The Upside Down Wonderland of Racism

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see? -- Alice in Lewis Carol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I have been imagining Lewis Carol's nonsensical upside down world of Wonderland where right is wrong and good is bad, and where characters shrink, grow and disappear quicker than a wink of an eye, where the Mad Hatter sings "a happy unbirthday to you," and the Cheshire Cat correctly reminds us that "We're all mad here."

This strange world resounds now in political discourse as those of us who work to dismantle racism and white privilege in our country find ourselves labeled as the "racists" whenever we raise issues of race, racism and white privilege while the deniers pose as the true defenders of equality.

I will give two cases in point. Following the 2012 presidential election, I published an editorial blog on the Huffington Post titled "'Interest Convergence' and the Republican Party" in which I referred to voting block statistics derived from polling station exit results in which I stated:

Though Romney pulled in nearly 60 percent of the White vote, a voting demographic that has steadily declined relative to the overall electorate since 1992, fully 45 percent of President Obama's total came from minoritized communities carrying 93 percent of African Americans, 73 percent of Asian American, 71 percent of Latino/a. In addition, since the election year of 1964, more women than men have voted, and President Obama garnered 55 percent of the women's vote this time around. Young people between the ages of 18 to 29 made up nearly one-fifth of the total votes cast in this election, with Obama carrying 60 percent to Romney's 38 percent.

My thesis was that in order for the Republican Party to have any chance of winning national elections, it would have to change not only its rhetoric but its policies to attract more people of color, women and younger voters.

Soon following my posting, Tim Lubinus, Global and Regional Ministries Director of the Cornerstone Church (affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) in Ames, Iowa wrote an editorial titled "An Example of the Neo-Racism on the Left, Surfaced Today in Iowa," November 13, 2012 in which the author stated:

Dr. Blumenfeld, let's join together and become a 'colorblind' nation by stopping this naive neo-racist categorization and counting of people based on a few race categories. Instead of endorsing and quoting politicians who seek to divide us based on race, we should expose and condemn this behavior.

To Lubinus, my mention of the demographic of "race" constituted in itself an act of racism.

Another example hit recently following an article I wrote defending the White Privilege Conference against attacks that it "openly promotes hatred against white people, especially white males."

In my article, I stated that the resistance we have seen and are continually experiencing to the White Privilege Conference, while venomous and blaming in tone, is nonetheless predictable in that these tactics have been employed time after time against individuals, groups and communities that have challenged oppression and dominant hegemonic discourses. I continued by arguing that dominant groups try to intimidate minoritized communities and incite fear within the larger population in its attempts to silence opposition and to prevent minoritized groups from engaging in the decision-making process that affects the course of their lives, and even to name and define the terms of their existence.

Following my posting, Lee Fox wrote on the Ayn Rand in Education Facebook page that: "Here we see Warren reveal his hate filled, racist heart....yay..."

Hey Alice, am I in Wonderland where my exposing racism makes me racist? Well, Lee Fox thinks so: "You are the one using race to judge others, Warren. You are no better than Al Sharpton or David Duke or Jesse Jackson or Robert Byrd or any other vile racist attempting to prove that, somehow, their racism is good and moral and desirable."

Actually, by Fox placing me in the same company as Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, while I am truly underserving of such an honor, I am proud nonetheless!

So if I understand Fox, anyone who talks about race, anyone who challenges the socially constructed racial hierarchy that still functions in the United States with whites having greater social privilege and power vis-a-vis people of color, and anyone who challenges white privilege is in his upside world "a racist"?

It would make it easier for Fox and Lubinus if we rather just pretend that racism no longer exists, to mindlessly accept the false notion that racism once was manifest in the United States but no longer poses a problem. This is, to use a couple of metaphors, asking those of us who understand the realities of "race" and social privilege in the United States to stick our heads in the sand, or to never lift the rug under which racism is continually swept.

How do we defeat racism? Lubinus offers a way: "Let's join Martin Luther King, Jr. who said almost fifty years ago: 'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.'"

Well, yes, Tim, that was Dr. King's "dream," at least one of his dreams, but certainly not his reality then nor the reality today. While you, Tim, directly assert and Lee implies that we all "join together and become a 'colorblind' nation," you assume that race has become unimportant, that white privilege is a fiction, that we don't see "race" anymore, and that racism (i.e., prejudice along with social power to enact oppression by white people over people of color) is a thing of the past.

Is the United States now a "colorblind" society? Or even more importantly, should the United States be a "colorblind/race-blind" society? The very notion of "race-blindness" is deeply problematic.

Though when we tell another that "I don't see your race; I just see you as a human being," may seem as a righteous statement, what are we really telling the person, and how may this come across: "I discount a part of you that I may not want to address," and "I will not see you in your multiple identities." Also, "I don't truly appreciate the saliency that 'race' has on the lives of people." This has the tendency of erasing the person's background and historical legacy, and hides the continuing hierarchical and systemic positionalities among white people and racially minoritized people.

In their book Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society, the authors show how the concept of "colorblindness/race-blindness" attempts to deny and further entrench hierarchical and deeply rooted systemic racial inequities and privileges accorded to white people that permeate throughout our society.

We must as a nation get beyond this false and counterproductive notion of "colorblindness/race-blindness" and confront head-on our past history and current realities of racism and white privilege and transcend, to use Mica Pollock's term, "colormuteness" by engaging in honest and open conversations on the impact and legacy of race relations in our country.

Until and unless we fully resolve this collective denial of the very real racism and other longstanding forms of oppression continuing to permeate and saturate our nation, we will remain forever in the upside down world of Wonderland without any chance of coming home.