[From an article called "Why Isn't Racism Cool?"]
Part of the fun of being young used to be the feeling that you were struggling for world mastery against a cohort of closed-minded old farts with a mentality hopelessly stuck in the past. (What Orwell called “pedants, clergymen and golfers.”) Well, if it’s that old-fart cohort you’re looking for, check out your local Ivy League university or cable TV studio. Those places are stuffed to the rafters with them. 1963 is in the past, isn’t it?
And these protesting youngsters believe every single thing the old farts believe! Their transgressions reach no further than their awful beards. The white American middle classes of today may be the most conformist population that ever lived, banking and turning in unison, old and young together, like a school of fish.
Even if these young protestors wanted to be transgressive, they wouldn’t know how. Let’s face it: Being transgressive isn’t what it used to be. Every time I encounter it nowadays, it turns out to be dismally lame.
As an opera fan, I wondered for a while whether I should explore the transgressive delights of Regietheater (“director’s theater”). Then I read Heather Mac Donalds survey and decided this was something I could skip without any esthetic loss:
An American tenor working in Germany remembers another Fledermaus with a large pink vagina in the center of the stage into which the singers dived.
Zzzz. That director wasn’t even trying. You want transgressive? I got transgressive.
A production of Shakespeare’s Othello in which the Moor, to his squealing masochistic pleasure, gets chained to a post and thrashed with a bullwhip by Desdemona.
A play about feminist icon Virginia Woolf in which she dumps her drab husband, lesbian lover, and intellectual friends to go keep house for an alpha male philistine who kicks her when she’s late putting his dinner on the table.
A remake of The Birdcage is which it turns out that the acceptably gay Robin Williams character has been kidnapping little boys and buggering them in the club’s basement.
To any youngsters seeking to get political transgressivity on the move again, here’s a suggestion: Try racism. What could be more guaranteed to make mom swoon and dad go purple with rage?
No, no, not burning crosses on people’s lawns. The word “racism” long since overflowed that little pond and inundated the surrounding lowlands. I’m talking about racism as defined in Ed West’s excellent new book that I just finished reading. Location 925 in the Kindle edition:
Today the term racism has come to mean almost any recognition of race and of difference (or average differences) between groups.
It sure has. The last time I got called a racist (Yes! It happens!) was when I overheard someone say that the decline of Detroit was caused by liberalism. “No it wasn’t,” I said, “It was caused by blacks.” Perfectly true, but apparently racist. Pretend not to notice!
Since racism as defined is transgressive, why isn’t it cool? A number of answers come to mind.
Racism can’t possibly be cool because it is the most evil and depraved system of thought ever to be countenanced by sentient beings in the entire 13.82-billion-year history of the cosmos. Except that
Racism is considered cool when it’s directed against white people. I bet Tim Wise (“Old white people have pretty much always been the bad guys, the keepers of the hegemonic and reactionary flame”) gets invited to all the coolest parties. I bet the coolest kids on campus are the ones running Dr. Shakti Butler’s ethnomasochist boot camp. (“The term [i.e. racist’] applies to all white people.”) When Jamie Foxx boasted on Saturday Night Live that he got to kill all the white people in his new movie, the super-cool audience of young urban sophisticates burst into applause. The coolest Chief Executive to ever grace our republic is the one who sat in the pews for twenty years listening to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright babbling about how “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.”
I suspect, though, that as with most questions about human nature, the correct answer to this one can be found in biology:
Anti-racism is a mating display. It says: “Look at me! I have such earning power I can live where I like! I don’t have to worry about feral underclass blacks or Salvadoran gangbangers! I can strike a pose of lofty indifference to matters of race! Drop your knickers right now!”