Ever since the Civil Rights movement became a “Grand Myth”, the 20th Century equivalent of wagon trains headed West and the Minutemen at Concord, an activity so redolent of national values that it becomes a metaphor for what being American is, every generation has been given its marching orders to fight for a new equality.
Fighting against inequality requires inequality in the same way that Manifest Destiny needed land area to work. It becomes harder to spread out once you’ve hit the Pacific Ocean. Fighting for civil rights becomes a struggle when everyone has the right to vote, drink from water fountains and do everything else.
After that it’s all imaginary territory. You aren’t really expanding the borders; you’re just paving over swamps, slopping split level housing all over them and pretending that the next lawsuit over racial profiling or the article over pay inequities is just like those people in the black-and-white photos marching at Selma.
Racism is a resource and like every other resource, it’s in danger of running out. We hit Peak Racism decades ago. Peak Sexism peaked even earlier. Even Peak Homophobia peaked a while back. The cool kids are trying to push Islamophobia while peddling worn copies of Edward Said’s Orientalism that the campus book store refuses to buy back at more than 10% of the sale price, but once you get past the keffiyahs and a 10 year-old photo of what looks like a guy in black Klanwear in Iraq, (which looks like the world’s most confusing hate crime), the calm waves of the Pacific Ocean are there telling you that maybe it’s time to put away that thesis on “Othering in The Simpsons” and enjoy your job as Director of Sensitivity Innovations in the Department of Human Resources.
Fighting for equality stopped making sense when everyone became legally equal. Bringing back the word for a battle over gay marriage was refreshing after it had to be buried for so long during the long march through affirmative action and all sorts of positive discrimination gimmicks. But that’s just a blip on the radar.
Equality stopped being the issue before most of the people fighting inequality today on a professional basis were even born. Instead the issue became carving out niches of inequality that would preserve “inequality safaris” for the edification and lawsuits of future generations.
Bigotry is too prized a resource to just watch it drain away in some communal pool of brotherhood and sisterhood. The only thing to do is to find ways to dam it up and create national parks of bigotry that will allow future generations of civil rights warriors to rough it by camping out under the burning crosses while admiring themselves for their artificial courage in defense of a manufactured cause.
So instead of equality, there’s diversity that opens up a door for a select few while closing the door for everyone else. Instead of merit hiring, there’s quota hiring. That means one black guy in the boardroom, one Asian woman at the meeting and one Latino guy in the White House. (And the GOP, knowing the stats, and having missed out on the black guy, wants it to be their guy.) And that’s all you get.
The quota can be increased. There can be two of each in the boardroom. Or four of each. The numbers don’t really matter. What matters is that there’s a quota. Instead of bringing in people because they can do the job; they are brought in as representatives of their race, sex and creed.
Affirmative action doesn’t combat the glass ceiling. It is the glass ceiling. Once the quota has been met, it’s been met. The great goddess of diversity on her pedestal of Made-in-China plastic has been appeased with an offering of a multiracial photo that represents the fabric of diversity. Next year there will be another offering, but that’s it for now. And it’s all white guys from here on in.
The white guys will talk about diversity and the importance of bringing in new voices and points of view. They’ll even hire someone to help them fill the quotas, whose primary purpose is to keep other white guy competitors out of the boardroom. But when the quotas are full, then they are full.
Diversity creates a wonderful snafu in which there can be a black guy in the White House and double digit unemployment for other black guys. Sorry guys, the quota has been filled. There can only be one Obama. Everyone else is out of luck.
The double vision isn’t accidental. It looks equal, but it’s not. The game is rigged and diversity rigged it. And there’s plenty to be angry about for everyone because in a rigged game everyone has just cause to be angry; except the people on whose behalf the game has been rigged. And those people aren’t white people or black people. They are the people that the system uses to perpetuate itself.
The system isn’t white power or black power. It’s just the system. It’s a bunch of white guys who despise the South and wish they had a black friend, deciding which black guy to use for their diversity quota. They’re doing it for the same reason that they display books they never read and invite interesting people over for boring dinner parties. Because it makes them seem smart. Because it makes them feel like something more than the overseers of the same repressive dreary system that exists to implement unfairness for the benefit of a few.
Black people are interesting, the white guys think, Asians aren’t. Besides the Asians are more threatening because they can compete with all those white kids in retro black framed glasses. They are what the Jews were a few generations ago. And the quota stick is good for them too. But everyone gets hit with the quota stick by the system. Except those who are truly inside the system.
So the system can fight endlessly for equality without ever coming close to achieving it because the struggle is the thing that is in the way.
