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People Who Say They Are Voting Tory Based on the Economy Are Lying

If this election is about any one thing, it is about bigotry.

Throughout the campaign, people who feel like supporting the Conservative Party of Canada have claimed that they are voting based on something called “the economy.” Over the past decade, it has become clear to me that everybody who says “I am voting based on the economy” is lying, either to themselves or to others.

That is because of a rhetorical style conservative media and conservative commentators have developed. That is because, in our present moment, where the mainstream political ideology lives in an empty jar called “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” one is expected to advance a single, unified political position that our society is a marketplace where people freely make consumer choices.

Contemporary conservative politics is an expression of anxiety over the choice-based liberal capitalist utopia we are becoming. The self-evident emptiness of a society of individual free agents, untethered from one another, whose identities are simply the sum of their consumer choices bothers people. There is something too dehumanizing, too monstrous about Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that “society does not exist.”

And so conservative movements have come to rely on social coercion as their distinguishing principle: “No. You can’t just marry whoever you want. No. You are the gender you were born with. No. I can decide, just by looking at you, whether you are black or an Indian. No. You can’t just pick what you get to wear…” Et cetera.

Contemporary Third Way and liberal parties, on the other hand, because we are usually (and legitimately) too afraid of challenging the global neoliberal economic order, tended to build our politics out of two things: defending the ways in which liberal capitalism, by rendering everything a consumer choice, can be used as a tool to achieve greater equality and accommodation for select groups in society. “Yes. You can wear what you want. Yes you can marry whomever you want…” Et cetera.

The other way these parties have retained political purchase has been by talking about values and phenomena that are exceptionally resistant to individualized commodification. Our destabilizing atmosphere, our acidifying oceans, whole countries where death rains from the sky onto almost-random targets. Even though our solutions to these problems, exemplified in “cap and trade” focus on how we can extend market instruments into the commons to produce a falsely atomized tradable commodification, we are forced to say “there are important things besides the economy” while conservatives are not.

Operating within our “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” mainstream, what this means is that conservative parties have come to own “the economy” as part of their identity, because it is often disadvantageous to focus on other issues in polite company. While liberal and Third Way parties, in order to maintain their legitimacy, have had move the subject of conversation off the economy, conservatives have been able to speak exclusively about this empty signifier “the economy” and have had to articulate their non-economic views through coded and targeted communication.

Because this has been going on for a generation now, conservatives are understood to be the people who know about the economy and run it correctly. A generation ago, Mike Harris had to make the case for the efficacy and reasonableness of his slash-and-burn economic policy. Today, a conservative politician demonstrating that he is the most competent economic manager takes place the moment the camera rolls, the moment he walks on stage.

Because conservative fiscal competence has gone from being an argument made in the public square to an ontological property of conservative identity, people whose votes are really motivated by the desire to attack others’ choices due to xenophobia, misogyny, racism, transphobia or homophobia can express this in code by saying “I am voting based on the economy.”

Such individuals are often bewildered when people act as though they believe this to be true. “But if you care about the deficit, why would you vote for the party that ran the biggest deficit in Canadian history, turned our biggest surplus into our biggest deficit and doubled the national debt?” we ask, and our interlocutor seems bewildered. “But if you care about economic growth, why are you backing the party that has presided over two recessions in ten years, and the only G7 country to slip back into recession in 2015?” we ask and our interlocutor seems either antsy or bored. “If you care about a stable economy, why would you vote for a party that has completely unbalanced our economy by destroying tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and instead tying our economy to the most volatile boom-bust cycle in the world?”

Now, the people who get antsy when we ask those questions are people who have not let themselves in on their little secret: that they are voting Tory because they are dealing with their anxiety about our empty market choice society by backing a party with a penchant for punitive and coercive action against minorities. Many people who say “I am voting because the economy” are not stupid; they have just internalized that these magic words are a polite euphemism. Because one no longer says “because I want to kill Arabs” or “because I want to smash out that gay guy’s teeth” in polite company.

By arguing with them, you are not engaging in political discourse about the issues; you are trying to force them to say something rude, something you will assail them for having said once they do. You are trapping them in a social double-bind where you will punish them for telling you a socially convenient lie like “I can’t make it; I’ve come down with food poisoning” AND for telling the truth. Having this debate with them is like arguing with “I can’t give you a ride; I’m not going that way” or “we already have house guests. You can’t sleep on my couch.” The claims they are making about Conservative fiscal management are not part of a debate they are having with you; they are a signal to those around them that they are respecting the social mainstream by not saying things that are offensive.

In this campaign, our government hired the world’s expert on locating and demonizing small minority groups who are despised by, if not the majority of us, a large plurality. Lynton Crosby mobilized Canada’s venerable nativist vote against the two women who have attempted to swear their citizenship oath wearing a niqab.

