The late Kwame Turé (Stokely Carmichael) used to talk about how, when as a young Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer he’d gone South to face down the endemic violence of Jim Crow, the racism which had always defined the character of a country reserved at its inception for the enjoyment of “free, white men” was always and everywhere openly displayed.
“Racism then was a prideful thing, arrogant and strutting,” he’d recall.
“But we took it on, slugging it out with the lynchers and the nightriders and the Bull Connors who enforced racism in what we thought at the time was its most virulent form, and — guess what? — we thoroughly kicked their collective ass.”
“After that, there was a while when racism as we knew it was in full retreat. It became a cowering, craven thing, seeking refuge in the shadows,” Kwame would muse. “We actually believed that we’d destroyed it and that, consequently, we could set ourselves to the task of building a new and better society, one with a capacity to transcend the ugliness of its origins and evolution.”
“Now, however, we find that we merely deluded ourselves with such hopes,” he observed with a well-earned touch of bitterness during the mid-’80s. “Racism in the United States is not only alive and well, it is in fact resurgent.”
“The form it takes today is very different from the out-front, in-your-face variety we confronted in Mississippi and Alabama 20 years ago,” Kwame would continue. “That sort of racism was relatively honest, at least in the sense that you always knew exactly where you stood, and where your enemies stood, for that matter.”
“Well, things have changed. These days, the structure of white supremacy is maintained primarily by way of subterfuge, duplicity and denial of the obvious. Nobody much contests the existence and ongoing effects of ‘institutional’ racism, for example, but you’ll be really hard-pressed to find someone who’ll admit that they play any tangible role in it whatsoever. Nobody — nobody at all — is responsible for formulating and implementing the policies and procedures generating institutionally racist results, apparently.
“Try to pin things down in any given situation, and you end up wading through an endless stream of rhetoric from those involved, not only denying that they personally harbor racist sentiments of any sort, but that — all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding — whatever policies they may be directly involved in carrying out ‘aren’t really’ mechanisms of racism either. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s all just a matter of ‘adhering to objective standards of excellence,’ or whatever, and that’s ‘always the best way to fight racism,’ right?
“There you have it. The normative form assumed by racism at present is one in which it masquerades as antiracism,” Kwame summed up. “This is something far more insidious, intractable, and difficult to combat than anything embodied in the likes of Lester Maddox and George Wallace during the ’60s. And, to that extent, it’s much worse.”
The proof of any premise can, and often does, accrue from unexpected quarters. Such is the case with Kwame’s, as I will attempt to recount in local terms, drawing on a jumble of my own somewhat fragmentary personal recollections, as well as those of several others who witnessed the events described.
Back in the fall of 1993, the Denver Metro klavern of the Ku Klux Klan was casting about rather frantically for a means to redeem the humiliation of having been publicly routed by a surging mass of irate black teenagers amidst an attempt to commemorate Adolf Hitler’s birthday on the steps of the Colorado Capitol.
Their solution, brilliant in its way, was to have Thom Robb, fundamentalist minister cum Grand Dragon of the Arkansas-based Knights of the KKK (subsequently retitled “Christian Concepts, Inc.”), to observe the 1994 Martin Luther King holiday by giving a speech in front of the old courthouse adorning Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
Predictably — at least it can be said with certainty that Robb predicted it — a host of the more purportedly enlightened denizens of the People’s Republic sallied forth at the designated time to denounce the pastor’s unabashed celebration of white supremacist values with chants and placards demanding the utmost “tolerance” of racial/ethnic “diversity.”
Unfortunately — or not, depending on one’s point of view — things didn’t go quite as those on the “antiracist” side of the confrontation anticipated.
Fixing his gaze upon the small sea of hecklers neatly ensconced behind rows of metal barriers erected by the ever-growing overburden of Boulder’s finest — this, it was claimed, was to “ensure his safety,” although it would’ve taken someone a lot less canny than Thom Robb to worry that whatever protestors might turn out in the veritable buckle of the granola belt would so much as sip a cup of herbal tea without first reciting the Pledge of Nonviolence — the pastor seemed downright amused.
