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  • Writer's pictureJeff James

What I Learned from 10,000 Racists

Updated: May 14, 2020

In America, we have a lot of racists. I mean, most other countries do too, of course. About five years ago, a huge global survey called out which countries were the most racially intolerant by asking “Who would you most not want to have as your neighbor” and flagging those who answered, “People of another race.” The United States didn’t come out so bad with that approach.

Maybe we’ve learned how to answer such surveys in the “right” way, but if media and social media are any barometer (and they are, to a point), racial animosity is certainly on the upswing in our country. In another study which asked certain race-tinged questions in a more indirect way, around 15-20% of Americans admitted to some attitudes that would clearly fall into what a rational person would categorize as racist ideologies. That doesn’t count the ones who hid their true feelings on the survey; this revealed the 1/5 who admitted holding these overt racial biases.

SIDE NOTE: If you ask many people of color, the problem isn’t so much that nearly 1/5 of their fellow Americans are racially intolerant towards them (but, that is a lot of animosity to deal with day in and day out); it’s who has power over them. When your life is largely controlled, or at least deeply affected, by people in power over you – law enforcement, teachers, healthcare workers, loan officers, etc. – and around 1/5 of them hold racial bias, well, that can jack up your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And it does jack it up, daily, for people of color in America.

I write about this and other perspectives that folks categorized as “white” have a hard time seeing due to our whiteness in my book Giving Up Whiteness (on sale October 6, 2020). I’ve been doing all the things that I, as a book publisher by profession, would suggest that new authors do: set up an author Facebook page, gather up some endorsement quotes, and start some conversations about the book.

A few weeks ago, I put out my first Facebook posts and sat back to begin the conversation. I took advantage of Facebook’s famous targeting capabilities to attract people who might be interested in an honest dialogue on race –people who have “liked” anti-racism pages, or who follow groups like the Equal Justice Initiative, or were perhaps are fans of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Either Facebook’s targeting isn’t as great as it’s touted to be, or some deeply racist folks have liked and followed those topics perhaps as a way to troll the conversations (I’m guessing the latter). In any case, two small $60 Facebook promoted posts that promised to get my message in front of “up to 1,200” people attracted a throng of over 10,000 people…and judging by the hundreds and hundreds of comments they left, they held some deeply racist ideologies and an even deeper love for anti-Semitic meme images.

My first promoted post, a blog post during Easter connecting the dots about Jesus’s death, his teaching for us to “die to ourselves”, and how addicted many of us with European American ancestry are to this concept of “whiteness”, ended up reaching over 5,800 people thanks to all the likes and shares that triggered Facebook’s algorithm to make it more visible. However, the most active commenters and sharers were by far the racists.

A second post promoting the book generated over 20,000 views and 6,200 interactions, including over 800 mostly racist comments. Basically, a few racist folks who deeply objected to a questioning of white supremacy and the existence of white privilege invited a whole slew of their like-minded friends to join in the party. It was like that scene in the first Avengers movie when all the hordes of aliens come pouring out of the space wormhole that Loki opened above New York City.

The term “racist” may or may not be thrown around too often. I tend to think maybe not often enough. I mean, if you have race-based hostility and believe your “race” (a made-up concept, which my visitors really didn’t like me talking about) is superior to others, you might as well own it, right? Many of the commenters decided, however, that it was racist for me to suggest that seeking to maintain the elevated status of whiteness was harmful to everyone involved, including the ones categorized white.

The point of all this isn’t to reveal (gasp!) that there are racists out there. And it certainly isn’t to share any disillusionment that I couldn’t win these folks over with my Facebook or blog posts. I did learn a lot about the racist mindset by sparring with them, in a respectful tone as best I could muster, in the comments section.