And, in our final weekend, Stephen Harper is finishing the campaign with Rob Ford, a racist, wife-beating, George Zimmerman-esque, a seller of murder swag on e-Bay from the hit he ordered on Anthony Smith and got away with. But let’s remember that while this pantomime of violence, racism and misogyny is being enacted through images and symbols, Harper and the Ford brothers are talking about how it’s really all about “the economy.”

This week, every daily newspaper in our country that is not run by the Atkinson Foundation is endorsing the re-election of the Conservative Party, supposedly in spite of the ugly nativism they have activated because… drumroll please… “the economy.”

We need to get clear on what that phrase now means. Just as “confirmed bachelor” once meant “semi-closeted gay dude,” just as “tired and emotional” means “high as a kite” in the British press, “because of the economy” means “because I am full of hate and want to see people who are not like me hurt.”

Now, some people will get upset that I am calling millions of Canadians racists, misogynists and/or homophobes when they really do believe they are voting based on the economy. Well, let’s look next door to see how much of a shit I should give about this. For most of the Obama presidency, the majority of Republicans “sincerely” believed he was a Kenyan, closet-Muslim imposter, scheming with the Iranian government to destroy America. When middle and working class Republican voters received a major tax cut from Obama in 2009, the majority of them believed their taxes went up.

Was it the position of Canadians that these individuals should be treated fairly, that their racism should not be called out simply because they had piled an act of self-deception on top of the lies they were telling others? No.

Those who have deceived themselves into believing Harper deserves re-election because of his sound economic management are no better than the voters who are voting for Harper because of a clear-headed, self-conscious bigotry. And the Globe and Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal, etc. etc. are committing a crime, a hate crime, by shoring up the split consciousness that enables these acts of self deception. What editorial after editorial is showing us is that “record of sound fiscal management” has come to function as a euphemism for “racist/misogynistic/homophobic like me.”

As the National Observer opined this morning, our national press, through these endorsements, has transformed itself from bystander to participant in an ugly and shameful campaign of racism and misogyny. When the next Muslim woman is assaulted on the street by vigilantes, their legitimation of the 2015 Conservative election campaign as one worthy of support will make them, too, accessories to that crime.

Life Near the Colour Line – Part 2: The Fool’s Paradise of Race

So, it turns out that, unbeknownst to me, that thing about the direction that water corkscrews down a drain varying based on which side of the equator one is on is actually an especially persistent urban myth. There is no actual scientific foundation to this belief, which is perpetuated through a combination of confirmation bias and minor fraud.

The kind individual who drew this to my attention was worried that the debunking of this popular myth might hurt my project of attacking the colour line. But when I learned this, I was nothing short of elated. In fact, it was all I could do, in writing the second part of this essay, not to claim that I had known all along and suckered people into believing that the Coriolis Force Effect on drains was real in order to illustrate my larger point more effectively.

Needless to say, the fact that the equator the men with the metal bath tub in Meru were demonstrating had no scientific or ontological reality beyond its social manifestation renders it more not less like the colour line. The men are still sweating and running for the Kenyan shillings in the white tourists’ pockets; it’s just that they know that their performance of the equator’s physical power is not a response to an external physical reality but to the beliefs inside the tourists’ heads. Their ability to make the world around the tourists converge with their expectations conditions the number of shillings they can earn. They are engaged in a high-stakes performance. And performing a non-existent effect of the equator is much like performing race.

One way or another, people in Meru were living on the equator on a warming planet, where Lake Nakuru, which once attracted tourists with its enormous flocks of flamingos, was now a mud flat, a malodorous brown mass of flamingo bones and bugs. Like it or not, the people of Meru were living on the equator and dealing with the consequences of their position. But these men’s social performance of the equator could profoundly affect their lives; by confirming the beliefs of the tourists, by making the equator real in the way we needed it to be, they could support their families. And performing race is a lot like performing the equator. It is associated with great risk and great reward.

One of the manifestations of privilege is the opportunity to inhabit a fool’s paradise, to hold cherished beliefs about the world around you that other people feel compelled to make real. That is because the more privileged one is, the greater the reward people experience for confirming the things you need to be true and the greater the risk for challenging your beliefs.

Cherokee English professor Thomas King speaks of this when he writes of people’s accusatory distress at discovering that he is “not the Indian [they] had in mind.”

Fundamentally, the power of racism inheres in its accuracy. It allows people to make guesses about how people will behave and what will happen to them that are accurate more often than not. Even if we factor-out confirmation bias, racism works because the people who live at the top of racial systems live a fool’s paradise. As they move about, those around them stage performances of their race in order to minimize risk and achieve reward.

