This tweet caught the Czar’s tired, crusty eye (the other eye’s fine, though):
Of course, Mr. Miller is referring to the casual dismissal of Senator Warren’s failure to prove with any remote margin of error that she does, in fact, have any Native American ancestry. In other words, how dare ye liberals giveth Senator Warren a pass after all the noise ye maketh on pop culture doing far less! How can one be racist and offensive (when meaning to be benign), while the other is not (and done for personal gain)?
For the typical liberal, there is no hypocrisy here. In fact, these are two totally separate arguments entirely.
To understand this statement, conservatives should understand there are two very different basic concepts of racism. Applying this difference explains the common shrug by the Left.
A conservative, by his or her very nature, tends to judge people by actions. What a person does is more important than who he is. Good people are those who do good things; bad people do bad things. The irony is that, by this definition, the only people who are racist are, in fact, racists. If you do racist things, you are probably a racist.
Therefore, this logic suggest most people are not racists, except of course for those who do racist things. And anyone who does racist things can be a racist: skinheads, Nazis, Klan members, democrats, whites, blacks, republicans, adults, kids, and so on. Following this, people who don’t do racist things aren’t racist. It’s that easy.
And this is why conservatives look at Senator Warren and roll their eyes; what she did was racist: needing to get ahead in her academic and professional career, she lied about her race, assuming that (in her world) the Native American is superior to her bread-and-butter whiteness. She used race to get ahead of otherwise equal competition. Just as racism can be a negative (a person of color is denied residence in an apartment because the landlord doesn’t like blacks), racism can also be a positive (lying about one’s race to gain advantage).
A black person, for example, who lies about his race (“I’m white”) to get a job in a white dominated field is guilty of racism because his assumption is not that all races are equal, but that whites are superior—at least, as far as that job is concerned. Rachel Dolezal famously lied about her race (“I’m black”) to advance herself professionally. It’s not negative, exactly, except it hurts people from getting jobs they could otherwise get due to reasons of race.
To a conservative, this is all racism. And what Senator Warren did was no different: by claiming she was Native American, she might readily have prevented a legitimate Native American from getting that job, had any others applied.
Conservatives reading this will doubtless conclude this is all obvious, and such a primer on the abuse of race is unnecessary.
Dig a bit deeper, though, and you can find many conservatives who would agree with the counterpoint: when a white actor is cast to voice a non-white role in media, that can indeed deny an equally good actor who matches the background of the role. Shouldn’t a black actor voice a black character in a cartoon? Many conservatives will actually agree with this. But there is a logical breaking point: does a monster need to voice Sully in Monsters, Inc.? Does an orc need to play an orc in Lord of the Rings?
Of course not. There is a pretty straightforward test of this: if the ethnicity of the actor doesn’t matter to the integrity of the role, then the casting doesn’t matter. So no big deal that Harvey Fierstein voiced a Chinese character in Mulan, since the character is animated and speaks no Chinese. Mickey Rooney’s performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the perfect counter-example: a Chinese waiter with a Japanese name played to a series of negative and utterly inaccurate stereotypes revealing that all Asians are nitwits and basically indistinguishable to reasonable people. That violates the integrity of the role, and is wrong. It’s a simple test, really, and quite reliable although our readers can probably challenge the Czar with some clever what-abouts.
And Halloween costumes are a simpler matter. If the costume is offensive, it’s wrong. If the costume is respectful, it’s allowable. A white lad dressing up as Black Panther is not just cool, it’s also a compliment to the universal appeal of the character. A white kid dressing as one of the natives from the original King Kong movie will almost certainly make people—including whites—uncomfortable today.
Again, for conservatives, this seems pretty easy and straightforward: is the underlying action or intent of the person good or bad? If good, it doesn’t matter who does it. If bad, well, it also doesn’t matter: it’s bad.
For a large swath of liberals, though, this isn’t how racism works.
