‘I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world’

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Race baiters and dog whistlers think they are being clever when they make references to people who are different, indicating otherness using terms and characteristics recognized by long usage, in order to assert superiority or engender suspicion and fear. Racists collectively communicate with each other using coded language they all understand, but is not explicitly racist. Then they can smile and wink and say, “See? I’m not a racist.” And that may work with the feebleminded and the deliberately ignorant.

This is actually an American tradition embedded in our founding documents. At the Constitutional Convention, in an era when there was no reproach attached to the use of denigrating language against black people, the authors wrote slavery into the Constitution in two places.

Article I (the legislative) Section 2 clause 3, the infamous “three fifths” clause, was understood to mean that every five slaves were to be counted as three persons for the purpose of representation. They are simply called “other Persons.” Likewise in Section 9 clause 1, which guarantees the importation of slaves until 1808, the slaves are called, “such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit.” There is no mention of race, or even slavery. And yet everyone knew that the Constitution accommodated slavery. And everyone knew that slavery in the United States was color coded. Slavery was limited to blacks and mixed-race having at least “one drop” of black blood, and in many places those people could not be legally free.

There is a clear statement of white supremacy here, yet white and black are not mentioned at all.

We see this also in the beginnings of Jim Crow, when voting restrictions were enacted to prevent blacks from exercising the franchise. Literacy tests and poll taxes were required to register to vote, but things like “grandfather clauses” excluded all but blacks from the requirement. That was the purpose, but it was accomplished with specifying race or color. It is obviously not necessary to use explicitly racist terms to express or encourage racism.

Here endeth the lesson.