On the rare occasions people decide to entertain the idea that I am black, I am conscripted to into validating their predictions. Do I feel a connection to Africa? Do I have a sense of rhythm? Do I enjoy a Trinidadian curry and a slice of watermelon? Have I been in conflict with the law? Can I speak with a US inner city accent? Well, if not that how about a Southern one? A Jamaican one? No? Really? If I refuse to shore up the fool’s paradise of racism, the conversation soon moves to derision, confusion or frustration and my interlocutor soon concludes that I cannot be black. I can inhabit the fool’s paradise of race as a black person, only so long as I perform that blackness.

Perhaps I, a socialist intellectual, am trying to make the point that race is a social construction—further evidence that I am white because that is what racism predicts that white people will do.

Luckily for me, I can just shut up about who my ancestors were and I am no longer performing forced labour in a fool’s paradise. But people who are clearly on the black side of the colour line never get a rest. They have to find a kind of black person to be, a kind of person that their blackness predicts, an identity that maintains race as the powerful predictive tool that it is. If they won’t, they are some kind of asshole, someone who lacks grace and decency to pick one of the accepted black roles to perform. If they are so damned insistent on being a black intellectual, perhaps they could be Cornel West and use their PhD to say prophetic, mystical things to white America about their shared destiny, things that captivate yet are found insubstantial and trite under rigorous examination. Or, failing that, maybe they could be one of those angry, uppity black woman intellectuals nobody likes. Elevated by their spirituality or blinded by their uppity, misandrist anger: look! there are smart black people to be!

It tells us much that the international media have reached a consensus that the Spokane NAACP is an organization of such significance, such importance, such power that the composition of its current executive merits headlines, scrutiny and international attention. Whatever her motives, whatever her inner thoughts around which she structures community activism through a medium-sized private club in a third-tier American city, her existence cannot stand in the fool’s paradise of America.

While our new system of race nullifies the existence of people like me, people with black parents who refuse to perform our race for an audience, people who voluntarily choose to be black are beyond the pale. When people have tried to explain to me why this woman infuriates them, many of these self-identified progressives explain that it’s not “fair” that a person who has all the advantages of a white upbringing should then get all the “advantages” of being an adult black woman. These are the same people who, a week ago, knew that being a black female adult in today’s America is anything but advantageous. That is why such arguments soon descend into other intellectual positions that are equally bankrupt and absurd, like the assertion that race and ethnicity are clearly bounded, independent variables, or the claim that race is incomparable to gender because it, unlike gender performance, is enmeshed in the legacies of colonialism and empire.

People need to do something about Rachel Dolezal because she is fucking with their ideas of what race is, where it comes from, how you authenticate it and what guesses it lets you make about what is going to happen next. But most importantly, she is fucking with who gets to decide people are black. It as though she has got hold of one of the ends of the colour line and is dragging it towards white people against their will. And that sort of thing cannot stand in our great American fool’s paradise.

More on these last few thoughts in part three—and on the ownership of shoes in seventeenth-century Angola.

Life Near the Colour Line – Part 1

“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the colour-line.” – W. E. B. Du Bois, 1900

I guess it’s still the twentieth century because boy is white Anglo America mad about the colour line today. A troubled and somewhat dishonest woman from a family that contains both black and white members has been outed in the international media by her white parents for “impersonating” a black person. They want you and me to know that she has no business being the president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter because she does not have one drop of black blood. Who gives a shit what the NAACP thinks or whether they want her representing them? We know who gets to draw the colour line; and it sure as shit isn’t politically engaged black folks. As we are all supposed to know, blackness lives in the blood, in ancestry; it is inalterable, a stain upon a lineage passed from one generation to the next.

Of course, that’s only if you don’t live near the colour line.

I have lived near the colour line for most of my life. My black mother and white father didn’t travel to much of the US during their thirteen-year marriage because their relationship and my very existence violated the miscegenation laws that remained on the books in southern states throughout much of their relationship.

That’s why, when I was born, older relatives from both sides of the family breathed a collective sigh of relief: I had “such good skin,” meaning, of course, that I could be mistaken for white if nobody looked too closely at my hair or my physique. Like my great aunt Connie, I had a body that could “pass.” Passing was made easier living in a wealthy neighbourhood in which my mother was mistaken by the casual observer for my nanny or some other sort of domestic servant. (Her dad was afraid of visiting us, in case his visits exposed us.) It was helped too by her pouring her savings into sending me to a private school that had no black students.

But it was there that I was found out. Even before I knew what passing was, my famous black uncle died and I got to be called “nigger” by the school bullies. That went on for a year and a half but then it stopped because the colour line was moving.

