This new racist is cast as sympathetic, an inevitable byproduct of a culture of white supremacy in the South or a remote homogenous life that has left him ill-prepared for this terrifying new world where people speak Spanish sometimes, or where she’s the only white person in the room. They aren’t heroes. But, the Times and the Post tell us, they’re people with compelling backstories that forced them to be like they are. They were raised to it, or maybe they’re just poor.
It is paternalistic infantilizing nonsense.
Poverty doesn’t make you racist. It’s more that the exhaustion strips you of the ability to dissemble for long, so if you were inclined toward racism already, it shows. A life lived close to tears of sheer fatigue and stress is not one in which you can expend the energy to stop yourself spouting your resentments or wielding your fears as a weapon. The constant dull weight of oppression—and it is oppression—makes you resentful and distrustful. The anger makes hate seem reasonable, and each person must individually decide what to do with that.
It reminds me of the dodge we use with old people, too: Oh, it was a different time, everyone was a sexist creep who couldn’t help but grab ass and yell slurs all the time. You know what? My grandfather was born not long after the turn of the 20th century and he’d have died before he treated a woman with disrespect, any woman at all. I never heard a single racist word out of his mouth, and he worked in a factory. He talked to every single person he ever met like they were royalty until the day he died. Get on out of here with this nonsense.
Yes, customs change and habits change and terminology, especially, changes, and sometimes people have a hard time keeping up but there’s nothing about getting old that makes you a bully if you weren’t one to begin with. There’s nothing about being poor that makes you unkind or selfish. You were that way before, it’s just now your excuses changed is all.
Stop making excuses for my racist neighbors. It is not true that people from where I’m from have no choice but to continue the same deadly cycles of the generations before us, that we are too simple or unsophisticated to tell right from wrong when the choice between them is so astonishingly clear. There is bravery and right in places where we have been told we will not find them, and we are all responsible for our own moral decisions.