Generations of liberals defined themselves by civil rights and visit a civil rights theme park called the Federal Government to let them re-experience the sense of meaningful activity that they can otherwise only derive from kicking some money over to Microfinance after reading inspirational stories about poverty in India. And they created racism reservations that let them experience it over and over again.
Previous American generations wondered what they would do at the passing of the generation of the Founding Fathers. (It took a while considering that Jefferson and Adams died in 1826.) But by then there was a new generation of heroes who exemplified the courage and perseverance of the American spirit. And when the British sailed away for the last time and the Indians settled down building skyscrapers and casinos and the sun set on the Pacific Ocean, those virtues became harder to recapture.
Modern American liberals never really have this worry. Civil rights marches are never going anywhere. Neither are sloppy disorganized concerts full of overrated bands. Or essays blaming everything wrong with society on your parents.
The Sixties are never going away. They are the establishment. The people responsible for that mess run everything and arranged society so that you can experience their social failure over and over again. Racism and the fight against it is one of the things that they want you to experience, so you will experience it again and again, as they create and destroy racism like some strange racist gods.
Bigotry is always a problem. The problem is maintained so that it can be fought endlessly in the Creation Myth of the New America. Imagine if the Redcoats were kept around in Boston just so that people could throw things at them or the Sioux were paid to ride out scalping every few years. But we don’t have that. Instead we have Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton showing up to protest against something or other, while the NAACP compares Struggle X to the Civil Rights movement.
Congressman John Lewis, who on the day when he can no longer stumble forth to mumble something about his time fighting for civil rights, will have to be stuffed as a mummy and wheeled around to meetings organized by white guys in retro glasses who want to experience what their grandfathers felt when marching along the street in Alabama or Mississippi, serves the same purpose as Buffalo Bill’s traveling exhibition did. He’s there to remind us all of something that no longer exists.
Finding bigotry to fight takes work. The tar sands of bigotry have to be mined in an exhausting process to uncover new forms of bigotry. Bigotry is no longer a fact, but an attitude. It is proven not by its presence, but its absence. The lack of diversity is proof of bigotry. The presence of diversity is proof of white privilege. Everything has to be unpacked and peered at under a microscope to find that precious element of hate that fuels the liberal machine.
Bigotry is no longer about what you do, but how other people feel about it. Discrimination is not about opportunity, but about feelings. Finally it is revealed that bigotry is present everywhere. It is a quality that pervades every economic and interpersonal interaction. As some feminists insisted that all heterosexual sex is rape, so the new theorists of white privilege insist that any interracial interaction is inherently racist.
And when racism and sexism alone aren’t enough, there are always new discriminated groups being discovered by the post-apocalyptic civil rights warriors of tomorrow. If Jesse Jackson bleating sonorously about the time someone stole his sandwich bores you, try gay rights. Put an equal sign on your Facebook profile and you’re a civil rights hero. And if old gay men stage-kissing for the front page of your soon-to-be-out-of-business local weekly bores you, try trannies. Men who pretend to be women persecuted by refusing to take their pretense seriously. It’s just like Selma, if Martin Luther King had been more like J. Edgar Hoover. And there’s always your friendly neighborhood Muslim who gets unfriendly stares at the airport when he begins screaming “Allah Akbar” when asked if he’s visiting from Pakistan on business or pleasure.
There’s a reason that Science Fiction and comic books began to really take off as a generation weaned on cowboy role grasped that the West was gone. The cowboy movie lingered on, but then it went away and what replaced it are big shiny spectacles full of other worlds and superpowers. Who needs to be a cowboy when you can fly to other galaxies or see through walls. And who needs to fight real racism when you can expose the inherent stereotypes in Oklahoma (either the musical or the state will do) in your latest biting blog post about racism, patriarchy and heteronormatism/marchy.
The civil rights movement is dead. In place of any real urge for equality is a determination to perpetuate inequality in order to keep the movement going. It’s as if everyone wanted to keep the great feeling of winning WW2 alive by landing at Normandy, shelling random tourists and then invading Paris to liberate it from the Nazis while refusing to listen to the Parisians when they insist that the Nazi armies are long gone and all that’s left are a bunch of skinheads listening to bad music.
Inequality in the name of equality has become an institution. It has become the institution that justifies all the other institutions of government and academia. If discrimination ever disappeared beyond the ability of modern eight-wave bigotry researchers to discover it in episodes of classic television shows and random interracial interactions, then the entire modern state would simply collapse.
[Editor’s note: this article first appeared at Sultan Knish.]