When my dad took me to Kenya in 1988 to photograph wildlife, we visited the equator. You know that story about how water runs straight down a bathtub drain without corkscrewing clockwise, as it does in the Northern Hemisphere or counter-clockwise, as it does in the Southern? It’s supposed to go straight down at the equator. In Meru, on the equator, you can pay to see this. But what they don’t tell you is that you need four burly men holding that detached bathtub running north, running south, chasing the equator as the magnetic fields creating it jerk and twist it this way and that.

Here, in the temperate zones, we see the equator as a stable absolute, a fixed point etched into the surface of the earth. But when you’re actually there, it bounces this way and that, like a taut skipping rope being used in a tug of war. If you have to relate to the equator, sometimes you are chasing it carrying a half-full bathtub, with a bunch of confused white tourists in toe jogging to keep up. And sometimes it just rolls over you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

That’s what the colour line did to me. By the time I went to Kenya, there was no longer any such thing as passing. Race was alive and well in America but the age of the one-drop rule was over. Race now lived in your body’s external appearance.

The terms “white trash” and “hillbilly” stopped referring to the white descendants of people whose ancestors had been sold into servitude on tobacco, rice and indigo plantations in the seventeenth century. Now these terms were just class descriptors. With sufficient education and wealth, members of this formerly racialized group could become like the kind of people my great aunt Connie and I were becoming: people who were suddenly on the white side of the colour line.

We were free!

Of course, there were some problems with that. Like all those people who lost their Indian status by getting law degrees or white husbands, I experienced some ambivalence going from being the same race as one half of my relatives to being the same race as the other half. Perhaps that had something to do with having no say about when or whether the colour line rolled over me.

But it did mean that I had new uses in BC’s tiny black community. In the early nineties, some community activists attempted to co-own my leadership of the BC Green Party. They wanted to be able to honour me for being the first black political party leader in BC. Except they couldn’t do that. We settled on “the first leader of African descent.”

I was also useful at that time because the keynote speaker at a major community event had recently given some very problematic advice. This young man was nearly as light-skinned as I. And he had some advice for young black people about who to achieve success for their families: “marry white,” he said, like his dad had, “most people don’t even realize I’m black.” It was at that moment, that community activists needed people like me and the editor of our newspaper, The Afro-Carib News, to defy the placement of the colour line and stand with our black family members. And stand proudly.

Many of my friends saw this as a joke, something worthy of their laughter. And it was and is absurd. It was the same kind of absurdity I and my white tour group felt as those burly sweating men ran back and forth with a metal bathtub in Meru in 1988. It provoked a nervous, desperate laughter as they saw a fixed reference point wriggle and bounce before their eyes, while desperate, sweating Africans chased it in the heat of the day.

I will post a second part soon. Clearly this essay is not done.

Cosby’s Wager: Faith, Rape, Race and Respectability

I responded on this blog to the celebrity rape apologetics around the Jian Ghomeshi case in the early days of the story breaking because, at that point, other voices challenging the most pernicious topoi of rape apologetics had yet to emerge. I have been pleased to see actual opinion leaders in this country articulating the things that I would have felt the need to say, were they not being said better, louder elsewhere.

I am now wading into the Bill Cosby case with some reluctance and sadness because, in the articles I have read, I feel that certain points are not being made. And following the New Republic’s well-intentioned misinterpretation of the functioning of “black respectability” politics in this debate, I feel that I should say something that might be otherwise missed now that there is no question that Cosby will live out his few remaining days as a pariah, exiled from both the entertainment elite and America’s black elite and it is clear that people, once again, feel bad about not “believing women.”

One of the things that is being missed, here, in my view, is what is actually meant by “belief” here, and how this shakes out when it comes to all those rapists out there whose violence we will continue pretending we do not suspect or have not witnessed. Ever since the reconstruction of the term “faith” during the Protestant Reformation, our society has sought to conflate two things at our peril: (1) proceeding as though a thing were true and (2) believing a thing to be true.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, two allied social processes forced us to begin conflating these things. The first was the Galilean or Scientific Revolution, in which Galileo Galilei changed the disciplinary architecture of the sciences by demanding that the discipline of “Physical Astronomy” (the “true” structure of the universe as described by philosophers and theologians) be subsumed in the discipline of “Mathematical Astronomy” (the mathematical and geometric model of the universe as used by mathematicians do write calendars, predict eclipses, etc.). Whereas key ecclesiastical and imperial authorities of his day agreed that the discipline of Mathematical Astronomy should incorporate a heliocentric redesign based around elliptical planetary orbits, they were unwilling to subordinate their geocentric Physical Astronomy of crystalline spheres and circular orbits to Galileo’s vision.

