“Everyday”, “New”, & “Democratic” Racisms Defined

Everyday racism is racism, but not all racism is everyday racism. From everyday racism there is no relief. 

I am sure that there are a host of scholars and activists who would tell us that there is nothing “new” about racism. As my last post indicated, racism has been linked most closely with the projects of modernity and capitalist expansion. Neither of these are recent inventions/phenomena. However, as my last post also indicated, a necessary strategy for making racism central to any research project is to understand the current manifestations, the most up-to-date conceptualizations, of race and racism. What the last post should have accomplished is to outline just how complex and nuanced these contemporary racisms have actually become. And, looking at the emergence of scholarship on “new” forms of racism (perhaps from as far back as the mid- to late-70s), one thing becomes very apparent–racisms employ many different discursive strategies and tactics.

The first, most common thing one could identify as a trait of new racism is the banality of unchallenged, unquestioned, commonsense assumptions about the role that race still plays in society.

Despite the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] that there should be no place for racism in our lives, there is insufficient inter/national commitment to educate children, inform adults, and provide citizens with relevant information about how to identify racism, how it is communicated, how it is experienced, and how it can be countered. The notion of everyday racism can be a helpful tool for understanding that racism is a process involving the continuous, often unconscious, exercise of power predicated in taking for granted the privileging of whiteness (Frankenberg, 1993), the universality of Western criteria of human progress, and the primacy of European (derived) cultures (Essed, 2002, p. 204). 

But why “distinguish between racism and everyday racism? Everyday racism is not about extreme incidents. The crucial characteristic of everyday racism is that it concerns mundane practices” (Essed, 2002, p. 204). In Discourses of Domination, Henry and Tator (2002) discuss how “these forms of everyday racism are part of what has been called the ‘new racism,’ which includes aversive (Gaertner and Dovidio, 1986), symbolic (McConahay and Hough, 1976), and inferential racism (Hall, 1981)” (p. 23). What is “new” about this racism is that “the ‘new racism’ manifests itself in more subtle and insidious ways and is largely invisible to those who are part of the dominant culture” (p. 23). This is essentially what distinguishes “new” racism from the “older” or more overt forms of racism, generally felt to be enacted by “a few bad apples.” Regardless of the fact that “new” racism “rarely demonstrates itself in violence or overt racist behaviour, … its consequences for minorities are just as severe: it limits and constrains their life chances” (p. 23). To add to this, Henry and Tator have also “identified ‘democratic racism’ as a particular form of the new racism” (p. 23).

The Concept of Democratic Racism

Despite the ideological foundation of democratic liberalism, and despite a legislative state framework based on the policies of multiculturalism and employment equity, and despite the Canadian Human Rights Code, provincial human rights codes, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, racism continues to penetrate all levels of Canadian society. …

Democratic racism arises when racist beliefs and behaviours remain deeply embedded in ‘democratic’ societies. Obfuscations and justifications are deployed to demonstrate continuing faith in egalitarian ideals, even while many individuals, groups, and institutions continue to engage in systemic racist practices that serve to undermine those ideals. Democratic racism is an ideology in which the two conflicting sets of values are made congruent to each other. Commitments to democratic principles such as justice, equality, and fairness conflict with but also coexist with negative feelings about minority groups and discrimination against them.

Thus, democratic racism holds that the spread of racism should only be dealt with–if it is dealt with at all–in such a way that basic economic structures and social relations are left essentially unchanged (Gilroy, 1987). Efforts to combat racism that require intervention to change the cultural, social, economic, and political order lack political support. More importantly, they lack legitimacy, according to the egalitarian principles of liberal democracy (Henry & Tator, 2002, p. 23-24, emphasis mine).

Adding to this definition, it is also vital to note that we need to go beyond just what new/democratic racism is, and understand how it operates. Put simply, Henry and Tator suggest that “the ‘new’ forms of racism are discursive and that democratic racism is demonstrated most clearly through the discourses of dominance” (p. 24). Thus, it is discourse analysis that can help to reveal the discursive techniques used to sustain the dominance of racist discourses. This is important for a number of reasons. Most notably, it is important to highlight the multiple discourses that contribute to the broader discursive formation of democratic racism. As well, it is important in regards to why my methodological emphasis is placed on media narratives rather than first-hand accounts garnered through interviews. But, before I elaborate on the multiple contributing discourses, I will address this issue of focusing on media representations and the methodological concerns it raises.

Media representations are discursive formations that are part of our everyday culture, including the material fabric of institutional culture. Their discourses have enormous power not only to represent social groups but also to identify, regulate, and even construct social groups–to establish who is ‘we’ and who is ‘other’ in the ‘imagined community’ of the nation-state (Henry & Tator, 2002, p. 27).

