Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steven Salaita and Liberal Racism (Part One)

I am reading Steven Salaita's collection of essays, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poeverty of Liberal Thought - New Essays (London: Zed Books, 2008). Salaita's book deals primarily with left liberal racism in the US against Arabs, but also can be extended to other people of color. He hits a lot of the themes I have been writing about on this blog. Foremost among that that a lot of self described "liberals" and "progressives" do not view non-white people as fully human despite denouncing lots of other white people for being racists.  There is also the fact that it is "liberal" racism that is largely responsible for the continuing racial injustices involving the US not the opinions of poor and openly bigoted rural whites. This latter group has no real power and to suggest that their opinions rather than the political power of left liberal "progressives" in the US Senate and House like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Barney Frank are at the root of institutional racism is simply laughable. This is of course as Salaita notes especially true regarding anti-Arab racism and US support of Israeli apartheid. Israel has long been a "progressive" cause in the US and it is the votes of left liberals like Schumer, Pelosi, Frank, Grayson, Levin, Wasserman Schultz, Harman and others in the Democratic Party that have sustained the Israeli repression of the Palestinians for decades. They voted for the hundreds of billions of dollars of military aid the US has given to Israel, not Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. Without the votes and advocacy of left liberals in the US, Israel would have gone the way of Rhodesia long ago. The support of the relatively new and weak political force constituted by Christian Zionists is insufficient to keep Israel alive. They unlike the left liberals have not controlled the US Congress, media, and academia which have unconditionally supported Israel since 1967. Salaita's first essay does a pretty good job of summing up the responsibility of liberals for institutional racism in the US regarding Arabs. The paragraph below in particular strikes at the heart of the matter.

Another related problem of the liberal left around the issue of anti-Arab racism is an unwillingness to engage Arabs on the basis of their fundamental humanity. It has been well established among people of color that racism cannot take root in any society without liberal acquiescence. Liberalism confounds the problem by providing its advocates with a comforting illusion that the fact of being liberal is enough to identify as anti-racist. (p. 18).

That is racism exists in the US because the liberals in power let it exist and are complaisant about its existence because they wrongly think that denouncing openly racist expressions against Blacks by poor and powerless whites somehow magically removes their responsibility for maintaining racial inequalities. It should be noted that it is not merely "white privilege" that they benefit from, but specifically white liberal privilege. This privilege is most evident in the domination of US universities by what Salaita calls, "liberal academic windbags." (p. 26).  But, needless to say despite a lot of wind these people have done a lot more to sustain racial injustice in the world than they have to combat it.

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