Tuesday, 19 August 2014

For Margaret Wente and The Whitewashers: The Truths of Ferguson, Missouri

 I don’t mean to pick on Margaret Wente. But she seems to be the epitome of what I call the ‘whitewash’ movement. (I use the term ‘whitewash’ because it is a kind of ‘washing’ that is favoured by privileged white people). The whitewash movement is mainly concerned with making sure that we know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are over. Members of the ‘whitewash’ campaign are hard to pin down on the political spectrum. It serves them well not to identify as being right or left-wing, because they can simply claim to be well intentioned. But unfortunately their views lead us directly back to our racist, sexist and homophobic past.
 Wente has been ‘whitewashing’ a lot lately in terms of feminism — and what she sees as a made up problem: rape culture. The idea is that misogyny is over, and women have achieved most of what they wanted — ergo, we must say goodbye to feminism. The same argument can be used about homophobia (Look at all the gay designer guys on TV -- and look at ‘Modern Family.’ Homophobia is a dead issue!) and racism (There is a black president in the USA -- so racism is over!). All this -- of course -- leads us to Ferguson Missouri. 
 What’s fascinating and very important about the ant-racist riots in Ferguson, is how they have confounded politically correct media discourse. CNN Reporters are saying things like “We don’t want to get too focused on race — that would be race baiting.” You see, the right-wing has managed to make it a  impolite to discuss racism. If you accuse someone of saying or doing something racist you are attacked as playing the ‘race card’ — which means unfairly using anti-racist rhetoric in order to tip the argument. The justification goes like this: “Racism is over, and the only time people talk about racism these days is when they want to attack someone unjustly.”
 I think the situation in Ferguson may make some realize that it’s still very important to discuss racism — just as important as discussing sexism and homophobia. Here we have a town that is the apotheosis of  American inequality. Despite Oprah Winfrey, despite Barack Obama, despite the much heralded death of racism in America, in Ferguson 70 percent of the population is black and yet only 3 out of 57 police officers are persons of colour (apparently Ferguson claims to have an Asian and/or Native American police officer too!). Sure, there is a black president in the USA, but old habits die hard, and people continue -- stubbornly -- to be racist. The same thing could be said about homophobia. Yes, we now have gay marriage, but the victories of the gay marriage lobby may have done more to encourage hatred of gays and lesbians than to alleviate it. And after all, has Roe vs. Wade changed the minds of rabid anti-abortionists, or has it just rooted them even more firmly to their prejudices? You can legislate all you want, but it’s much, much harder to change the human heart. I’ve got nothing against civil rights for queers, women and people of colour, but I do have something against those who think such legislation is all we need to make the world a better place.
 In other words, racism, sexism and homophobia are alive and well. No matter how many people talk about the death of racism — the people in the USA and Canada who hold the power are still white, and the people who are so often oppressed by that power are often non-white. Similarly, no matter how much Wente talks about the end of feminism  and the ‘myth’ of rape culture — we still live in a society where most politicians and CEOs are white men. And when people rant on about homophobia being over, I always ask: “When was the last time you saw a drag queen anchorperson — or even a mildly effeminate newscaster on the CBC who wasn’t relegated to weather or celebrity gossip?” Whitewashing over the real and frightening ills of racism, sexism and homophobia is merely a very clever right-wing tactic to take us back to our racist, sexist and homophobic past.
 Will the wounds of Ferguson induce us to see things as they really are? Will Ferguson — at last — open the eyes of those who love to imagine that the world was long ago cleared of hate?

 We’ll have to wait and see.