Thursday, October 2, 2008

blame problems caused by white people on non-white people

In the following three-minute clip, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) enacts the persistent tendency of white people to wipe their own messes onto the backs of black and brown people. What she's reading into the Congressional Record here is part of an article from a right-wing publication, the Investor's Business Daily, that blames the current financial crisis on "blacks and other minorities," many of whom took out mortgage loans they later couldn't afford. Never mind, she would probably say, that a lot of white people did that too.

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which Bachmann disparages here, partially corrected a long history of racist lending practices, which kept blacks and other minorities from decent (that is, "white") neighborhoods. In particular, the act outlawed the practice of “redlining,” which happened when banks drew actual red lines on maps around minority areas, and then denied mortgages to people within the red border, even though they qualified for such loans. The real effort of Michelle Bachmann and others currently decrying this Act is to deflect blame from the endlessly greedy white-collar managers and investors who built our collapsing economic house of cards and onto America's ever-ready scapegoat, those racial "minorities."

They also want to shift blame from Republican policies that favor the rich to Democratic ones that favor the poor. You see, it's not the rampant deregulation initiated by Republican free-market advocates during the Reagan Administration that's to blame here, nor, again, the financial industry's leaders and managers whose greed was thereby allowed to run rampant. No, it's Jimmy Carter's fault for getting that Community Reinvestment Act passed, and thus the real fault, after all, of those blacks and other minorities that Democrats are always catering to. It's "those people," who in the collective white imagination always remain reliably "irresponsible." And reliably absolving.

In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison depicts, so very well, this psychological use of the weak by the strong. She does this by telling the stories of the Breedloves, an ironically named African American family repeatedly used by the world to wipe itself on. The young daughter, Pecola, suffers crimes against herself so harsh and self-destroying that she's driven to wish for blue eyes, and then to believe she has them. If she has them, she thinks, then people will finally love her.

Pecola's childhood friend, Claudia, narrates parts of the novel as an adult, and at one point she comes to realize what she and others did to Pecola, their convenient, cleansing scapegoat:

Pecola is somewhere in that little brown house she and her mother moved to on the edge of town, where you can see her even now, once in awhile. The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world--which is what she herself was.

All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleansed ourselves on her.

We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and therefore deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.


  1. To be fair, sometimes they blame gay people.

  2. Friends of mine perceives the decline of America as the result of Mexican immigration, Muslims, and though unspoken, I'm sure amongst a majority white crowd they pass the buck onto blacks as well. Rarely, if ever have I engaged in a conversation with them in which they thoroughly dissect reality only to see white corporate greed staring back at them.

  3. The more I learn about social theory, the more I think people need to be sociologists. Or at least have some kind of sociological imagination. It's a powerful tool to understanding the world, and it helps the individual see beyond people and see the social institutions and social structures that affect our lives. Although I might add we cannot deny the individual the ability to be an actor (if that's even possible).

    I am scared to see what will happen if the economy does fail.

  4. Sad but true, "people in the sun," sad and terrible and dangerous and retrograde and hateful and self-denying and more that's vile and obscene, but true.

    Right, aka lynn, most of us have been socialized into ignoring the omnipresent reality and influences of corporate greed. However, I was hoping that the current economic earthquakes would shine a light on it, and then when I heard that a primary reason the bailout-vote initially failed was the widespread lack of support for it among voters, who called and emailed their anger over a bailout for corporate "leaders" instead of for people like themselves to their congressional representatives (many of whom listened to their voters, for once, because the congressional elections are coming soon), well, then I realized that a lot of ordinary people ARE aware of corporate greed and its significance. At the same time, though, they're easily distracted from that understanding, and from their collective power to do something about it, by the dark specters of xenophobic shibboleths.

    I very much agree with you, social justice communicator, that a sociological imagination, and understanding, can do so much to help a person discern the threads that comprise the artificial fabric of "reality," as well as the ways they've been trained to remove the quotation marks from around that word. One blog I like in this regard is Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing (though if it were my blog, I would have made the subtitle "Believing is Seeing"). Your blog looks like it was a good start. Can you recommend any others?

  5. Macon, thank you for calling racists, like these, out. The tendency of whites to displace blame on non-white people is pathological.

  6. You're welcome, Ortho, and thanks for the link. Pathological indeed.

  7. I always interpreted white people's reluctance to rebel against mostly white corporate greed, is because many white people honestly believe the prevailing American Horatio Algers myth, that one day they will be sitting behind that desk and raking in the dough. In addition, they dare not criticize a system of which they tacitly benefit from, even if it endangers the integrity of the system as a whole. Blacks are thus, the convenient scape goat as to why the economy has tanked, again being stupid and irresponsible with bad loans, while white people are exempt and are victims of poor credulous Blacks.

    I also think this explains whites rage at the supposed socialist tactics being used to bail out the economy---this may mean sharing or being polluted with Blacks who they believe are largely the culprits. As usual the meme of not being able to control their bestial urges, the intellectual inferiority, and reckless spending.


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