "crip dyke" gender workshop

  7. brucegee1962 says

    Another argument I like to make against this kind of “both side-ism” is the argument of the pendulum.

    Several pendulums have been swung all the way to one side, as far as they can go, and then held there. For centuries. And now, finally, they’ve been let go.

    As a pendulum approaches the center of its swing, it’s going to have an amount of forward momentum equal to the potential energy that got stored during the time it was held to one side. And now there are all these people saying “nope, it’s back to the middle now, so it’s got to come to a stop in the precise center.” Physics doesn’t work that way, and I don’t think history does either. If the pendulum crosses the line and heads up on the other side, that is both right and just.

    In other words, if we have two hundred years in which only women and people of color are elected to public office, can anyone claim that that this would not be a perfectly fair outcome?

    Abraham Lincoln understood this: “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

    I also believe white males (a group of which I am a member) know this. Remember when Obama came into office, they were predicting white people would get rounded up and forced to work on plantations? They were afraid that others would act the way they would if they were in charge — of justice, in other words.

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