In a related conflict, anti-corruption crusader, revitalizer and reformer Martin Luther began arguing for something called “justification by faith and faith alone,” arguing that the sole determinant of the salvation of a human soul was that person’s “faith” in God, his commandments and the eternal life he offered. Here Luther was not so much the author of a new understanding of cognition, representation and truth, as was Galileo, but the end of a long thought process reaching back three centuries to the mandating of Confession by the Lateran Council of 1215.

“Faith” or “fidelity” had long been understood and translated as faithfulness to Christian teachings about how to conduct oneself: having a drunken pancake breakfast once a week with friends, giving to beggars, not criticizing people for a sin you’re also committing, etc. Perhaps the greatest work of late medieval alchemy was the transformation of “faith” into the sustaining of magical beliefs within one’s consciousness in contradiction of evidence. In this way, faith was transformed from fidelity to good practices to a sustained lifelong act of self-deception, or at least, as the magical worldview of the Bible’s authors came to be increasingly discredited, that is what it became.

It is not really until the emergence of the Enlightenment consensus in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that these elite-level changes were felt by the majority in the European and Euro-American worlds. Until then, our culture remained one in which public and private selves, moralities and knowledges were understood, if not as a social good then, at least, as a social necessity. But in today’s post-Enlightenment world, such discrepancies are no longer understood as the grease that enables the machine of society to work but as an endless series of moral and epistemological failings and hypocrisies of weak people.

The #ibelievewomen hashtag, laudable as it is, reinforces the “enlightened” worldview made—for very good reasons, at the time—by the likes of Luther and Galileo. And it shows us how stupid its excessive and uncritical embrace has made us. The issue is not whether we believe the women who courageously come forward to denounced celebrity rapists (or the vanishingly small, tiny fraction of one percent who are less than truthful); the issue is whether we act as though we believe them. The issue isn’t really what our private thoughts are; the issue is our social conduct, how we communicate and act when we hear these allegations.

The reality is that we do believe most of these accusations most of the time. It’s just that we would rather pretend we do not. As a long-time electoral reform activist, I’m extra-familiar with this routine. People who oppose democracy i.e. the equal, effective voting power of every citizen, almost always pretend a level of innumeracy they do not, in fact possess. They understand perfectly well that our current voting system is unfair and unrepresentative and that there are a bunch that are fairer and more representative. But it is much more socially acceptable to feign incomprehension and magical belief than to argue against something as universally beloved as democracy.

And that’s just the voting system, a dry, abstract issue.

People are far more committed to feigning stupidity and ignorance if it allows them to keep admiring popular rapists, and to keep socializing with the rapists in their own circle of friends, family and acquaintances. But since the age of Luther, this kind of thinking has become more pathological. No longer is it enough to publicly pretend that the local town councillor, fraternal organization president, racialized community leader or star athlete isn’t a rapist, one must fragment one’s own consciousness to suppress that knowledge, to both know and not know. Social demands to turn our bullies and monsters into admired patriarchs have not changed; what has changed is our ability to admit that our charade is a charade, conducted for social purposes.

In this way, it is not that we believe our rapists; it is that we have faith in our rapists, that we have taken on the lifelong project of subordinating the conclusions of our native intelligence to expedient social truths.

In this way, we can understand that it is not so much that the “Age of Faith” and the “Age of Enlightenment” succeeded one another but that they developed contemporaneously, that “faith,” as an epistemological and social practice not limited to religion, becomes a necessity when public, social truth and private, individual truth must be collapsed into one another. In this way, Reformation and Enlightenment ideas of opposing hypocrisy and questing after truth necessarily turn on themselves. Now, when it comes to the predators in our midst, we do not just have to negotiate a disjuncture between our public claims and private assessment of important men in our community; we have to conduct an ongoing war on our own consciousness to conceal this operation from ourselves, even as we continue performing it. Maintaining two self-consistent yet incompatible stories is hard enough. When one does that work while concealing said work from oneself, it is profoundly mentally taxing and generative of madness. Furthermore, having faith in rapists also generates new kinds of danger because we lose the ability to reliably protect those vulnerable to predators from harm, in that we are only intermittently conscious of the degree to which we, and those around us, are at risk of predation.

Of course, disrupted consciousness and successful self-deception are, at best, incompletely experienced. Most of the time, our native intelligence wins out and we make perfectly accurate assessments of the people and events around us; the problem is that voicing those thoughts is driven so far underground as to be exiled from the realm of conversation.

So, let us consider the case of Bill Cosby in this light, that the great man was not a man we believed but a man in whom we had faith. As at most times and places, the decision to have faith is not a matter of life and death necessity. It is a matter of risk-reward calculation. Whether consciously or semi-consciously, we ask ourselves this: “What is the reward for acting as though what I have just heard is true? And what is the danger or damage to which I might be subjected if we call it out as false?”