And, as Henry and Tator continue to argue (following Herman & Chomsky, 1994; van Dijk, 1991, 1998; Karim Karim, 1993; Goldberg, 1993), it is the elites in society who “have virtually exclusive access to and control over the mass media” (2002, p. 26). As such, the discourses emerging via the mass media are incredibly dominant–not because they are static or unitary–but because they are ever-changing, representing a “plurality of discourses that constitute a field of possible meanings” (p. 26) that ultimately create “an ideological climate that seems invisible and natural to those who are immersed in it” (p. 27), and “contains unchallenged assumptions about what the world is and how it ought to be” (p. 27).

Methodologically, I am very fond of the discourse analysis of media representations Henry and Tator (2002) employ in their case studies. As I have made clear in my dissertation proposal, it is discourse analysis that will be my main method(ology) in all of my case studies. While somewhat different from the first-hand accounts of racism/racist events analyzed by Philomena Essed (2002, 1991, 1988) in her quest to contend with everyday racism, I see little difference in my own reflexive approach to identifying and evaluating racisms in media representations of “flashpoint” events. I base my relatively seamless maneuvering between two potentially opposite methodological approaches on Essed’s criteria for assessing verbal reconstructions of experiences of racism and the commonalities in identifying a legitimate “flashpoint” for analysis in the first place.  

Briefly, Essed (2002) notes that people’s own accounts, or verbal reconstructions, of experiences with racism, “are likely to include (some of) the following: context (where did it happen, when, who were involved?); complication (what went wrong?); evaluation (was it racism?); argumentation (why do you think it was racism?); and reaction (what did you do about it?)” (p. 212). How this is relevant to me, methodologically, is that this outlines the procedure I go through when identifying “flashpoint” events that warrant analysis for how they pertain to my theme of “new” racism in contemporary sport. An ensuing post will outline the process that I go through, from identifying the flashpoint event right through to writing up the analysis, complete with a prescription for follow-up/interventionist action. But, before I can do that, I must continue with my outline of the discourses that sustain democratic racism.

Discourses of Democratic Racism

In The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society, Henry and Tator (2006) outline some of the prevailing myths and their concomitant discourses that underpin democratic racism in the contemporary moment (see also Essed, 2002, pp. 203-204). Creating a general pattern of denial, these perpetual myths allow society at large to think that racism no longer requires an interventionist response. The aim of my dissertation is to address some of the ways that these discourses operate in and through contemporary sport. Some case studies will highlight some of them more than others, but through a carefully selected group of case studies, the overall discursive project of new racism in contemporary sport should be well documented. Following the list of supporting myths/discourses, I will identify which of them will be addressed via specific proposed case studies.

The most dominant of the discourses that propogate new racism is the discourse of denial. This is the most prevalent, especially in a country like Canada, where there is a general consensus that because of the espousal of liberal democratic ideals people here cannot possibly be racist. This is accentuated in the world of sport that is generally believed to be one of society’s true meritocracies, and some major sports have integrated racialized populations to the point where whites are the perceived minority (e.g., NBA, MLB, NFL, etc.). In those supposedly rare occurrences where racism does rear its ugly head, it is dismissed as “the rogue actions of a limited number of isolated and bigoted individuals. This is the ‘few bad apples’ thesis” (Tator & Henry, 2006, p. 17). Ultimately, the denial of the existence, or even the possibility of, racism “resists the notion that racism is systemic and inherently embedded in Canada’s cultural values and democratic institutions” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 24).

The next discourse, employed by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, is the discourse of political correctness. This discourse tends to operate in one of two ways. First, it acts as a qualifier or a buffer when making racist statements. The old “I’m not racist, but ___” introduction is perhaps the most common example of the ways in which people will attempt to assure their political correctness, and then proceed to speak or act openly against racialized and/or marginalized populations. Likewise, discussions of political correctness are invigorated when it is deemed that those same racialized or marginalized people have “gone too far” in their requests for inclusion or rights to self-representation (language and images). A relevant sporting example can be found in the debates over practices like the use of Native American mascots by school or professional sport teams. An associated discourse identified by Henry and Tator (2006) is the discourse of colour-blindness. This is basically the idea that liberal white folk do not even notice the colour of a person’s skin in social interactions. Acknowledgement of a person’s race might happen, but as comedian George Carlin so astutely notes, it will be qualified as recognizing that the person “happens to be” black, for example. This is inevitably intended to assert that despite the racialization of the person in question, it does not have any real consequence in the interaction.

The discourse of equal opportunity begins with the assumption that we work from a level playing field in our democratic society–that we all share the same starting point. It minimizes the opportunity to make a claim that someone is disadvantaged solely based on their race. Other axes of difference (class, sex, sexual-orientation, etc.) are all brought into play, thus suggesting that “the dismantling of White institutional power or the redistribution of White social capital” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 25) are unnecessary.

