Stuck in Our Teeth

In talking about Trump last night a friend brought this up and it comes close to explaining why I get so angry at the “good people” who are surprised by all Trump’s rise and the hatred he inspires others to express: 

There are many things in our day-to-day lives that lead us toward developing little pockets of prejudice, that lead us toward acting unkind to others, without having any intent to do so.

These are things that will just naturally develop in our day-to-day lives, so the problem with that all or nothing binary is it causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to having tonsils. Like you either have tonsils, or you don’t, and if you’ve had your prejudice removed, you never need to consider it again. If someone says “I think you may have a little unconscious prejudice,” you say “No–my prejudice was removed in 2005! I went to see that movie saf, it’s all good!”

We are picking on Sikhs again, and Pakistanis, and it’s just like after 9/11, and everybody who considers themselves decent and upstanding is horrified: I didn’t think we were like this anymore! I thought we were over this! I thought we were better than this! People said that after 9/11, too, and after we elected a black dude and some of us went nuts, that we should be past this by now, and how ugly are we, etc etc. Like racism at this point is five losers with Hitler tattoos in a trailer in Alabama, and the rest of us are safe.

It’s just like after 9/11, but it’s just like after the Iran hostage crisis, too, and it’s just like saying you support that Dr. King but do those other people have to be so uppity? We must need a national conversation on race. We must need a summit. We must need to lay hands on one another, sing some songs and then go home. It’s just like every time this happens and it’s just like every time we think we’ve got to reinvent this somehow, instead of just getting better by inches.

How dare we forget about all this when there’s no CNN theme song?

We are never past this. This dark impulse goes back as far as humanity does, and it will never be gone. There is no finish line we cross, and after that the only racists are people who say “Negroes” and have weird pickaninny memorabilia in their kitchens.

The work is never done, and it’s definitely never done if we think it will be done. There’s always something stuck in our teeth.

A.

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