One of the most troubling aspects of modern racial discourse is how it often, if not usually, rests upon an unequivocal and unassailable assumption, namely that “society” makes everyone, or nearly everyone, racist. The presumption is not that most of us are racist in the way that a Klansman, or a diehard segregationist, is racist; such bigotry would be easily provable by examining the actions and the stated intentions of a person or a group of people. Nor is the debate given to the idea that people simplybelieve in genuine racial bigotry but is holding it back for one reason or another. Today’s discussions on race are more often than not informed by the notion that racism is a deep-seated, internal, subconscious set of values within the lion’s share of the populace, fashioned by “culture” or “society,” undetectable in superficial appearances but still omnipresent: this racism is insidious, surreptitious, unconscious and, most importantly, ineradicable without a great deal of dramatic, penetrating, soul-searching mental and emotional labor.
I do not mean to speak badly of the good intentions of those who espouse this latter-day theory of racism and who sincerely wish to solve a set of problems they believe are both real and incredibly urgent; nor am I to suggest that racism is not a real and dangerous thing that still exists in society, for it plainly is. Nevertheless, I am often struck by how foregone are so many discussions that revolve around racism and racial matters, and how these discussions by their nature demand that a single thing—many if not all people are racist, unconsciously or subconsciously—be acknowledged before they can proceed.