3 Things We Like That Operate Just Like Racism

In an effort to keep chipping away at the pile of garbage that is modern race debate, I want to focus here on the perception of how racism operates. Remember: racism is an institutionalized system designed to create patterns of discrimination based on the concept of race. Calling it a system sounds right to a lot of people, but then we get hung up on silly individual level 101 shit like Cliven Bundy, whose prejudices should have surprised exactly zero people and no more than 15% of Nevada farm animals. If dealing with racism was as simple as smoking out all of the people who are dumb enough to get recorded suggesting slavery was a really awesome work study program, I’d have been writing columns for Tiger Beat ten years ago. Racism isn’t a series of busting whack-a-mole practitioners revealing themselves from time to time. It’s a root level cultural construct, an –ism as social contract. It’s practically a natural resource, mining and refining itself at little cost but people’s lives.

And yet, even those who agree that racism is a system don’t always realize how ingrained it is, how deep that rabbit hole goes. Rather than get trapped in a flame war over who got hurt worse, I’ve opted to use few analogies to illustrate different aspects of what racism DOES. And not just any analogies, but analogies of things we think are actually pretty cool. It’s like taking Flintstone vitamins: it’s medicine that tastes so good going down you forget how sick you are and keep stealing them out of the cabinet until you feel better.

matrixAnalogy #1 – The Matrix

Yeah, the awesome 1999 movie whose greatest achievement was not, in fact, drawing convincing and powerful parallels to society as a testament to man’s relationship with technology and how that circumvents our humanity, but in convincing me to sit through two hours of Keanu Reeves and his magical wooden face.

You know that popular phrase, “Nobody is born racist?” It’s technically true…TECHNICALLY. It’s only true at the level of biology. But since racism isn’t biological, this bon mot is as useful as birther logic when it comes to actually dealing with racism.

Enter our friend The Matrix.

The story engine of The Matrix basically lays out how racism infiltrates all of us. Watch:

– People are born into The Matrix.

– The Matrix plugs you into its machine from birth.

– The Matrix shapes your reality to suit its needs.

– You operate and generate what The Matrix needs unconsciously.

– Even when you sense something is wrong with the reality, you largely feel unable to change it.

– You cannot unplug from The Matrix and live (unless Laurence Fishburne scoops you up, but most of the time, you just go down the toilet).

Now look at how racism infiltrates us:

– People are born into the value systems and pre-defined structures that support racist values.

– Racism plugs you into these systems from birth.

– Through education, religion, sociological condition, media, art and politics, racism shapes your values, worth and means to suit its needs.

– You operate and generate what racism needs (ignorance, prejudice, hate, et. al.) unconsciously.

– Even when you sense something is wrong with the reality, you largely feel unable to change it.

– You cannot unplug from racism and live devoid of its reach or, if you’re white, benefit.

So the cliché about not being born racist is essentially useless. And its inverse is not as simple as being taught to be racist; you don’t have to be taught to be racist. You just have to be born white into it. The system takes care of everything else. This is how you can go your whole life never having called someone a nigger and still be racist as hell. All of the media caters to whiteness. All of the political structures cater to whiteness. All of the major resources of society cater to whiteness. If you’re too broke to benefit from it, that doesn’t mean you’re not racist. It’s means you have bad luck or you’re just not good at it.


Analogy #2 – Professional sports

Every once in a while you’ll hear an athlete who’s frustrated with his multi-million contract negotiation refer to his job as working on a “plantation.” The part that always disturbs me is how close to defining their reality they actually are. I often have to go check that athlete’s college record and see if he took any black studies classes because I don’t usually give them much credit.

Pro sports are the modern equivalent of plantations, all the way down to their meat market combines (checking the muscles and strength of their conquests from college up) to uprooting players at will for trades and drafts. If you were mad at the Clippers for still playing while Sterling remained their owner, suck it up; that’s what you do when you’re owned. Every one of them knows the deal when they sign the paper.

In a country with a 12% black population, any occupation comprised of 76% of blacks in the field with only 2% majority ownership by blacks is probably going to turn out to be racist as fuck. That’s the NBA, most recently put on front street by Sterling’s racist comments to his not-quite-white not-quite-girlfriend. Those are plantation numbers. And when you add the 0% majority ownership in the NFL (with 66% black players) and the MLB with 0% black majority owners (with only 8% black players but with 28% Latino players)? Things just get worse. Look at those numbers again, then do this math: 3 complete and total professional sports rosters, 92 teams with thousands of players…and 1 black majority owner. Think we’ll have snuffed out racism in professional sports now that Sterling is free to go back to full-time slumlording?

Here’s the saddest part of those numbers: You probably already assumed the number for each league was something like that per sport. If I said there was only one black majority owner in the NBA, you probably already assumed as much. I don’t follow any of these sports and I assumed that much. But when you see that out of all of the major sports in this country combined (fuck hockey) that there’s only one majority owner of ANY major sports team? That’s crippling. That’s by design. And it’s crippling to know it’s by design.

P.S.) Dear Music Industry… ‘Nuff said.


Analogy #3 – Pac-Man

It was a toss-up between this and Monopoly, but I’m going to let all of the people who think our biggest problem is classism have that one.

Racism is a thing decent people must constantly struggle against. There are no days off in racism. If you’re not white you don’t get to step out of its effects so you can have a non-eventful trip to the store. If you are white, you can generally opt out of having to contend with racism in any confrontational way (stay off buses, don’t go to black neighborhoods, don’t make friends with the black guy in your office. Unless you play in the NBA or the NFL, you’ll still have plenty of other people to talk to). That said, you never get to remove the benefits you receive from being white in a racist society. I am told by my white friends that this sucks, but I don’t believe them.

Pac-Man understands all of this, Pac-Man knows the deal, and Pac-Man is a perfect example of how debilitating and wearisome it is to deal racism all. Of. The fucking. Time.

Pac-Man starts off at the bottom, with every direction and option seemingly available to him. And yet, he can only move within the parameters of the maze, the course laid out for him by some unknown architect. His life is always what others have designed for him, and while he can perform flawlessly at each level, he is ever only doing so on a path of someone else’s design. He accumulates what he can to survive and progress through life, only to find that every gain reveals another, more complex maze to traverse. He is occasionally rewarded with fruit bonuses, but only if he can get to them in time. He can elude those who seek to destroy him using tunnels that transplant him to other parts of the maze, but as soon as he rears his head, his enemies are immediately alerted to his presence without fail. He can never stop running – no days off from being black, I mean, Pac-Man! – and can only stop moving when he’s shoved into a corner. In fact, there is a cop siren ringing through the entire game that only stops unless you keep eating, keep sucking in what the system has set out for you to consume. Finally, and most dishearteningly, no matter how far Pac-Man goes, no matter how great he has become at dodging his foes, eventually the system shuts him down. In theory, you should be able to play Pac-Man until you cannot physically move the joystick anymore, but that’s not what happens. If you make it to level 256 a jumbled “kill screen” pops up and resets the board, effectively shutting down the whole game. It’s patently unfair and a known glitch that its designers refused to fix once discovered. Tough luck. Sucks to be you…BLACK PAC-MAN.

That's racist, yo.
That’s racist, yo.

There were a lot of other things I considered for analogies, but this seemed like a good place to start. Enjoy (understanding that whatever you enjoy is probably racist as hell, or I can make it so).

5 thoughts on “3 Things We Like That Operate Just Like Racism

  1. There is SO MUCH marvelous here, so well written and so so very funny as well— only something so painful could have that kind of bittersweetness to it. Thank you!!!

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