In a column today -- "What Lies Beneath" -- the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson effectively alleges
that racism is alive and well in America today. Building on the Mel Gibson, George Allen and Michael Richards episodes, he concludes that nothing has really changed. "Out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, come explosions of vitriol, suspicion and disdain, all aimed at minorities," Robinson writes. "Don't tell me that racism is dead. It just shuns the light of day."
Really? Does anyone believe that, based on two, maybe three (it seems a bit harsh to lump Allen in with the others) episodes, it's fair to conclude that the ugly spectre of race hatred lingers in most American hearts? No doubt people like Richards and Gibson completely lost it and behaved repugnantly. But their disgusting and hateful behavior doesn't mean that their views are widespread -- any more than the fact that wife- (or other women-) beaters still exist means that every man, deep in his heart, actually hates women and wants to hurt them.
Robinson writes that "We've buried [racial prejudices and animosities] under layers of sincere enlightenment and insincere political correctness, but they're still down there, eating at our souls." Speak for yourself, friend. That kind of talk makes it sound like Robinson is beginning to adopt the theory of "unconscious racism," first propounded (to my knowledge) by Professor Charles Lawrence in this 1987 article"
in The Stanford Law Review.
Of course, if the racism is unconscious, the person supposedly afflicted by it can't identify it. Presumably, only members of the oppressed minority can diagnose the order -- but it's not clear how.
It strikes me that, in a country that makes herculean efforts every day to ensure fairness among all the races, where numerous African American and other minority public figures are idolized, and where people who express racist ideas -- from Richards to Gibson to, yes, Allen -- pay a heavy price, it's insulting and unfair for Robinson to conclude from the unconscionable words of an ugly few, that America is a country that carries hidden racism in its heart.