At some point, which the Czar believes became obvious in the mid-1960s, the definition of racism changed from an action and intent to a power structure. Power went from the top down to the bottom, meaning that the people at the top were in power, and the people below were not. White men, for example, were in power in the mid-1960s and therefore they were the racists.
Because power doesn’t flow up, blacks could not be racist because they were perceived to be on the bottom. A white man hating a black man was racist, of course, but a black man hating a white man could not be racist: it was understandable. A Hispanic person could not be racist, either, for precisely the same reason: power flows only one way, and Hispanics were not at the top.
You may have heard this argument articulated (the Czar noticed in 1988 that this was already a formalized argument) before, and it leads to some curious ideas.
- A white person, who does not discriminate or judge people based on skin color or culture, and who would never act negatively against others or positively on behalf of his own race, is still a racist because he is white. It’s not that it’s ingrained, subconscious, or subliminal: it’s inherent, based on his skin color.
- Can a Hispanic male be racist against a black male? Conservatives would insist on this as a real possibility, equally if the black male was racist against the Hispanic male. But the liberal argument does not exactly address this as a meaningful question because neither is white. If the Hispanic male is largely white or identifies so—say, like George Zimmerman—then yes, he is inescapably racist.
- The previous argument has led to some revisions. What about a white woman? She’s racist because she’s white: but she isn’t a male, so maybe she’s less racist. This has led to Intersectionality, in which she’s sort of racist, but she’s given a little slack because she’s female.
This sound like a confusing mess, but there’s a lot to it, and plenty of folks are able to articulate a lot of the obvious objections away. But look at how it explains things.
Is Senator Warren a racist? Conservatives say yes, because she used race as a means to discriminate against other possible applicants. Liberals say no, because she’s not a white male. What she did was unfortunate, but hey—it’s a white-male system, and you do what you gotta.
Is a white boy dressing as Black Panther racist? Conservatives say no, because the kid thinks the character is awesome-looking and is paying a compliment to the (white) creators of the role. Liberals say yes, because the kid is white and therefore appropriating.
So is a black kid dressed as Captain America racist? Conservatives say no, because the kid obviously thinks the character is neat and is paying his respects accordingly. Liberals agree it isn’t racism, but that’s because the kid is outside the power structure and isn’t appropriating anything.
A white guy is hired to play the part of an Egyptian pharaoh. Conservatives figure this could be stupid unless he looks Egyptian enough (whatever that means, since ancient Egyptians were fairly diverse), and maybe work well if he does a great job. Liberals find this racist, because he’s another white actor denying a role to an actor of color. Which may be true, depending on who was competing for the role. If the pharaoh turns out to be a bad guy, then it’s okay he’s white. If they hire an Asian to play a martial artist, by the way, here come the eye rolls that another white casting director sees all Asians as the same.
A black actor plays Alexander Hamilton on stage. Racist? To the dismay of liberals, conservatives don’t care because they’re looking at whether the actor is playing the part as accurately as he feels it should be played. In fact, lots of conservatives come to see the play and pay a ton of money for it, and applaud loudly. And to liberals? Well, it’s racist only in that conservatives didn’t get cheesed off by the racial switch.
The last one is interesting, because a lot of readers are probably sitting up and taking note. Wait, wasn’t there a hue and cry from white racists when non-white actors were playing Asgardians in Thor? Wasn’t there some sort of outrage when a black actor was cast as a storm trooper in the seventh Star Wars movie? Interestingly, it was the same Stephen Miller—from the tweet at the top of this piece—who proved these racist attacks were generated from inside the movie industry in order to generate attention. Like the crowds of angry black teens barring white folks from seeing Black Panther who, it turned out, never actually existed at all, these are people aware of the racial power structure argument trying to game the system, only to discover conservatives don’t follow that structure.
In the end, it may be another 50 years before this rickety framework collapses, largely to be replaced by something equally senseless. Or, like Marxism, it could plague us for another 150 years, sprouting up hydralike in situation after situation. The point is that it’s difficult for a conservative to argue that a position is hypocritical when the default assumption of the position’s holder is rooted in a hierarchical nest of exceptions.