Race Realism in a Dirty Book

Irish Famine Memorial

A Facebook connection led me to author, Taleeb Starkes, whose Amazon page praises as being a ‘race realist’. Remember that scene in Star Wars where Han Solo says, “I have a bad feeling about this?” right before the trash compactor mashes down on them? ‘Race realist’ had the feel of something bad and rancid.

Sure enough, ‘race realism’ is the kind of science where you make your conclusion first and find evidence second. The conclusion being that you can assign people to ‘races’ and decide at a glance whether they are good people or bad. Since this is already going on, it is convenient to give it scientific blessing.

Taleeb Starkes might not describe himself as a ‘race realist’. But this is the company he keeps. He is a columnist for a website that posts news about Black violent crime. Nationally.

I grew up in a white neighborhood and there was crime. Break-ins, rape, drug-dealing. There was a sense that we were better, it was much worse in the city where those people lived. And once we were convinced, confirmation bias kicked in. Back in those days the Providence Journal would report that a ‘black’ man robbed a convenience store or whatever. See?? More proof!

Stuff happens in our own neighborhood? Well, boys will be boys. And she was asking for it. It’s the double standard, innocent until proved guilty, or guilty until proved innocent.

The history of racism in America, what Condolezza Rice called a ‘birth defect’, is still an open wound.

It may be helpful to take a step back and look at a society where color prejudice was not the issue. Where people who were ethnically no different than 2 pieces of Wonder Bread in a plastic bag kept a vicious war going for centuries.

The passage I remember most vividly from the 1920’s scandalous book, ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’, was not the frank sex. It was Chapter 3 where Constance Chatterly decides to take a walk on the wild side and miscegenate with an IRISHMAN!!! She practically had to put on a biohazard suit before shaking hands with such, because the Irish are SO DIFFERENT.

Shmoop.com has a chapter by chapter commentary that is worth reading for both accuracy and LOL snark.

Here’s an unpleasant reminder of how a lot of people thought back in 1928: our narrator thinks about Michaelis as having the “silent, enduring beauty of a carved ivory Negro mask […] that momentary but revealed immobility, an immobility, timelessness which the Buddha aims at, and which Negroes express sometimes without ever aiming at it; something old, old, and acquiescent in the race!” (3.30). Racism aside (for now), Connie is attracted to him because he’s such an outsider. Michaelis has a feeling that he’s about to get lucky.

Okay, as far as the Chatterlys are concerned, Michaelis is not their kind. Clifford, Lady Chatterly’s husband, doesn’t like him…

Michaelis arrived duly, in a very neat car, with a chauffeur and a manservant. He was absolutely Bond Street! But at sight of him something in Clifford’s county soul recoiled. He wasn’t exactly… not
exactly…in fact, he wasn’t at all, well, what his appearance intended to imply. To Clifford this was final and enough…

Michaelis obviously wasn’t an Englishman, in spite of all the tailors, hatters, barbers, booters of the very best quarter of London. No, no, he obviously wasn’t an Englishman: the wrong sort of flattish, pale face and bearing; and the wrong sort of grievance. He had a grudge and a grievance: that was obvious to any true-born English gentleman, who would scorn to let such a thing appear blatant in his own demeanour.
Poor Michaelis had been much kicked, so that he had a slightly tail-between-the-legs look even now. He had pushed his way by sheer instinct and sheerer effrontery on to the stage and to the front of it,with his plays. He had caught the public. And he had thought the kicking days were over. Alas, they weren’t… They never would be. For he, in a sense, asked to be kicked. He pined to be where he didn’t belong…among the English upper classes. And how they enjoyed the various kicks they got at him! And how he hated them!

Nevertheless he traveled with his manservant and his very neat car,this Dublin mongrel. Thank you Project Gutenberg for putting this text online.

If you put on your high boots and wade through this stuff, it’s a pretty good exposure of racist thinking. I think that D.H.Lawrence must have been running a double satire of both the smug Englishman and the striving Irishman.

The problem is, English bigotry got a lot of Irish people killed.

In 1845 an agricultural disaster hit Ireland, the Great Hunger. Their staple crop was lost to blight. The English, who had the means to aid their neighbors, instead blamed them for this natural disaster. They were so convinced that the Irish were by nature lazy and improvident, that they withheld food for the starving. As Irish society collapsed the British fed them with sermons on self-sufficiency and blocked efforts by other nations to help them. The Irish diaspora brought my family here. The Irish national trauma fueled a guerilla war that raged into the 1970’s.

Yes, there were Irish terrorists. Yes, there were Irish acting out the worst stereotypes. Lawrence’s cruel rant against the Irish had a power to harm in England in 1928. In America in 2014 I just shake my head and laugh. After all, we had our Irish president.

Today we have our Black president. He took office as the American economy teetered on a cliff and pulled us back from disaster. He has had to work with a Congress that preferred shutdown to cooperation. He is the only president whose citizenship was ever questioned. He takes criticism from the Right and from the Left.

The presidency of Barack Obama has seen a rise in incidents of ugly and overt racism. We are also in a time where economic inequality worsens as the middle class struggles for employment and security. The time is ripe for a scapegoat.

Beware of calling on old ghosts. Racism is far from dead, and racist slurs can still harm. We have always aspired to be a society of fairness and equal opportunity, of justice and rights under law. To throw that away because of hard times and a nasty national mood will only leave our children to fight the battle, because people will always strive for respect.

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