Last night I dropped the H-word. Even saying that strikes me as funny, because the slurs that have been applied to white people have always so struck me. “Cracker” has obvious snack-related joke connections; “ofay” seems to be a kind of breakfast cereal, perhaps an ersatz Cream of Wheat. Only “paleface” ever seems to really rise to the level of insult, calling to mind Aaron the Moor’s denunciation of melanin lack from Titus Andronicus:
Fie, treacherous hue, that will betray with blushing
The close enacts and counsels of the heart!
And “Honky”? I can never say it without imagining it in a warped child’s toy jingle, such as Homey the Clown might have sung:
What sails the seas
Brings you to your knees
Enslaves all your neighbors and friends
What slows your advance
But yet cannot dance
Everyone knows, it’s Honky!
So yes, when I use such a word as this, I use it with a great degree of studied irony. I am not “taking it back” from the African-Americans who invented it. I don’t even know if African-Americans use it much anymore. It seemed to have it’s highest cachet in the Black Power days of the late 60′s to early 70′s, but for all I know black people say it all the time when the ofays are out of earshot.
So this is not about double-standards; this is about being obnoxious to one’s political opponents. I have a theory, shared by many on my side of the aisle, that accusations of racism mostly serve one group of white people to discredit another group (the “wrong kind of white people” as Stuff White People Like puts it). Thus, Janean Garafalo’s almost reflexive accusation that the Tea Party must be racist.
Tea Partiers are by definition the wrong kind of white people, because they do not leaven their patriotism with shame. One sees significant cultural pressure, from academia and other instituions, which seem to teach whites to detest the culture that they come from and continually apologize for it. This is defended as a necessary corrective to past imperialism, even as it supports ever-greater authoritarianism on the part of the federal government, directed especially at those activities, such as public prayer and coal-mining, that the wrong kind of white people engage in.
There was much about last night’s post that was, to say the least, intemperate. But politics is in many ways the art of strategic intemperance, of marshalling pathos to achieve an end. Sometimes an obnoxious turn of phrase uncovers an unpleasant reality, such as the devotion of our chattering class to a cultural dialogue that achieved its goal fifty years ago (That’s right. The Sixties are now as far away as World War One was to the Sixties). Sometimes the truth needs blunt telling.
So, from time to time, as politics will provoke, I will use the H-Word to refer to those who insist that the historical sins of white Americans are unique and special evils that must prostrate their descendants, rather than manifestations of a common ugliness that all peoples, at various times, have shown themselves capable of. That white Americans have demonstrated no proof, and much counter-evidence, to their old claims of being God’s Favorite, I cannot dispute. That they are the greatest of all possible villains, I must reject with gales of mocking laughter.