No, the point of this rather long blog post, and the point of the book, is to share with you what I learned from all my racist Facebook page visitors. The hundreds of hostile comments basically fell into these predictable categories:

  • “You must be a Jew” or “You’re sponsored by Jews” – Seriously, these folks are really, really freaked out by Jewish people. They see a Jewish bogeyman behind almost anything they disagree with, and they love to put the (((triple parentheses))) around words as a not-so-secret code when they’re referring to their perceived Jewish enemies. These folks are also big fans of racist Jewish meme images.

  • “You’re not even white” – This favorite accusation was somewhat ironic and entertaining because the whole point of my book is that “whiteness” is a social construct made up for purposes of oppressing and colonizing other people groups; it’s not rooted in biology. So, by questioning my white credentials, even though I’m 86% British Isles and 14% Southern European according to whatever DNA test I took and I grew up in the heart of Appalachia in one of the whitest counties in the country, they were basically agreeing with me. They enjoyed reposting my profile pic and pointing out that my dark hair and apparently tanned face meant I must not be white – or at least white enough. I refrained from posting a picture of the rest of me to prove the rest of my pasty bod would meet their standards of low melanin levels to qualify.

  • “You’re an a******” – Always a favorite.

  • “You’re a cuckold traitor to your race” – “Cuckold” is a favorite term used by these new visitors. But more than a few shared a deeply held belief that it is their own white tribe who are under siege, not people of color, and that those “other” tribes are not just seeking equality, they are seeking to elevate themselves over the white tribe. One poster commented: “If other groups act with in-group preference in our shared spaces and we don’t, what opportunity do we have to perpetuate the culture that others are so desperate to join?” It was interesting to analyze that statement. First, there is an assumption that humanity’s primary way of organizing an “in-group” should be around race. Second, that culture is, or should be, primarily organized around race. Third, that organizing culture in a different way beyond race would mean the elite white culture that is drawing so much covetousness from others would be ruined. And fourth, perhaps if the “white” tribe hadn’t set the racial ground rules from the beginning, other groups may have not had to claim some semblance of pride in how they were labeled in response. Make no mistake, these folks equate whiteness with “American” culture, and they are very upset that the growing presence of black and brown folks are threatening their perceived white cultural standard. This stuff comes right out of 1920s eugenics and anti-immigrant ideology, a racial and semi-Darwinian purity ideology championed by some of America’s greatest heroes such as Charles Lindberg and Henry Ford. This ideology and how it played out in the United States provided some models that a certain fascist emulated for his Third Reich.

  • “If America is so racist, why is everyone constantly trying to live here?” or, a similar “If America is so racist, why are Asians doing so well?” – Both of these arguments, which were the ones shared by the more thoughtful of the commenters, took a different approach by attempting to provide evidence that America did not have a problem with racism. They seemed to confuse two differing ideas: 1) that America can’t be racist and yet also hold economic opportunities or a higher degree of safety than the poverty-stricken, violent homelands of some of the most desperate immigrants and refugees, and 2) that those who may have “made it” in the United States don’t still experience consistent racist barriers. In addition to their use as proof that America isn’t racist, it’s usually used as a backhanded put down of African Americans and LatinX folks who have yet to broadly achieve the economic and educational status of Asian Americans. Ironically, it’s also a backhanded put down of their own white tribe, if what they are considering as “success” is primarily based on economic and academic attainment terms. My very “white” home state of West Virginia and the economic condition of Appalachia is just one example of the erroneous nature of their argument. I’ll let the folks at Code Switch explain why it’s a flawed argument to compare “Asian Americans and other groups, particularly Black Americans, to argue that racism, including more than two centuries of black enslavement, can be overcome by hard work and strong family values."

