Some of us have been privileged, in this country and the colonies before it, to have had a crack team of social engineers constantly updating our central national operating system of Racism for over 500 years. Our first version, Racism 1.0, was a spectacular success, operating for over 350 years and wiping out practically all the civilizations of both North America and West Africa. For the next 150 years or so we had the greatly improved Racism 2.0. And just in the last few decades we’ve securely installed Racism 3.0. What a journey of progress it’s been! [But see below for another numeration.]
The principle features of Racism 1.0 were slaughtering or enslaving others. Pretty basic stuff, that was, but impressive in its brutality. After all, we did run that system for 350 years. And, talk about market share! Man, did we rock the world!
We upgraded to Racism 2.0 150 years ago. A big upgrade in that others—and, let’s be honest, we are talking about kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their descendants, plus some very useful Chinese—oh and the Irish (though we’ve since allowed them admin privileges)—now were considered human beings whom it was no longer strictly proper to murder, rape, or otherwise oppress. This was a real step up for the GUI, as it made the user look so much better even though the system was still extremely powerful. The user needed only a few keystrokes now to make the lives of people of color a misery through both legal and illegal means.
Now we have Racism 3.0. A really shiny new upgrade—at least on its multi-colored (or do I mean colorblind?) surface. Now we have laws upholding the equal rights of peole of color. Nice. Hey, we even have an African American President, at least for a while longer, bless him! But this is the tricky bit: Racism 3.0 has got sneaky power. It’s not in your face at all, yet it’s still formidable. Its power lies in the invisibility of its inner corruption. (I’m talking of course of its invisibility to whites. It’s plenty visible to everyone else!) You thought you looked good operating Racism 2.0? Now you can think yourself totally beyond Racism. With Racism 3.0, you won’t even know you’re running it!
Racism 3.0 is not laws allowing one person to own another (that’s Racism 1.0), or even forbidding them to marry each other (that’s Racism 2.0). Racism 3.0 is real estate agents not even noticing they they keep these people from buying houses in the same neighborhoods. It’s juries who acquit the white killers of black men—or grand juries who never even charge them. All totally legal, fair, and unbiased. That’s power of Racism as an operating system.
I admit we do notice those things at times. It’s a bug in the system and I’m sure developers are hard at work finding new ways to send this sort of process back into the background. But if the raw processing power of the code sometimes breaks through the code ceiling into the user interface, there is more, much more, working of the code that users never see. These operations can be big: the unexamined reasons for the backlash against “Black Lives Matter.” They can be momentary: crossing the street to avoid a young black man. They can be micro: assuming the student of color is on financial aid or asking a Korean American where to find good ramen. Heck, I came up with these examples almost as fast as I could type them. Buddha knows there are 10,000 more. And these are just examples of Racism 3.0’s power for administrators. I can’t fully imagine the power of Racism in the lives of people of color.
That, my friends, is Racism 3.0. Have you really noticed the power of that operating system? It’s mighty daunting to look into the code, to really break it down. Have you broken the code in yourself? I’m trying to break it in me. Laws are not going to get us to switch out of operating system Racism 3.0. Minds are. Let’s recode something altogether new.
Note: after writing this little piece, I thought to do a search for “Racism 3.0.” I found one elaboration of it from a blog by Jonathan Carroll all the way back in 2009! Thank you, Dr. Carroll. I also found a really serious article by Professor Palma Joy Strand of Creighton Law School titled “Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-constitution.” Professor Strand goes way way beyond what I’ve attempted to sketch here, not just in seeing an additional update to the system. If you had a little laugh reading this blog post, please read Dr. Carroll’s and Dr. Strand’s work. That’s the real deal.