The myth of happy racism

Found a little item on Aporrea and thought I’d translate it and follow up with a few thoughts of mine own:

Could it be that my black friends in the Venezuelan opposition don’t feel that they are being alluded to when other oppositionists use words like “niches” (common, vulgar people), “monos” (monkeys), “macacos” (ditto), etc.? Could it be that they just don’t say such things in front of my friends? It saddens me to say that in front of me, yes, they say those things.

The Venezuelan right-wing has trouble with its racism for two reasons, one bigger than the other. The smaller is that, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, the main difference between Colombia and Venezuela is that in Colombia, the conservatives win all the wars, and in Venezuela, the liberals win. The conservatives lose the wars but win the peace and go on ruling, because the only visible gain left to the liberals is that racism had become shameful and official ideology camouflaged it. There was racism, stupid like all a priori segregation between people, but up until 1998 it was shifty and artful. The racists would surely blush to show themselves as much as they do in Bolivia. Because in Venezuela–this is the bigger reason–even the most “aryan” has an African grandmother, as Romulo Betancourt once said.

After 1998, Venezuelan racism resurfaced, especially towards the person of Hugo Chavez. I won’t repeat the eptithets they dumped on him, because they’ve been divulged often enough and I don’t want to sully your eyes. I already rattled off enough of them at the start of this piece. I don’t know if my black “golpista” friends feel those words refer to them. Or if it matters to them at all.

I have little patience for racists, for the same reason I have limits with crude, arrogant people. Crudity isn’t a sin because no one chooses to be born that way, but arrogance is, becuase the arrogant do choose to be stuck-up.


Today, there is the not-so-remote chance that a mulatto will be president of the United States via its military-industrial complex. Everyone who is affected by imperial politics should have the right to vote on who becomes the gringo president, because his decisions affect us. All those lost years of hating blacksand now our oppositionists, who knows, maybe they’ll have to take orders from someone even darker than Chavez or Condi. Will they rebel? Do you see now how stupid racism is?

That was Roberto Hernandez Montoya, a Venezuelan Chavista. Now, permit this little redheaded German-Canadian (Chavista!) to chime in:

I think there is every likelihood that Barack Obama–call him black, call him biracial, mulatto, non-white, whatever–will be the next US president. People will vote for him not because he is black (though, let’s be honest, there are plenty of those who will vote against him for precisely that reason and no other), but because he represents and promises a departure from the past. He’s the only candidate who talked about hope and change, rather than just more of the same. Or in the case of Hillary Clinton, a more refined version of the same.

Of course, the promise of change may not be enough to bring the real thing about. Despite a brilliant pre-campaign, Barack Obama still needs to walk his talk. His economic advisory team is just about as bad as Bush’s political one; they’re all neo-liberals, the economic equivalent of PNAC. Imperialism is fine with them; they still see the rest of the world as the US’s backyard, to be shat upon and exploited and, if the natives get unruly, forcibly suppressed. (There are, of course, those right-wing idiots in Blogsylvania who seriously believe that Obama’s real agenda is “socialism”. Someone kindly hit them with a clue-by-four, PLEASE.)

Austan Goolsbee, in particular, bothers me. He’s the Team Obama guy who “reassured” us up here that Team Obama had no intentions of tearing up or even modifying NAFTA. I’m not reassured about that; I think NAFTA is the worst mistake of Bill Clinton’s career. It’s sent jobs south from here as well as the US, and it’s done nothing good for Mexico and Central America, either. It’s clear that NAFTA is not a grand solution to poverty, but a culprit in creating poverty wherever it operates; it drives wages down and destroys labor and environmental laws, and its sole beneficiaries are the big multinational corporations. If you want to tear up NAFTA, Barack, go right ahead and may God speed you! The only people who’ll hate you for it are the heads of the megacorps. Lord knows this average Canuck has seen no benefit whatsoever from it, and does not expect to anytime in the future. I don’t need any reassurances that NAFTA will be left alone. I need assurances that it will be trashed and burnt, and an era of honest, FAIR trade ushered in.

I think the same might also be said for Venezuela, where the anti-FTA sentiment rages high. Everyone there is now watching Barack Obama, and hoping to God (as Tom Hayden does in The Nation) that Obama will get hip to what’s really going on down there and break with the disastrous Latin America policies that have held sway up to now. Granted, the average Venezuelan has been hit even harder by globalized trade than the average Canadian, so that’s no wonder! They know what it means to be abused by “free” trade, and no one more so than the poor, and usually darker-skinned, Venezuelans at the bottom. They’re invariably the first ones left behind when a boom goes bust in the oilpatch, or when the bottom falls out of the gold market, or whatever.

And they don’t just get shat upon indirectly by the foreign corporations; they get it directly, too, from the local toadies who benefit disproportionately from every swing the market takes. Yes, the rich and overwhelmingly whiter ones. The ones who can afford to fiddledink around with other people’s lives in the stockmarket. The ones who wound up fleeing comically to Miami when Chavez got elected, for no apparent reason other than that they feared that the “monkeys” were about to tear down the gates of their estates and sell them on the international scrap-metal market. The fact that it hasn’t happened doesn’t stop them from claiming that Chavez is the one who whipped up racial hate against them, even though I see no evidence on the Chavista websites I frequent that anybody hates these people just because they’re so goshdarn white.

In fact, I see very little hate there at all. Most of what I see is a general impatience for real progress, sometimes against racism, other times against economic misery, but mostly just to put the “gringo backyard” politics of the past behind them. Those same politics are the ones that made sly use of the hidden, artful “polite” racism of the past. The racism that pretended there was no racism until Chavez came along to upset the applecart, that damn ape. “Happy” racism, in other words–the kind that also pretended that there was no economic discontent, no class ferment, nothing wrong, no, no, no. “There was no fear. Everyone was happy and working”, as one little old disociada said in a particularly memorable passage of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. One wonders what drugs she was on to be so far removed from reality as not to see the fear, the joblessness, and the suffering in the hillside barrios just a few blocks away.

And she thinks she has something to be scared of NOW, when someone (not the president of the United States, but of Venezuela) is finally doing something about all that? This lady is obviously in denial, not only of her own racism, but of everything else that went wrong in the 40 years of Punto Fijo–just as she is now in denial of who’s working to fix all that.

That delusional denial is a luxury of the past. No one can afford it anymore. Not Venezuela, not Canada, and not the United States. I wish Barack Obama all the best in the elections, and I do think he will make a markedly better president than the current one, but I also wish he would realize that “out with the old” means getting rid not only of neo-con PNAC warmongers, but also–especially–neoliberal economists. They are no longer neo-anything; they are just finished. Change I can believe in means instituting something truly progressive in all their stead, as Hugo Chavez has done, so that class divisions will diminish. Maybe then racism–both “happy” and otherwise–will finally dwindle out of sight, too.

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