You see, the great liars of our day are usually not people who generate belief as much as they generate faith. The great lies of our age, like climate change denial and the Iraq War, are not ingenious, hypnotic deceptions but wagers, structured like Pascal’s Wager (one of the most honest expressions of the true meaning of faith in the modern era). Rather than lies driven by brilliant deception or narrative artistry, the great social lies of our time are those in which the audience is persuaded that something needs to be true, not that it is, in some way, true. The great baroque liar was Baron Munchausen; the great modern liar is Blaise Pascal.

Much as I want to go along with the New Republic’s belief that we refused to believe Cosby was a rapist because white liberals sanctified him as an acceptable representation of black male power, I cannot. White liberal America has Barack Obama now to represent continence, hard work, respectability and sweater-wearing. For white society, Cosby was obsolete a decade ago.

The people for whom the calculus changed were not the white elite but the black elite, with so much to gain and so much to lose.

As bell hooks has eloquently explained, the intertwined projects of “racial uplift” and “black respectability” are inextricable from Jim Crow and the age of racial passing, when all black success in America was necessarily grounded in deception. This deception had two related but distinct aspects. And it is the first aspect with which non-black Americans are more intimately familiar, means by which black Americans hid themselves or hid their blackness to escape persecution. Successful black professionals lived in inner city slums or in run-down or deceptively modest homes to conceal earnings and savings that their white neighbours might confiscate or destroy. Other “success stories” like my aunt Connie “passed,” using their light skin to feign whiteness and mislead their neighbours and friends into thinking that they were not the descendants of slaves.

But the second kind is the more pernicious, the kind to which hooks has spoken so eloquently: the deception of false credentials, the pretense of a harmonious family life, the concealment of substance abuse, and the manufacture of false heroes. Because black Americans were and are so profoundly traumatized by the multi-generational campaign of physical and psychological abuse perpetrated by white society, the thing at which we must most desperately pretend is our mental health.

As discussed in articles about the problem of the “good victim,” in rape apologetics, violence produces trauma; trauma produces madness; madness makes us do things that are not respectable; if we do things that are not respectable, we prove the racists and misogynists right. For this reason, it has long been a collective imperative in the American black elite to conceal how traumatized its members are. Joining the black elite, whether at the town, city or national level has, since the moment America suffered a black elite to exist, entailed the concealment of trauma, illness and madness, especially in places where the black elite subscribes to the politics of respectability that Cosby has long embodied.

Growing up among Vancouver’s black community leaders, there are ways in which my experience of the disjuncture between what is true and what needs to be true intensified through forms of double consciousness to which Frantz Fanon and others have spoken.

But, in other ways, our community was more like the baroque world, just before the age of faith. We were allowed to know which great men and women, which community leaders, which black heroes were liars, thieves and abusers more consciously and to discuss their deceptions more openly. That’s because coordinated deception was not just about individual gains and individual good; these deceptions were for the greater Good of the Race. Some of the older people in our community remembered the lynchings, stonings and burnings; for them, these deceptions were a matter of survival. And for younger members, the dream was that, if only the façade could be maintained a little longer, the next generation wouldn’t have to feign health, heroism and credentials; they would truly possess those things and the multi-generation charade finally could end.

What has brought Bill Cosby down are his declining faculties. That loss of mental acuity has caused him to lose track of the fact that his fraud and deception do not belong to him alone but to the leaders of the Race. What has changed is not who Cosby is, nor who other members of America’s black entertainment elite know him to be. What has changed is Cosby’s Wager.

In recent years, Cosby has become more vociferous in attacking the personal virtue, decency and respectability of the newer, younger members of the American entertainment industry’s black elite. Comic Hannibal Buress could finally say “rapists don’t tend to curse on stage” precisely because Cosby was attacking him. Instead of being the aging patriarch who charged with leading the collective charade of health and miraculous recovery from trauma, Cosby forgot himself and began attacking the very consensus that shielded his own predation. New and aspiring members of the black elite had nothing to gain from Cosby’s inclusion in their number and everything to lose. It no longer needed to be true that the grand old man of NBC Thursday night was a good and decent family man. It now needed to be untrue for the exact same reason it had needed to be true in the 80s: for the good of the Race.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not “why did we not believe those women?” It is, instead, “why did we pretend we did not believe those women?” And I can tell you why I did: for the Good of the Race, so that the sacrifices of my mother, uncles, great aunts, grandfather, great-grandfather, all my ancestors, all the way back to the guy we imagine tried to tunnel out of Elmina Castle, would not have sacrificed in vain.

