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Mustache-Twirling Racism

Mustache-Twirling Racism I wasn't going to write about the whole Ahmed Mohamed homemade clock thing, thinking it was yet another social media people-talking-past-each-other-along-party-lines thing, but then an interesting thing happened.

"Bitter Gertrude" posted a good article about it: “They Never Thought He Had a Bomb”: Racist Narratives.

Before I get into it, I'll do the same as that article and correct the popular misperceptions: The school officials and police never never ever ever never thought it was an actual bomb: The only issue was whether the boy was intending to use it as a hoax bomb. It was never a safety issue, so there was no "Better safe than sorry!" If they had mistaken it for a real bomb and had evacuated the school and called the bomb squad etc, then that would be more in line with a safety threat. But they never thought it was a real bomb, they thought it was a hoax bomb.

They accused the kid of planning to use it make a hoax bomb threat and could not accept any other explanation (such as "It's a clock I made and I showed it to my science teacher and he thought it was cool"), and the article goes into a very convincing theory as to why (hint: racism).

I shared the link on Facebook, ironically mainly to debunk the popular (on my newsfeed) notion that the school officials and police were so stupid they thought a clock was a bomb, or so explicitly racist they arrested a Muslim even though they knew there was no threat. But I only received comments complaining that it was unfair to say the school officials and cops involved were racists. So: this article.

I think the core of the problem is wrapped up in that: Were they, or were they not, racist? Were they out to get Muslims?

That's the whole problem: the school officials and cops weren't in the KKK or anything (at least not that I know of), and probably would not consider themselves racist. When people hear "racism", they mentally capitalize it: "Racism". Racism is what Racists do. Racists are people who twirl their mustaches (or cop-staches), laugh evilly, and say in hillbilly accents "Let's go beat up a Negro!" or "Let's go arrest us a brown Mooslim!" Capital-R Racists are easy to spot because they are Racist and that capital R shines right through.

So when the article talks about how racism was involved, people get up in arms because they think the officials and police are being called Racists, and went after the kid with evil intentions.

But that's not really the case. Captial-R Racists do exist (I went to highschool with some of them), but they are generally easier to spot. I don't mean them. I mean everybody else. Everyone has a bit of racism floating around. No, not just white guys in the south. White people everywhere. And black people everywhere. And Muslims everywhere. And asians everywhere. But the United States of America being what it is, "White people racism" is the most important for this discussion.

No, the school officials probably weren't capital-R Racists, they were lowercase-R racists, like you and me. Yeah, you and me are racists. We see a black guy and we make different initial assumptions than if it were a white guy (even if you are a black guy), and vice versa. Every time I see a black person do something non-stereotypical, I am a little inwardly surprised. I know it should not be, but when I see a black guy (for example) skateboarding or listening to rock music, there's a little internal dissonance, just for a second. I hate it, but it's there, and I think that dissonance is there for most people.

But it's when I don't feel that dissonance that it should worry me most. I see a black guy walking into the liquor store in the afternoon and that fits the stereotype of the unemployed black man, so I feel no dissonance. For a bit, I just think "unemployed black guy".

But that wouldn't be the case for a white guy (such as myself): I'd either not even notice him, or I'd automatically assume he was taking a day off or worked odd shifts or was a stay-at-home-parent or something, anything. I eventually resolve my mental state, but if I were forced to make a snap decision, I might make the wrong call.

The article is about that: How the officials and cops (probably) weren't mustache-twirlingly racist. They were just the normal everyday racists like you and me. They weren't "out to get Muslims", it's just that their internal classification of the boy was "Muslim", and so to them there was no way he couldn't have been planning to use the clock as a hoax bomb to disrupt the school. That path caused no dissonance for them.

And when a cop (white, black, or other) shoots a 12-year-old black kid who is holding a squirt gun, he wasn't being capital-R Racist, he was simply following his lack of dissonance: black boys have guns and are dangerous, so the use of deadly force is necessary. A white kid might have avoided that fate because white boys aren't dangerous and so maybe there's a moment of dissonance and so the cop tries a little harder to see what's going on before drawing his weapon and firing.

So that's the racism we need to work to counter. We are the racists we need to talk about. We need to notice the dissonances, and even more so we need to notice the lack of dissonances.

I'm fairly certain this won't convince anyone, but I gotta try. Seems important.