Via this delightful Slate post on the best outrages of 2014, I learned of a tone-deaf NY Times article (but I repeat myself) about a supposed renaissance of Detroit, which is a city that is 83% black. The problem, of course, was that every last person interviewed in the article was white.
(an absolutely perfect depiction of what I’m talking about in this post — and it was ripped directly from the NYT article itself.)
Now, I’m pretty sure it isn’t because writer and Detroit artist K. Guillory is a rabid hater of black people. The problem is that she simply doesn’t even think about them, and that is what real racism looks like, especially in liberals.
Liberals are prone to this sort of tunnel-vision racism because they (we) feel that their liberalism automatically inures themselves from any charges of racism. It’s only those awful conservatives who are racist, we tell ourselves. All Republicans are secretly supporters of the KKK, after all. It’s us liberals who stand up to racism, one hashtag at a time! Did you see how many tweets we wrote about Eric Garner? Social justice, baby!
Never mind that many liberals such as K. Guillory, Michelle Goldberg, and others run around in progressive circles of like-minded liberals that are about as diverse as a Florida retirement community. Because they go to coffee shops that use chalkboards, and are served by white guys with hipster beards, and sip their chai tea with like-minded melanin-challenged individuals who all consider themselves artists or writers, they feel like all they need to do is send out a couple #BlackLivesMatter tweets and they’ve done their deed in the name of diversity for the year.
Never mind that they never seem to actually interact with black or Hispanic people.
Tunnel-vision racism is what’s really at the heart of our racial problems these days, whether we’re talking about clueless liberals or we’re talking about trigger-happy cops who only socialize with other whites. This sort of passive bigotry transcends party lines or class division. Talks of “Amerikkka” or secret police conspiracies to target black people miss the point entirely. The racism of today isn’t of commission but of omission.
Racism happens because white people omit black people from their thoughts and their lives, not because they sit around hating black people. We omit them from our dinner parties, we omit them from our PTA meetings, we omit them from our gated communities, we omit them from our hipster coffee shops and our yoga classes. And this is true no matter how progressive we tell everyone around us that we are.
Gentrification isn’t a KKK-inspired conspiracy to intentionally wipe out black neighborhoods. Gentrification is white liberals moving to Brooklyn who aren’t even thinking about the black people they’re displacing at all.
And this is simple human nature. This is the way our brains are hardwired. We have a natural tendancy to keep it within our “tribe” and to automatically mistrust or exclude people outside of the “tribe.” And this is true of all races and ethnicities — despite what the conventional wisdom would tell you, black people are not Magical Negroes somehow immune to the common vice of racism. If this were a majority-black nation, the exact same shit would be happening in reverse.
The black people of Detroit are forgotten by racists like K. Guillory, and that is the problem.