Then, having to all appearances extracted a full measure of mirth from the spectacle, and making even fuller use of his PA system, he delivered an utterly devastating blow (albeit, sadly, I can only repeat it in paraphrase).
“What’s all this yapping about ‘diversity’?” he wanted to know.
“The town we’re standing in is 94 percent white. That’s why I’m here. This place is exactly what [the Klan] is trying to duplicate all across the country. If it’s racial diversity you’re looking for, you might want to consider moving to Newark or Detroit. But, hey, you’re not about to do that, are you? Ever wonder why that might be?”
Sometimes the effects produced by a little dose of reality can be amazing.
A queasy silence settled over the crowd even before Robb’s verbal roundhouse was complete. People shifted from foot to foot, not-so-figuratively squirming in place, the message boards they’d been holding lowering steadily, as if the signs themselves were wilting.
By ones and twos, then in somewhat larger clots, they began, almost furtively, to slink away.
The altogether embarrassing outcome of its grand protest against Thom Robb is something Boulder’s self-styled “progressive community” would prefer to leave unmentioned — or at any rate have its implications remain undiscussed — no doubt in hopes that it will eventually find a place in the dustbin reserved for matters conveniently forgotten.
As someone who’s been loath these past 30 years to venture inside Boulder’s corporate boundaries without donning the very dark pair of shades I deem essential to warding off a malady akin to snow blindness, usually resulting from exposing the naked eye to such the glaring whiteness as that of the populace, I can readily see why they might tend to feel that way.
I mean, really, there’s no mystery in the fact that it would have been impossible for a town of this size anywhere outside Scandinavia to have ended up with the demographic complexion of Boulder simply by “accident,” is there?
Or that nothing much has changed in this regard since Pastor Robb wiped the proverbial floor with his “anti-racist” opposition 16 years ago?
It is of course true that “market dynamics” have been a significant factor in accentuating Boulder’s already pronounced whiteness over the past four decades, but this, too, was by design rather than happenstance. Right, Mr. Danish?
In any case, can there really be any doubt that the correlation between the ever-rising price of real estate in Boulder on the one hand, and the ever-increasing whiteness of local demography on the other, serves simply to underscore the degree of affluence still enjoyed by whites relative to that evidenced by “nonwhites” of all denominations?
One does, to be sure, see an occasional splash of color among the faces moving along Boulder’s streets. Many are those of people working in such low-wage and often menial capacities as waiters, maids and lawn service, most of whom commute daily from such less pricey localities as the north Denver suburbs.
More typically, however, they are those of students and faculty at the University of Colorado, an emphatically transient group — with few exceptions, faculty of color have tended to pass through the institution almost as rapidly as the students — upon which Boulder has long traded in conjuring the illusion that it is a vastly more “diverse” than is actually the case.
Even at the university, moreover, people of color are, and have always been, dramatically underrepresented, students by as much as 50 percent, depending on whether state or national population data is employed for purposes of determining parity. For faculty, the shortfall is arguably even more pronounced.
The university professes to have been “studying” the problem more or less continuously ever since the Jessor Report was released in 1969, but has never been able to discover a means by which to attain the requisite balance between what it refers to via the euphemisms “inclusiveness” and “excellence.”
That the university, the very presence of which has added much of the sheen to highly cultivated liberal veneer with which the People’s Republic is larded, should feel free to employ code words so transparently equating “excellence” to “white” says it all.
Stripped of its lofty pretensions, Boulder can and should be seen as no more than a bastion of white-skin privilege, complete with an entire battery of carefully crafted methods with which to maintain its system of de facto racial separatism.
That those preferring to live in such an environment over the long term would not only be white but imbued with a self-indulgent and -absorbed sense of personal entitlement is unsurprising (to say the least). That a hefty proportion of them pronounce themselves to be of a staunchly anti-racist sensibility, even while enjoying the comforts attending residence in an edifice of white supremacy, might seem more so.
More than anything, however, the apparent paradox serves to demonstrate that both Kwame Turé and Thom Robb were right on target with their analyses.