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White Power, White Culture, Whitewash — Racial Blindness in Berkeley

A major goal of Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the many right-wing so-called "think tanks" (propaganda mills) is to give bigots a thousand different "talking points" which they can use to defend, deflect, and excuse modern American bigotry and racism. The terms "race card" and "reverse discrimination" are two of the more famous buzz terms that developed out of this propaganda onslaught. Call it the "Foxification" of America. The following article provides a fascinating analysis of these "it's not racism" talking points.—Ronald David Jackson

Kamau Bell - Perhaps he believed the myth of a "liberal" Berkeley community
Kamau Bell - Perhaps he believed the myth of a "liberal" Berkeley community:  The host of the TV show Totally Biased posted an entry on his blog which recounted an incident in which he was the target of blatant racism. Soon after the post, the comment section was flooded with hundreds of comments, many of which attempted to blamed him for the incident.

By Steve Martinot
An incident concerning race occurred in Berkeley at the end of January 2015. It was a momentary event involving a black man, a white woman, and several truckloads of symbolism. The black man, a Berkeley resident named Kamau Bell, wrote about it in his blog. Then Berkeleyside wrote an article about the incident (1/29/15). During the following seven days, well over 700 comments appeared in Berkeleyside – an average of 100 a day. Those comments are the subject of this article.

Berkeleyside lends itself to this project because it permits anonymous comments; most commenters avail themselves of this anonymity. In this analysis, all the comments will be considered as anonymous, even those that had names. It is in their anonymity that they become cultural expressions, unfettered by any concern with being personally associated with what they have written. For this very reason, however, it remains unknown exactly how many people actually participated in this flood of commentary. If the average thread consisted of roughly five exchanged comments, we can assume that perhaps a total of 140 people were involved in the discussions. The volume of comments thus constitute a database, a motherlode of cultural ore from which certain aspects of what makes this society tick can be refined. Most references will be by paraphrase, but a directly quoted statement will be in quotation marks.

The mass of commentary breaks down into several clear categories: those who attack Bell, those who defend the waitress, those who instruct Bell as to what he should have done, those who suggest what the waitress should have done. Rarely will whole comments be quoted in this article – only what exemplifies the category of comment. A variety of questions concerning racism itself, however, are raised: namely, what racism is, and the relation between white anti-black racism and black anti-white racism.

The incident occurred at a café, and involved three people: Kamau Bell; Melissa Bell, his wife (who is white); and a waitress in the café (who is white). The café in question is one formerly often frequented by Kamau and Melissa Bell. On the day in question, the Bells had had breakfast there, had left, and Melissa Bell had returned later with some women friends. As the women sat at an outdoor table, Kamau Bell came up to them and stood talking to them. He had with him a book that he had bought, and the women ask to see the book. He hands it to them. Suddenly a waitress inside the café pounds on the window and signals in some fashion for him to leave, though nothing in the demeanor of the women seemed to warrant any intervention. Rather, it appeared that it was the waitress who was bothered. Something about the man bothered her. The waitress comes out, finds out that she is dealing with a family and apologizes. Kamau Bell goes to his car with their daughter while Melissa Bell enters the café and expresses her outrage. Kamau Bell writes about the event in his blog as an incident of clear racism. And the café manager subsequently fires the waitress.

In the voluminous commentary that follows, people look for reasons to consider Bell wrong for accusing the waitress of racism, while others find his response to his own experience understandable. The discussion becomes one of judging him right or wrong, like a kind of jury deliberating on what had happened. Some of the comments are humorous in their non sequitur aspects. But what becomes impressive is the repetition of the same discussion, with the same arguments, coming to the same resolution, again and again, by different people. Each person who addresses the scene goes beyond it, using a limited array of renarrativizations, assumptions, and thoughts that pretend to be observations (an unavoidable pretense since the writer had not been there).

Interestingly, the term “self-respect” does not appear anywhere. The concept of “self-respect,” as in, self-respecting person, or self-respecting black man, or self-respecting man or woman, is totally absent. People talk about Bell without attributing any such sense of himself to him.

Direct attacks on Bell

Bell is charged with many things: he is immature, a drama queen, attention-seeking, playing the victim card, playing the race card, overreacting, acting without proof, etc. It gets kind of boring because these charges are ultimately banal. However, they do fall into several subcategories, those of insincerity, opportunism, and malign intention.
Insincerity: making a career of calling people racists, throwing a tantrum, dressing poorly (scruffy, shabby), fraudulently playing the race card, deflecting his own (black on white) racism, being irrational. He throws his weight around self-righteously. It’s all a media stunt. He likes being on stage, the center of attention. He ignores the facts in the interest of sensationalizing, etc.

Opportunism: He is using the waitress for his own purposes, it’s a publicity stunt, he’s picking on a slight, promoting himself, trying to garner attention, picking up the “gift” of racism (taking his sarcasm literally); he has economic reasons for calling attention to himself, protecting his career of complaining about racism, and he is making a BIG deal out of a small misunderstanding. In short, he knew the event was worth exploiting, and threw “fuel on the racism fire for his own purposes.”

Malign intentions: acting out entitlement, blowing the incident out of proportion, having a chip on his shoulder, promoting racial victimization, lying, exaggerating, being speculative and inflammatory, expressing bias against white people. He “decides that he wants to get revenge rather than being decent enough to forgive her.” He intended to “submarine a business,” and get the waitress fired; he shouldn’t have referred to the business as racist; that makes him wrong.” “Bell needs a lesson in humanity and forgiveness.” A black man (signifying all black men) is just wrong to bring up the issue of race and racism to “us white people.” Those who do are the real racists. He was making trouble for the people he was talking to. He lies when he says he didn’t want the waitress fired.
The owner is referred to 62 times as one of the victims of Bell’s actions. Bell’s clothing becomes an issue because he was wearing a hoodie, and therefore “acting like a hood.” And various other attempts to invalidate what he says about the event.

Nobody seems able to fathom the possibility that Bell’s reaction is simply one of rage. He says in his blog, “We live with this shit every day.”

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