“Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns, he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man, with his mouth.”
Not every racist is a terrible person. Now wait–wait wait wait, before you condemn me for such a statement. I’m not done. I am not talking about tiki torch carrying screamers, or some klan-robed scumbag masturbating to thoughts on race war and genocidal fantasy. I am not bothering to consider those smug, smarmy, truly wicked cops smiling as they gun down unarmed black men. No, the sort of person I am thinking about is the quiet racist who does not even believe in inequality.
For some people you can understand their racism: a white women gang raped by a horde of black monsters, or a black man treated like shit and sometimes beaten their entire lives–certainly never given an opportunity to thrive in the white man’s world. We can understand this and often even shake it away, giving in to individual experience and figuring that every sort of hatred can be justified given the proper context.
Going back up for a moment to the opening quote, Mark Twain himself was not a racist. Modern sensibilities seem to consider him one from his constant use of a certain word over and over again in his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780140390469&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used). If one were to give a closer reading of (or actually bother reading) the book, what they would find is a staunch attack on the very idea of racial prejudice, on the demeaning quality such views have on everyone. When I was in college I was a student teacher for a semester, and my professor had me teach the book to a group of young liberals in the dawn of the radical university political correctness of the early 1990s. I had people shouting at me–white people, mostly, angry with me for having the “racist book” on the curriculum at all, wondering why I didn’t chose, instead, something inspirational by one of the great African-American authors, and not a tired old racist screed by “another old white man.” I responded rather bluntly. I asked, “Can you tell me who the only two human characters in the book are?” This stumped them, mostly, their ideas on what the novel is about based on the complaints of others who had also never read the book. One or two of them would sneer out “Well Huck, obviously, because the book is all about him!” “How is he good?” I then asked, still trying to be a teacher. No answer.
“Know who the other decent person is?” I addressed the whole class. My professor was smiling at me. He knew what I was about to say. After about a minute of murmuring silence I blurted out, “It’s Nigger Jim.” Gasps, two people storming out to complain to whichever Dean they believed (and who probably did) share their biased sensibilities. For those who remained I followed up with a discussion of the ‘N’ word, about what it’s etymological meanings are, how it has evolved, and the shift of its purpose and usage throughout modern times. I discussed how Twain’s overuse of the offensive term, applying it as he did to the sainted runaway slave Jim–even making it part of his name–undermines the power of the word itself. Most of the students were skeptical, but they left no longer offended. It was a lesson in the power of words and how every single one of them has an appropriate context.
But this is just a sidebar to the larger point I wish to discuss today. Why did I title this piece “The Optimism of Racism?” How can hatred in any way be positive? Well, unlike the misanthrope, who hates everyone equally, seeing all of man, as Twain did later in his life,
as hateful, the racist actually sees hope in the future if only their people could ascend to or reclaim the throne of humankind. They even see decency, however mistakenly and misguided they might be, in certain people of their own shade or ideology. There remains a dream within the back of their minds (or sometimes right at the front, if they are of the virulent stripe condemned at the beginning) that somehow people can be saved. They do not scream apocalypse, but renewal, salvation, a perverted purity that can finally form their own selfish paradise on earth.
Such views are far different than, say, Joseph Conrad, another true misanthrope mistakenly written off as a racist. One of his great books, Heart of Darkness (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780553212143&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used) has been roundly condemned by modern day liberal academia as racist for its brutal depiction of African natives of the Congo, regardless of the fact that every character in the book is a monster. I remember one of my professors, who refused to assign anything by Conrad regardless of the theme of the class being “Early 20th Century British Literature,” and instead dedicating an entire lecture to what a terrible racist Joseph Conrad supposedly was. I wondered aloud, actually interrupting her, what relevance this had to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780156628709&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used). This led to me being yelled at and called a Nazi by some hysterical student at the back of the classroom, followed by a nodding smile from the professor.
The truth is that Conrad hated everyone, as could be summarized by a brief Christmas greeting he wrote to one of his friends in 1923, a few short months before he died:
One lives too long. Happy X-mas.
In no way am I defending racism as a belief or practice. But it is important to note one undeclared bigotry within the whole anti-racist ideology (and let us avoid the cartoonish white nationalist “Anti-Racist is a code word for Anti-White,” as celebrated in hideous Neo-Nazi recruitment websites like this ridiculous nonsense:
I mean, listen to these fucking imbeciles, if you have the stomach for it. All it is is whining paranoia about so-called “white genocide,” and a moaning lament about how all other countries in the world are for the native people–“African nations for Africans,” “Asian nations for Asians,” but wonders why so-called “White nations” are forced into multiculturalism, forgetting all about human history. Europeans brought other races into their lands as slaves. In the US the actual natives were wholesale slaughtered. The white man has been the chief invader of the world as far back as we can record, having developed better weapons technology faster than the generally more peaceful natives of other lands and warmer climates. This is not to say that Africans and Asians and every other sort of native aborigine the world over did not engage in warfare over land and food and outright tribal hatred, but those superior weapons of the white man were original tried out among himself, crushing every culture they came into contact with and making it their own, murdering each other when they did not have a clear visual difference to attack over perceptions of belief.)
But the undeclared notion is the actual prejudice of anti-racist crusaders, not the weeping barks of the white nationalists, but the boiling hatred of those who believe their intentions are just. Perhaps they are so blinded by a sense of righteousness that they cannot even see the behavioral similarity they have to staunch segregationists. They might proclaim that they don’t hate anyone, but they certainly hate racists, as though removing them from humanity itself and cursing them as a lesser species, deserving of all the debased shame they have read about and watched on television. It is no different in intention if the target is changed. This is something worth remembering.
I hate radicalism of every sort, and this is what I have mostly written about, not just in this essay, but all throughout Recording Editorial History–both the hypocrisies and the threat such absolutism offers to civilization. And so it is important, I believe, to recognize those we might disagree with–even those whose opinions we find offensive–and stop lumping them in with the true monsters at the extreme, acknowledging their genuine optimism, no matter how hopelessly misguided and fundamentally wrong they are.