When this utopian world of equal opportunity and colour-blindness is convincingly sold to the masses, then whenever a racialized group or individual fail to achieve a level of verifiable social or economic success–like living the American Dream–or fail in becoming fully integrated with a “host” society, then it has to be chalked up to some other deficiency or some form of deviant behaviour. This is the foundation for the discourse of victim blaming. This is the case evident in so-called “plagues” in major urban centres, like Toronto, where gun violence is less of a concern than other “intractable pathologies” (Stern, 2007, p. B6) such as “pregnant teenagers, fatherless homes, drug abuse, low literacy–that plague some corners of the black community” (p. B6). Stern goes on to say that “these pathologies are in a sense cultural. Just listen to the lyrics of 50 Cent, Cam’ron … or any other big-name rapper, where violence, misogyny and sexual aggression are celebrated” (p. B6). The failure of members of the black communities, that are presumed guilty of producing all of the murderous drive-by shooters responsible for the deaths of even the most innocent bystanders, is in conforming to a “Stop Snitching ethos” (p. B6) that is “premodern in its rejection of state authority and adherence instead to clan rules, where scores are settled internally” (p. B6). It is a sign of “arrested moral development” (p. B6). In this discussion, there is no talk whatsoever of the racial profiling that is all too commonplace against this same community–potentially the initial cause of mistrust and rejection of state authority (police intervention). Similarly, one could use the example of how indigenous people are often blamed for not taking full advantage of all of their supposed “privileges” or for never being satisfied with the treaties and agreements made on their behalf more than a century ago.

Talking about things that happened long ago, there was indeed a time when white, European immigrants to Canada did experience various disadvantages and were forced to overcome prejudices. That said, the second- or third-generation Canadians (decendents of those same immigrants, or recent immigrants) with white skin do not have anywhere near the same experiences as their forebearers. The same cannot be said for non-white populations. For them, the discrimination has not subsided like it has for the white folk, even after many generations of citizenship in Canada. This is what Henry and Tator (2006) describe as the discourse of white vicitimization. It conflates the racial and ethnic immigrant experiences. It ignores Canada’s history of colonization, and the role that capitalist expansion has played in the process of racialization.

A recent cover of Esquire magazine has US presidential hopeful John Edwards striking a confident pose. Adjacent to him, however, is a very serious question in bold type. It asks, “Can a white man still be elected president?” (2007, August, cover). Leonard Stern (2007a), editor for the Ottawa Citizen, writes an equally problematic editorial proclaiming the white race to be a fiction, despite academic and supremacist claims. But what is the underlying message in both of these examples? Put simply, it is that white folks are now the victims of the discourse of reverse racism. For those who subscribe to this theory (like Stern), the racialization of whiteness has only revealed how empowered the other racial minorities have become. It has supposedly turned the tides to the point that it is now white people who are forced to overcome systemic barriers (employment equity initiatives, affirmative action, cultural recognition/celebration, etc.). One effect of this discourse has been that anyone involved in an anti-racist campaign or concerned with racial (in)justice are radicals aiming to undermine or subvert Canada’s democratic institutions and their concomitant values and beliefs (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 26).

Traces of all three of the above racist discourses can also be seen clearly in the moral panic discourse. Compounded by the discourse of binary polarization that ultimately constitutes an “us” and “them” or a “we” versus “they” system of social and cultural demarcation, the Other is deemed to be a threat to the existing (read “our”) moral fabric of society. The imagined community of who “we” are is supposedly unfavorably altered by the mere presence of racial/ethnic Others, exacerbated by the cultural contributions they make to “our” world. This can be highlighted as well when invoking the discourse of national identity. Especially in the post-9/11 world, with its incessant demand for “security”, moral panics about Others are more prevalent than ever. This is even true in countries that have championed the discourse of multiculturalism (e.g., Canada) where tolerance, accommodation, harmony, and diversity are supposed to be celebrated (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 27).

And finally, this can all be made sense of when we look at the discourses that have brought our western nations to where we are today. The American (or Canadian, or other) Dream is built on the discourse of liberal values, such as (but not limited to): individualism, truth, tradition, universalism, and freedom of expression (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 28). These liberal values have become dominant in the societies that play host to the major professional sports that I focus my case studies in. Likewise, sport itself espouses many of these values. Thus, when we hear of marginalized or alternative voices, it is implied that they run counter to–or even violate–the mythical “sacred body” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 28) that is the “noble Euro-American tradition, a universal form of human understanding and expression that includes and transcends all cultural and racial boundaries” (p. 28).

Democratic racism is a particular form of new racism. Both stem from the concept of everyday racism in which the trials and tribulations of racialized populations are overlooked and these dominant discourses outlined above have become taken-for-granted and left unquestioned as they proliferate in the mainstream media. That includes the sports pages, talk shows, editorials, and web forums that I will explore for my dissertation case studies. Examples of how these discourses manifest in each of my case studies will follow in another post.

One Response to ““Everyday”, “New”, & “Democratic” Racisms Defined”

  1. […] the dominant position was that “race had nothing to do with it.” As I have outlined elsewhere, there is a process that can be used to determine what constitutes a valid flashpoint. In this […]

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