In recent months, I have become more convinced by hooks’ arguments that Jim Crow is over, that black elites and aspiring elites must change culturally, commit ourselves to honesty in new and revolutionary ways. I will do my best and endeavour to live my faith by being faithful and to try, every day, to believe what I know to be true, no matter the reward for acting as though I have been fooled.

Justice for Anthony Smith

Imagine if, instead of a media scrum, Rob Ford were forced to push his way into Toronto City Hall past hundreds of protesters dressed in black, holding candles with signs saying “Justice for Anthony Smith.” If he were the disgraced mayor of pretty much any other Midwestern lake city running for re-election, black community organizers would have hired buses to Nathan Philips Square from Jane and Finch and attention vampires and vultures like Jesse Jackson Jr., Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan would have flown in to stymie the mayor’s return to the campaign trail. And Toronto’s 220,000 black residents would not be split on the mayor’s re-election bid but instead resolutely opposed.

Some of the reason for that is that Toronto understands itself not as just another Midwestern lake city but as a kind of urban sui generis, aided by the strange aging hippie boosterism hawked by the likes of Richard Florida and former mayor John Sewell. Toronto has a penchant for a kind of provincial grandiosity rarely seen outside long term outposts of empire. Yet, when it comes to economics, demographics, ecology, infrastructure and the other physical fundamentals of a city, Toronto is not, as it imagines itself to be, “the Little Apple.”

Instead, it is one of about a dozen major metropolitan areas surrounding Lakes Erie, Ontario and Michigan, which range in population from Green Bay’s 300,000 to Chicago’s 10 million; Toronto and Detroit are on the upper end with between four and five million residents a piece. These cities are, generally, diverse, multiracial places with high levels of income diversity paired with serious structural economic problems of the North American “Rust Belt,” where manufacturing infrastructure is decaying due to the region’s lack of access to clean, inexpensive energy and consequent dependence on expensive fossil fuels to fire its manufacturing sector.

Toronto’s black community has mostly arrived a little more recently than the black residents of the American Midwest, who mostly arrived between 1880 and 1940. While US Jim Crow apartheid was the force that produced new demographic realities on the lakes’ south shore, it was a targeted state-run campaign to recruit Caribbean black women as domestic servants in 1959 that began the reshaping of Toronto demography. But we should not make too much of this minor historical difference. The importance of figures like former Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander and events like the annual Harry Jerome Awards remind us of the centrality of African Canadians to Toronto civic life.

While law and order conservative councillor Michael Thompson can demand, as he did two weeks ago, that Rob Ford apologize for calling the quarter of a million African Canadian residents of Toronto “niggers,” for him to raise the question of Anthony Smith’s murder would be, by Toronto standards, beyond the pale. The great racial injustice of the Ford mayoralty is not the mayor’s penchant for using derogatory slurs; it is the probability that he ordered the death of a young black man and has suffered no political consequences from that very reasonable suspicion. While black activists like Samuel Getachew and Desmond Cole are doing work to raise questions about Ford with black Torontonians, their public condemnations are focused not on the fact that the mayor, who is already facing a lawsuit for a savage prison beating against another potential informant, who has already been caught on tape bragging, in a drug-induced frenzy, about how he will have those who inform on him violently beaten and killed, likely ordered the hit on young Anthony Smith. Instead, they are focused on the hurt feelings generated by Ford’s use of the word “nigger.”

Toronto’s problem isn’t that it has a mayor who sometimes uses the n-word in ways that reveal his malice towards the city’s black population. Toronto’s problem having a violent thug for a mayor who, it is clear, would wish he had ordered the hit on Anthony Smith, on the off-chance that the young man’s other enemies got to him before his associates, like Sandro Lisi, could. Cole’s talk of “victim impact statements” for all the people whose feelings might be hurt by name-calling seems—as I am sure it is designed to do, given his political ambitions in a city that hides conservative, racialized politics under a shabby multicultural veneer—quaint, provincial and non-threatening when compared against what black community organizers in Cleveland, Buffalo or Detroit might be doing, saying and demanding about now.

While respectability-focused, genteel Torontonians express shame and outrage at their mayor’s public drunkenness, drug use, ignorance, crassness, dishonesty and foul mouth, their response to the death of Anthony Smith is one of silence. While the Toronto Star, Canada’s last bastion of liberal investigative journalism, dogs Ford for answers to questions about his sobriety, questions about the murder of a street-involved, racialized young man are strangely absent from the shouting media scrums that besiege Ford at his public appearances. Those who have made the most of the murder, for which a young man of colour was arrested but will not be brought to trial, for reasons not disclosed by the Crown, are the city’s two conservative papers, the National Post and Toronto Sun.