  • #MAGA” and “Trump 2020” – Yes, this common response can’t be avoided. The vast majority of these folks see Trump as a champion of their nationalist and ethnocentric beliefs. Some indicated that the very act of calling out racism and adherence to whiteness will keep Trump in power (there is some psychological reactionary evidence for that). Although I have friends and family members who voted for Trump, and yes personally they are amazing people in many ways and don’t outwardly seem to hold all of Trump’s beliefs, I will forever be saddened by the unholy alliance of overt racists and conservative Evangelical Christians that brought Trump to power. Yes, some of those Christians voted from a worldview which buys into the narrative that Democrats are of the devil for their support of pro-choice policies and refuse to see anything else, but they don’t necessarily buy into Trump’s overt racism, sexism and overall disdain for anyone he considers from a “sh**hole country.” But at some point, it has to become blindingly obvious that the ends of achieving one moral or political goal can’t justify the means of ignoring all other issues of morality. There were plenty of other pro-life Republicans to choose from, after all. It needs to be said again, and again, and again: “Christ follower” and “racist” should never in a million years be in the same ballpark description of loyal supporters for any political movement or person. It only sets back Christ's primary command for his followers: win over others to the Gospel, which is a message of grace ("We had one job!"). We (I claim identity theologically as an Evangelical Christian, in its simplest most accurate definition, but not politically in the way the term has been polluted) did this; we must now quickly repent, undo it, and work our butts off to heal the damage. Doesn’t matter if we’re a Republican, Democrat, or independent Evangelical. This is a mess that needs fixed for the sake of Christ and glory of God, if you happen to be a follower.

There were a few other classics, such as “Are you telling black people to give up blackness?” (no, that’s an entirely different history and I’m not classified or qualified in that community; I focused on analyzing the false racial construct I was assigned), and various posts about crime rates, out-of-wedlock birth rates, and various other social metrics…as if those social challenges weren’t tied to economic status, which supports my whole point about racism and whiteness.

However, the most important thing I’ve learned from reading these posts isn’t about the racist folks themselves. It’s about me. It’s about us. All of us who consider ourselves reasonable, God-fearing, good ole middle-of-the-road Americans. We’ve let this happen…again!

We’ve let it become entirely socially acceptable for these kinds of ideologies to be shared openly, with pride even. The “dog whistles” of sharing racially-tinged positions through the “respectable” language of school choice, crime and punishment, and entitlement programs aren’t even required these days; a simple straightforward “Here, Spot!” will do. We’ve neglected to educate post-Civil Rights Era generations about where this all ends up. We’ve neglected to honestly teach the life and lessons of Jesus in our Christian churches, or the lessons of morality and equality that other faiths share in common. We’ve neglected to call out politicians who cynically play these games of division for their own power-seeking.

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice…Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

I’m writing this post, and I wrote Giving Up Whiteness, to speak to people like me: people with European-American ancestries, mostly, who may or may not go to church but probably believe in God and grew up knowing right from wrong. People who have benefited from the system of whiteness our country was built upon, but have mostly opted out of considering how our own privileges have left many fellow Americans of color by the wayside, or, at best, made it frustratingly more difficult to seek the American Dream without the constant baggage of being questioned and resented for seeking it. People who love America but refuse to consider the full truths of our history and the devastating affects it has had on people of color.

There are millions of us out there who just wish all the ugliness would go away. Who don’t want to talk about racism or hear anything about it from our pastor on Sunday, because that would be too “political.” This silence has emboldened the 1/5 of Americans who have overtly elevated whiteness as the core of their identity; indeed, the core of America’s identity. They seek to silence anyone who questions whiteness and how it has poisoned the otherwise lofty promises of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution by accusing them of liberalism or Marxism, as if conservatives or capitalists couldn’t also be anti-racist. And always, always, they see Jews behind this questioning of their racism.

Unfortunately, silence against racism has also enabled the big, moderate middle of America to hide from uncomfortable truths that keep on benefit ting us while eroding the promise of the country’s future; a future that is diverse and cannot be based on a commitment to whiteness if we have any chance of thriving.

Racism is ugly. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, and even more so to openly resist. But until anti-racism becomes the norm for the average American and a true grappling with the implications of whiteness is undertaken, the ugliness will keep growing. The 10,000+ racists who came for a visit on my Facebook page so far have made that very clear.

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