As someone who is from Africa, Mitch McConnell’s overt racism is neither shocking nor unprecedented. When asked what he would say to people of color who are concerned about voter suppression, McConnell had this to say: “The concern is misplaced. Because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.” Wittingly or otherwise, McConnell contributed to the grand American narrative that defines an “us” and a paradigmatic “other.” This type of cultural geography reduces all Americans to an essentialist reality; a reality where privilege, cultural supremacy, and concentrated wealth belongs to one group, while the rest of us are simultaneously looked upon as so wholly different that we don’t even deserve to be called Americans.
Implicit within McConnell’s cultural outlook is an affirmation that people of color simply do not deserve any psychological accommodation beyond begrudging lip service of the type that denies racist attitudes. That is to say, it has become fashionable today to use racist language, subtle or otherwise, and ex post facto deny any condescension or intent to reduce people to historical footnotes of oppression and marginalization. It is this historical footnote that is often missing in our discourse about race. Today, both the left and the right use tired and worn-out platitudes, such as white privilege or critical race theory to articulate their respective positions. Alas, these empty euphemisms obfuscate the tragic history of racism in America.
It was the Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, who said, “The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” To understand racism in America is to understand that our history is a mosaic of entangled forces that intersect and overlap in such a way as to shape and define our lives today. History in general, and American history in particular, has a certain density which is transmitted to us. White privilege is the historical processes that deposits systemic benefits and cultural advantages to one group while denying the same to people of color. Likewise, history transmits generational trauma that dialectically moves through time; always reminding people of color that they somehow do not belong to the America of white privilege.
McConnell’s language is not only hurtful and divisive, it speaks to a much deeper issue of how race is intertwined within our social and political discourse. There are leaders on both the left and right who constantly remind us the we need to have a conversation about race, and yet nothing changes. Part of the reason is the tribal politics that has emerged. Those on the radical right, largely as a result of the intellectual cowardice of Donald Trump, openly encourage the kind of racial divide that only serves to fuel hatred and distrust. Similarly, those on the far left have become intolerant to the point of creating a cancel culture that preempts any meaningful discourse. The issue is not that we need to have more conversations about race, rather we need to disentangle our identity politics in order to become more honest with ourselves. One powerful culprit in all of this is the digital revolution. This is a topic that is often ignored. We live in an age where social media has created powerful and self-contained echo chambers where people go to find affirmations of their own preconceived notions about the world. In my forthcoming book, “The Digital Wasteland,” I argue that the tragic historical irony of the digital revolution is that it has alienated us from ourselves and others. Racism is not only real; it is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. To the white America that McConnell alluded to, race doesn’t exist. However, to the millions of people of color, racism is the air we breathe.
R.F. Georgy is the author of “Notes from the Cafe,” “Absolution,” and his forthcoming book, “The Digital Wasteland.”