Let us consider the possibility that what is wrong with Toronto and its body politic is that it is far more conservative than Green Bay, Duluth, Toledo or Rochester. Sure, it has better transit, more bikes, a bike-riding socialist former mayor, a world-famous hip, blog-writing, chest-shaving urban futurist, heritage street cars and those nice multilingual signs demarcating ethnic shopping strips. But what about the fundamentals of the city’s politics? What really hides under the polite veneer that makes a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton—let alone a Cornel West—seem absurd or impossible? Surely, Toronto’s black community can’t be more fearful, conservative and respectability focused than Rochester’s!

Could it be that Toronto is the city it has always been, a bastion of cutting edge British Empire politics, a carefully ordered and maintained hierarchy of ethnic and confessional groups, deftly managed by the best technocrats the Empire could offer? Could it be that those lovely signs in Amharic, Punjabi and Mandarin are just the latest elaboration of the old Anglo imperial motto, “a place for everyone, and everyone in his place”? If so, then perhaps Toronto’s black community leaders are wise in focusing on hurt feelings about name-calling and shutting up about the murder. While the Family Compact might be embarrassed into sacking a mayor so unsophisticated and indecorous as to not know where one can and cannot say “nigger,” Toronto’s establishment may have no problem at all with a mayor whose regime guns down a young, gang-involved black man in front of a night club with impunity.

Still, foolhardy or not, if someone starts holding Justice for Anthony Smith vigils in Nathan Philips Square, I may have to grab a bag of tea lights and hop on a plane.

Stuart Parker rarely taunts the city in which he earned his PhD. But these are extraordinary times.

No Demographic Apocalypse for Republicans

I read yet another article the other day reiterating some comforting falsehoods that opponents of the US Republican Party like to repeat to themselves.

The argument goes like this: non-white people just don’t vote Republican in large numbers. And because America keeps getting less white, little by little, the GOP will be destroyed by simple demographics. Democrats living in red states like Texas are especially enticed by this line of thought. It seems to offer some kind of permanent future victory that flies in the face of the country’s increasingly conservative turn over the past four decades. This analysis, if it can be called that, has a very serious flaw: it assumes that race is heritable, permanent and unchanging, a belief typically only held by racists. It is a theory that accepts the falsehoods on which American racism is based.

In reality, there is no fixity to what whiteness is in America. With the exception of the Republican lock on black voters from the 1850s to 1930s, the Democrats, since their inception under Andrew Jackson, have been the party of the non-white and the newly white. And it is this second category to which those predicting demographic Armageddon for the Republicans would do well to pay attention.

A century and a half ago, it was impossible to be Catholic and white at the same time in America. More recently, it was impossible for light-skinned people with black parents or grandparents, people like me, in other words, to be white. But this is no longer true.In the mid nineteenth century, the Irish started turning white; a couple of generations later, the Italians did the same, soon followed by the Poles and then other Slavs. The Japanese and Turks were briefly white in the early twentieth century but it didn’t stick. On the other hand, the Jews only turned white about ten years before I did.

Many Latin American immigrants to the US are white in their country of origin and, to their surprise, turn into non-white “Mexicans” after crossing the border, irrespective of their country of origin, people like Florida Tea Party senator Marco Rubio. How hard would it be for America’s ever-changing racial system to re-evaluate their whiteness? Not so hard, I would suggest. Or how about proud members of the Aryan race like Republican governors Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley?

It may be that the prominent place of Jindal, Rubio and Haley in today’s Republican Party is indicative not of the party branching out and seeking support from non-whites but of America’s colour line shifting again. Just as Catholic voters have gradually shifted towards the Republicans the whiter they have become and the longer they have been able to stay white, let us consider the possibility that the increasing number Hispanics and South Asians are emerging into leadership roles in the GOP is evidence of the whitening of subsets of these racialized communities. Similarly, the Republican-Likud bloc among Jewish Americans continues to grow at the expense of the Democrats, a process also intimately tied to the community’s increasing whiteness.

To believe that race has an inflexible and historically consistent relationship to ancestry, skin colour or physical features is to buy into the junk science of racists and to ignore four hundred years of race-making and unmaking in America. Democrats who imagine some kind of triumphant demographic eclipse of the Republican Party are missing the flexibility and dynamism of racism; if racial categories were inflexible, America’s racial hierarchies would have collapsed under their own weight long ago.

Gradually, over the coming decades, not only will Marco Rubio and millions of other Hispanic Americans who would be white in Latin America will turn into white Americans and so will all of their ancestors, just like Nikki Haley’s are about to. And then the Republican Party’s demographic problem will vanish again, just as it has so many times before in the past century and a half.