Anglo-Saxon Denial


Racism is like DNA. It has many strands, all intertwined, and a code as complex as the double helix. One element is always present. Racism as an ideology always (always!) has an element (the element changes!) that allows it to be denied.

The element of denial is often a backdoor that appears innocuous. It’s really an alternative, a reason to look the other way, and find no evidence of race. It separates the intertwined racist component and gives it the appearance of innocence. It ties racism to an unconnected meaning, or by emphasizing a common, non-controversial truth. Its purpose is to obscure the racism, to hide its embedded meaning, to misdirect attention from its presence and intent. It counters and blocks the social taboos established as a result of previous experience. Denial will mutate, but will always (always!) be present.

That’s the point of the coded terms, or the coded descriptions: they have attached double meanings that overlap or run parallel to allow the racist component to be earnestly denied.

It happens with all oppression. Rape is denied because “we had a few beers,” or the way a women dressed. Poverty is denied and stigmatized as laziness.

Denial is very important in modern racism. Its complex base is tied more to culture than history, but it is evident throughout history.

Its own form has a stunting array of changes; sometimes it’s a rationale (white man’s burden, civilizing savages, educating marginal communities), sometimes it’s staged as defensive protection (Glenn Beck, his fear of the Obama-led worldwide caliphate that will subjugate western-born whites, or set up a welfare state, or crumble America’s military and economy), sometimes as a plea for reason (a call to leave the Democratic “plantation”), sometimes as a part of the status quo (the persistent Southern anti-civil rights paean that local African-Americans were content, satisfied and happy), as a delibilating group character trait (they always want a handout (or food stamps), play the victim, cite history, or play the race card), and most recently, as a call to unity against the other.

To cite England (“Anglo-Saxon”) ignores Africa. Ignores the vital cross-currents of tradition. Denies one group its rightful place in shared community.

If you think Romney’s unidentified adviser’s remarks were only about history, think again; see the smoke screen (the denial!). It screens a long cultural history of words and experiences being loaded with meanings that are intended to exclude, by unspoken meanings, others from respect, acceptability, or power.

Of course, many also use the ultimate form of denial about race–they deny that any racism exists all together (or if it does, not here, not now, not significant)! 

Comment
~In this context, “Anglo-Saxon” means “white.” It’s not about whether someone identifies as “English” … it’s about the absence of “color.” When people talk about America as an “Anglo-Saxon” country, they are not talking about England vs. Ireland or Germany or Italy. It’s about who is really entitled to be called an “American” and why. The more assimilated you become, the more “white” you are. It has nothing to do with language. Being “white” is a status symbol, a mark of successful assimilation. It’s a way of saying “not Other,” and in this case, “Other” means “color.” And guess who is “not white”? And who was “not white” in the 19th century? Italians, Irish, Greeks … when an immigrant population could distinguish itself from those who had been enslaved, and by definition “black or brown,” they’d “arrived.” Italians were regularly seen as “colored” when they first arrived here … most people don’t know this. Do your homework. Read some history.
     The Romney campaign won’t disavow these kinds of ideas. They are capitalizing (Romney is good at that) on the subtle way this telegraphs to the base their opposition to multiculturalism, and the idea that “white folks” are being pushed out of their jobs, having them taken away by “aliens” (foreigners, people of color, anyone who is not “white”) … it plays directly into their campaign strategy which is founded in part in ugly racist politics, because racism nets votes in certain parts of the country, and in certain quarters.

About walterrhett

Walter Rhett is a New York Times verified commenter. He writes "Digging Deeper," a blog for Democrats for Progress and his blog, "Walter Rhett" appears in the San Francisco Examiner. The Oxford Dictionary follows him on twitter.
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