Last week sometime I saw something odd somewhere on the Intertoobz. I thought I remembered which blog it was, but now I can't find it. At any rate, the topic was prejudice, and someone wrote: "Nobody wants to be a racist, but" ... and blah blah blah.
I did a search for that phrase, and found that it doesn't occur very often. Usually someone says that nobody wants to be thought of as a racist, or called a racist. It's a significant difference, but it's not really that important, because if there's one thing that should be obvious, it's that many people want to be racists -- they just don't want to think of themselves as racists, or be called racists, or thought of as racists.
I wonder why that is. A lot of men have been, and as far as I can tell still are, perversely proud to call themselves Male Chauvinist Pigs, or Sexists. A lot of people are perversely proud of being Politically Incorrect. (If anything, not many people will admit to being Politically Correct: it's an accusation to be leveled at someone else, not a position many seem to want to claim.) Yet a lot of people, no matter how blatantly racist their public pronouncements or behavior, insist that they aren't racist. If someone calls them racist, they freak out. (The same is true of accusations of homophobia or antigay bigotry.) It's especially odd to me that, in a ferociously racist country like the United States, racists should claim that being called a racist is too horrible to contemplate. Maybe it makes some kind of sense that because white racism is prevalent, white people would want to pretend it's not there -- but again, why, since they are so attached to and invested in white supremacy?
Part of it may be the enduring legacy of American anti-intellectualism: we're attached to certain principles or fantasies about principles, of treating everyone the same, of judging every man by his merits and not by his birth, etc., and the cognitive dissonance of recognizing that we're violating those principles is painful. If so, gee, that's too bad. But it cuts no ice.
Anyway, it's quite clear, given the pleasure white racists take in being racist, saying racist things, when they think no potential critics are listening, that the cognitive dissonance isn't really that strong for them. Evidently it's being recognized publicly as racists that bothers them, but again, why? Americans are also prone to pretend to be no-nonsense, forthright, outspoken individualists, unafraid of standing alone against the crowd, ready to say the unpopular thing if they think it's right. This is also a fantasy, of course. I guess I'm just surprised that they are such cowards, so willing to cry "unfair!" at the slightest criticism -- though not willing to change their views. If racism is wrong, then don't be racist. But they've got a lot of defenses against admitting that they are racist.
In saying that racists ought to own their racism, I'm not taking the line one sometimes encounters, that I'd prefer bigots declare themselves honestly, because honesty is better than hypocrisy, etc. To the extent I agree with this, it's not because I don't intend to attack openly declared bigots. I do intend to attack them. Given American anti-intellectualism and hostility to critical thinking all over the political spectrum, it's not surprising that they can't defend themselves very well. But they are perfectly happy to attack the defenseless themselves, so too bad.