"I'm Not Racist, But ___"

One thing I think we can learn from the Trayvon Martin shooting and its aftermath is that there are one helluva lot of rightwing racists in America. As revelations go, it's not much of one. All you have to do is tune in Rush Limbaugh to have that one confirmed.

But another thing we can learn about rightwing racists is that they don't seem to understand what racism actually is. And we get no better demonstration of this fact than this story from The Grio:

A letter, sent via the City of Sanford's official letter, and addressed to the city manager, decries the treatment afforded the currently suspended police chief, Bill Lee. It faults the now familiar villains, according to Lee's defenders: Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the country's African-American attorney general, Eric Holder.

"Dear City Manager Bonaparte," it begins. "The racist travesty that took place in Sanford should not be laid to rest and the city should not move on until there is a thorough condemnation of the Rabid Racist Ni**ers and their organizations, along with the irresponsible media, that formed a treasoneous [sic], anti-American, vigelante [sic] feeding frenzy race riot. Ni**ers like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, and that dancing baboon of the New Black Pu***es should be in jail, preferably shot."

Mr. Bonaparte is black. And letters sent to city officials via the Sanford website are public record.

The letter was sent by Gary K. Keats, "a 71-year-old retired urologist from nearby Clearwater, Florida, [who] stands by every word." We know Keats is a wingnut, because the report tells us, "During the late 1990s, Keats posted frequent comments on a website belonging to the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, an ultra-right wing non-profit founded in 1943 to fight the Social Security Act." More on them here.

But here's the clincher; "Asked if he considered himself a racist, Keats replied, 'no, not really.'"

We've all heard it -- "I'm not a racist, but [insert incredibly racist comment here]." And that's pretty much what we're seeing with Gary K. Keats. The fact is that the vast majority of racists don't know that they're racists. You've got a few neo-Nazi, white power types who take the label proudly, but the average racist is a racist in denial.

I think the good news here is that we've managed as a society to association the word "racist" with "wrong." It's wrong to be a racist and even the racists seem to agree with that. But an average racist sees themselves as right. If they're right, then they obviously aren't wrong, and therefore just as obviously can't be racist -- no matter how racist the things they say sound. They think they're telling "hard truths." They know it's confrontational, but it "needs to be said."

In fact, as Keats demonstrates, it's the people who complain about racism who are seen as the real racists. Everything was fine until them uppity northern blacks come down and start raising trouble -- well, fine except that whole dead-kid, cops-let-the-shooter-walk-away thing. It's people who bring up race who are the racists. And if they bring up race, then the wingnut gets to too. It's only right. In his mind, Keats isn't at fault for throwing the n-word around -- blame Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Eric Holder for that. They started it with their focus on the victim's skin color. He probably thinks he's just fighting fire with fire.

If you want an insight into racist commenters on blog posts and news stories, there you go. They don't know they're racists. The good news is that if you call them out on their racism, they'll be offended -- because they know racism is shameful.

The bad news is that they have no earthly idea what the hell the word "racism" actually means.


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