This “racism” thing

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There hasn’t been enough talk, in these blasé, media-saturated times, of our growing tendency to embrace the hyperbolic, to magnify words and blow ideas out of proportion to what might, with some suspension of disbelief, be demonstrable in a real world. Much of this inflation, I suspect, has had to do with simple boredom.

Take “racism,” a thing of which there’s been enough talk to trivialize the most serious matter, the kind of new-and-improved, concentrated, Red Bull, Starburst, Snapple Mango Flavor Explosion that consumers of news have come to expect lately, and in Super-Sized format. Our heightened perception of this sensation’s incredible size is the combined effect of a mind-numbing Internet in our faces at every waking moment, and calculated campaigns to exaggerate for political gain, to sell papers and to clickbait. As the device-addicted walk down any sidewalk, drive down any highway, ride any subway, sit at any café — sit on any toilet — that same familiar soundtrack colors their mundane days and merges with the landscape. Repetition gives this “racism” thing a 3D aspect. People start to see it everywhere from airplanes to park benches.

Once shocking for its rarity, this “racism” thing seems to have evolved, in the minds of many, into a kind of physical entity with concrete qualities. Whatever it is or isn’t, this thing has assumed the status of an actual thing. If The New York Times is reporting accurately, it laces the very lifeblood and foundations of our entire society and all its institutions, an enemy from within and without, corrupt and corrupting to the core. So inextricable this thing and irredeemable anyone or anything tainted by it, the sole solution would be to level the landscape and rebuild from scratch. Sound familiar?

Pervasive and penetrating, attached liberally and literally to everything, completely beyond our control, “racism” would now appear to have a will of its own. A recent academic theory called “unconscious bias” has helped breathe life into the creature, and precisely by claiming it moves about freely and undetected — deflecting, somehow, so much publicity — in some sort of “unconscious” dimension. This Thing walks among us stealthily, cloaked by “unconscious bias,” a fiction fishy from the start and since discredited, but able to survive exposure to doubt and disproof, enhanced as it is by the flattering belief that insidious “racism” is invisible to all but a cult of visionaries calling themselves “woke.” Spread into the water supply, morphed into a toxic substance with bad intents, like that expanding alien organism in The Blob — Those kids tried to warn the authorities, but they just wouldn’t listen! — or that Day-Glo green slime in Ghostbusters, the Thing would appear to be solid but shape-shifting and slippery, able to insert itself anywhere, needing to be ferreted and flushed from every nook and cranny before seeping into infrastructures and giving us all bad vibes.

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If ever we needed proof of the Internet receiving signals from both lowly pop culture and higher education to make smart people lazy, and simple people think they have something to say, it would be the inflation of “racism” like a helium balloon on the eve of a Macy’s parade. The ropes have been cut, the cartoon unmoored, minds unhinged. First conjured up in esoteric word games by academic experts — whose job is to keep half-baking ideas faster than we can deflate them — born on campus, the Thing has escaped over ivied walls to wreak havoc across the land. Racism, Son of Racism, The Return of Racism would be good titles for the poli-sci-fi drama many people (who vote) are living as they go about their otherwise dreary lives, eyes glued to those handheld devices and ignoring all around them. Anyone with a rudimentary capacity for human language, crude typing skills and a meme app is free to toss about confidently erudite, sciency-sounding terms like “unconscious,” “systemic,” “structural,” “phobia” and “spectrum,” and to feel smart and righteous for it.

Rather than make consumers more savvy about media and skeptical of shadow tricks on screens, spending their lives on the Internet has made them more gullible. Not even those television talking heads to which we once looked for guidance can be trusted to set us straight. I remember a time, only a few years ago, when certain CNN announcers still dared to roll their eyes on camera over a so-called “war against the black man,” the sole motive, and justification, behind a wildly popular YouTube hit called Black Lives Matter. Dissent has since been mainly silenced — or skeptics converted — and daring to contrast real-world data, and common sense, with a handful of viral videos has become but further proof of this “racism” we’re all supposed to avoid like the plague. To deny its existence is to invite scrutiny. Congressional interrogations, to determine who’s been infected, could be just around the corner. Sound familiar?

