Rebuilding Racism: The Irony of Archaic Racial Stereotypes in Contemporary Fiction

One of the most racist people I know keeps a map of Native American tribes on a prominent place in his house. Despite his objectionable opinions about many different minority groups, he seems to get genuinely solemn about Native Americans and actually knows the names and history of many prominent tribes.

How many white leftists can do that?

I’m leading with this fact to make a point: racism is a complex subject and it’s a subject most people just don’t seem to understand or conceptualize in a useful way. So much of modern discussion is about BIG issues: segregation, voting rights, police brutality, sentencing, etc.

Our fight to try and resist these massive forms of discrimination comes at the cost of the ability of a society to slowly work through its problems and make real advancements on race. When my racist elderly acquaintance knows more about Native American history than a woke leftist, y’all done goofed…

When it comes to the actual issue of racial hatred and racial discrimination, these issues get messy. Many activists employ the term “microaggressions” as a way of exploring how internalized racism or subtle ticks reveal hidden discriminatory tendencies. Much of this is just conjecture tho. A microaggression could actually mean anything from a person randomly glancing in a person’s direction to a person with Asperger’s misinterpreting a social cue. Assuming racial intent only reads malice into the situation.

Such is our society’s desire to find racism and expose it in all its forms. With no KKK or formalized white supremacist organizations, professional anti-hate groups have to constantly seek out smaller and smaller offenses to justify their existence. Does racism still exist? Certainly but at this point the ACLU and other civil rights organizations are having to discuss racism as expressed by statistical disparities and poverty statistics. In other words, it’s not on the surface. There are no active lynchings and cross burnings happening anymore. Civil rights leaders aren’t constantly being assassinated. Racism is buried deep if it’s buried at all.

The irony of this is that the process of digging for more racism is going to ironically create more racism. There are several reasons why but it’s worth considering one minor example of it. Just look at the media. So much of what I’m told NOW is racist is something I never conceptualize in my formative years as a child. I never made the kind of connections that racial stereotypes are built off of.

Take an old Warner Brothers cartoon like Speedy Gonzalas. Nowadays, this character and many other Looney Tunes are considered distasteful for their depictions of Mexican stereotypes. Frankly, I never made those connections as a kid. I grew up in a largely Latino-American neighborhood with lots of Latino neighbors and classmates. I also adored Speedy Gonzalas and wore out at least one VHS tape of his cartoon shorts from repeated use.

If Speedy Gonzalas is offensive, what does it mean when a child doesn’t recognize the stereotype? What if I don’t make the connections that an adult would make? What if I don’t apply these stereotypes to real-life interactions? Is something actually racist if the audience it’s supposed to be affecting doesn’t become a racist?

As I grew older, I started noticing this problem all of the time. I’d be going through daily life and suddenly someone would say something like “Jar Jar Binks is borrowing from minstrel shows”, and I’d be genuinely confused. I never drew a connection between Jar Jar Binks and black people and nobody who watched Phantom Menace as a kid did either. I had never heard of a minstrel show. How could he be reflective of some archaic depiction of black people? And if so how what that harmful to someone unfamiliar with them?

As an adult, I would even start seeing documentaries explaining the history of racial epithets and slurs I’d never heard of before. When I watched Song of the South for the first time, I was genuinely confused about what the controversial subject matter of the film was, only the learn after the fact that the movie uses the word “tar baby” once, an archaic racial slur for black children that I’d never heard before in my life. I had expected happy-go-lucky black slaves and constant racial slurs. Yet the film is Disney’s most controversial to date, so much so that it hasn’t been released in theaters in almost 40 years and will likely never get a DVD release. Disney World even went as far as a promise to overhaul a Song of the South ride over a racial slur nobody has used since Woodrow Wilson was in office…

Certainly, there are more subtle issues to be discussed with a film such as Song of the South or Gone With the Wind in its generally romantic depiction of the antebellum south but what’s lost is that these issues don’t impact children. Children don’t see the kind of subtle racial subtext or archaic slurs.

This is an irony South Park famously parodied in the Season 4 episode “Chef Goes Nanners”.

The notably black elementary school cook “Chef” protests the town’s flag for racial insensitivity. The flag, which had been created when the town was created, overtly depicts four white stick figures lynching a black stick figure. The entire town starts debating the issue but the children of South Park are unfazed by the issue because they don’t actually recognize the significance of white people hanging a black person. Realizing that, the town comes together over the fact that such a divisive issue could tear apart friends and neighbors who don’t actually racially hate each other, and the flag is changed to be more sensitive: four people of every race and background coming together… to lynch a black man (dark joke but not lacking insight).

The core insight of this episode, that children generally aren’t indoctrinated to see race in the way adults are, is lost on most modern leftists though.

I’m not much different in my racial views as an adult than I was as a child. I still hear claims like these and find myself confused by them. I don’t understand how an episode of Community, one of the most progressive shows on TV, can get deleted off of Netflix because of a  “black face” joke, especially when the point of the joke is how wrong blackface can be.

I don’t understand where leftists think this epidemic of early 20th century racial stereotypes is coming from, shy of themselves.

The anti-racist search for racism seems to have an unfortunate side effect: It’s harder to be ignorant of racism now than before. I’m sure the racially conscious among us would consider that a win but it’s not as far as I’m concerned. A culture that’s hyper-concerned about race is going to be a culture where racial sentiment and resentment are easy to spread and recreate.

I could’ve gone my entire life without understanding any of these stereotypes and slurs or even conceptualizing them but now I have them all burned back in the back of my head somewhere. I’m more aware of racism now than when I was young but that comes at the cost of thinking more and more about race and learning new ways for how people in the past used to be racist that were once extinct. That might be harmless in my brain but I know plenty of people who become more reactionary and hostile the more they contemplate the nature of race.

If you want to know why racism is resurging somehow, maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe we’re retraining society to recognize the same stereotypes we’d forgotten about generations ago. Maybe a society that forgets these things existed is a more innocent and less prejudiced one.

As Morgan Freeman famously said, the fasted way to make racism go away might just be to stop talking about it:

“Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.”

Published by Tyler Hummel

Editor-in-Chief at Cultural Review, College Fix Fellow at Main Street Media, Regular Film Critic for Geeks Under Grace and the New York Sun, Published at ArcDigital, Rebeller, The DailyWire, Hollywood in Toto, Legal Insurrection and The ED Blog, Host of The AntiSocial Network Podcast

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