In the same genre as a recent wave of books, films, and Internet T.V. series resurrecting the vampire theme, run its course but with a good many people (who vote) still believing the undead are a real thing; and haunted house shows where high-tech ghost hunters capture fleeting images of restless spirits in basement corners — “You can see them, right there on camera,” a journalist friend, who writes for The New York Times, once told me, in earnest — exposure to more technology hasn’t put a dent in our very primitive understanding of media, in our willful ignorance of editing and special effects, in our failure to consider a little thing called context. Since audiences thought a moving train would fly off the silent screen and crush them, or as many filmgoers still believe, actors make up the stories as they go, technology hasn’t served to evolve our faculty of judgment. Some of those horrific police shootings relayed by androids were, in fact, reflections of real-world tragedies, but few were as cut-and-dried as interpreters with agendas were quick to have us understand. And whatever isolated truths these scarce but dramatic segments may or may not have revealed, we had no reason to jump to the conclusion that they represented the tip of some sort of terrible iceberg right under our feet. The most shocking believe-it-or-not story of the 21st century thus far: There was no iceberg.

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I often stop, not to text something that can probably wait, or receive instructions on where to turn on the sidewalk, but to wonder if hindsight will ever benefit consumers of new technology who live in a perpetual present where their every step is guided by a screen. Will they pause one day, while adjusting their earbuds or downloading the latest app, to ponder how chasing an electronic mirage has torn apart untold numbers of friendships and families, polarized a nation, brought more danger to the streets, corrupted the press, pushed a great democracy to the brink of self-destruction? Or will they go on seeing the “racism” epidemic through a critical lens as just more “racism”? Will they look back, when bedlam really does come knocking at their doors, and point fingers at the mainstream journalists turned fearmongers and conspiracy theorists, the analysts turned sophists, the teachers turned indoctrinators, the politicians turned snake oil salesmen, the neighbors turned vigilante Starfleet warriors — will they keep lists of who did what to whom and hold the guilty accountable for a poli-sci-fi reign of terror? Will they stop imagining things — or will this “racism” thing keep growing with a life and a will of its own because the Internet is where we live, and if it’s on the Internet then it must be real?

The future doesn’t looking promising. This “racism” thing has been losing its metaphorical effectiveness — which defines it as a cliché — mutating into something more exciting called “white nationalism,” the sole motivation behind having national borders, warn the “woke.” Then there’s the final word in souped-up multisyllabics, this “white supremacy” thing, a state-of-the-art villain that threatens to overtake the world in sheer millions of Google search results. What could top something that’s supreme? Flip on any T.V., radio, handheld or home device at any time of day or night, and one might be convinced “white supremacist” zombies are roaming the countryside in herds, spreading their alien sickness as they go. The enemy could be living among us in seed pods like embryonic body snatchers, gestating in our chests and clawing to get out, spawning like Gremlins in Trump Tower, hiding underground awaiting a signal, circling in spaceships for a full-scale invasion from the sky. Orson Welles would be green with envy over how persuasive mass entertainment has become.

Foreign Policy magazine warns us that “fear” and “white nationalist terrorism” are being “spawned” by “online racism,” and by the “mass media” (FP excluded) which “is” — isn’t like or comparable to — a “vector” (i.e., a pathogen-transmitting organism).

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tries not to lose all sense of distinction between reality and poli-sci-fi metaphor, but she feeds the hysteria by tweeting:

“White supremacy is like a virus. Supremacists are those who have been completely overcome by the disease, but supremacy — the virus — exists on a larger scale beyond just the infected. It also lays dormant.”

She types hurriedly, in her own comment section, while still holding the mob’s attention:

“White supremacy is often subconscious. & Clearly, our nation has not been inoculated. WS is our nation’s original sin;the driving logic of slavery, of Native genocide, of Jim Crow, of segregation, of mass incarceration, of ‘Send Her Back.’ It never went away. It was just dormant.”

How can one possibly argue against such a gargantuan mass of gobbledygook? These thrilling scenarios (or “narratives,” as the academics say to impress us with their critical remove) are deeply imbedded in our imaginations, tentacles firmly anchored in our minds. Poli-sci-fi tales are becoming the only stories some people know. Have no illusions. Democratic candidates won’t try to clear up this mess of green goo, because like the hunt for “communists” in the classic age of science fiction, too much has already been invested in fighting it, and too much is at risk for suggesting it’s nothing worth fighting over. Lined up on stage is a cast of Marvel Comics superheroes, each claiming to possess the superpowers needed to search and destroy this “white supremacy” evildoer — Donald Trump, and the half of the nation that supports him — wherever it lurks.

Trump may be a little nutty, I’ll admit, but these guys have clearly gone off a cliff. A registered Democrat for all my adult life, I’ve heard enough of their hyperbole, seen too much of their damage. Dreading the future they would bring, I’ll be staying home on November 3rd, 2020.

…writes on society, the arts, and canine culture. His latest book is GONE WALKABOUT: Confessions of a NYC Dog Walker. https://bit.ly/2Jiw8if

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