For many years, America has been the proverbial frog boiling slowly in a pot.
Some were more sensitive to the changes in the water’s temperature than others have been. Others couldn’t sense the change at all. The most sensitive tended to be older white men: white men like your “racist uncle.”
It’s time that America apologized to its “racist uncles,” who were mocked over the years for being “paranoid” about political correctness.
In the end, your “racist uncle’s” intuition about how the country was changing was more accurate than the entirety of the Republican Party establishment and the whole spectrum of conservative pundits and intellectuals. While the latter were preoccupied with Tocqueville and tax cuts, your uncle was banging his fists on the Thanksgiving dinner table, expressing what many of us, if only inchoately, feared might be true.
But nobody defended him. After all, he didn’t go to college. He never worked at a think tank. He wasn’t an expert. He watched Bill O’Reilly. What did he know about politics? Political correctness, he failed to understand, was about decency, not control. “Reverse racism” was incoherent; you can’t discriminate against white people! Your uncle didn’t understand how racial hegemony works. He hadn’t read Angela Davis (or a facsimile of a facsimile of Angela Davis, anyway). He was just uninformed, or maybe he was just selfish. He was afraid of losing his advantages. He was irrationally afraid of Muslims and Hispanic immigrants. He bought a gun to compensate for his insecurities. He was the butt of every comedian’s joke, a stereotype of ignorance and hatred.
But there was something pitiful about him, too. True, he was at the top of a hierarchy, they said, but that was a fading reality. In truth, he was the one type of person left in our society it was still okay publicly to despise, and with relish. And it was precisely because of this that he felt deeply what many others only sensed but could not express given their fear of losing respectability.
Maybe he couldn’t articulate what was changing; nobody could until it was obvious and it was here. But he was onto something. Now we know what it was.
This week, a woman was left screaming and pleading for mercy after a sociopath she had never met decided to follow her home and videotape her, in an attempt to ruin her life. The woman, he claimed, had cut him off in traffic and flipped him off. He also accused her, almost as an afterthought, of having used the n-word when she did this (though he had absolutely no documentary evidence of any kind). But, of course, the man was black and the woman was white. That is supposed to be all the evidence we need.
She understood the peril of the situation instinctively. Certainly, she had seen similar videos before—videos of other people similarly situated and ruined. Like a torture victim, she rushed to cover up her license plate and pleading for forgiveness, or just some recognition of her humanity, cried, “You’re going to ruin my life and you don’t even know me!” Making fun of your uncle on late-night TV was yesterday’s fun. It’s your aunt they’re after now, and they’re not in it for jokes. They’re deadly serious. She must pay.
How did we not see this coming? It turns out your uncle’s paranoid fantasies are the projections of something pundits like to call the slippery slope fallacy. No matter how much the country changes, we are strictly forbidden to sense a pattern in that change, or to infer what actions people might take from the principles they avow.
Your uncle might have guessed, by extrapolating from “reverse racism” and affirmative action and all the rest, that someday statues of George Washington would come tumbling down without a word of opposition from the United States government. It would have been difficult to picture it precisely, but it would have been a grounded supposition to make. He might have guessed, too, that white people would come to resemble a second class of citizens, who it was okay, even encouraged, to blame for all the evil in the world. He might have told you that in some future world hating and harassing whites would fall under the banner of “social justice.”
“You hear what they’re trying to do now?” he would say. No, sharia law was not coming to America; the reality was more sinister by half. America was being changed from within, by its own people.
The signs were subtle and insidious, but they were there. At the time, it was easy to make fun of your uncle’s sensitivity. Who cares about a mascot? But the change was there, and it was happening. Look back again over his diatribes about “press one for English,” Christopher Columbus, or all of the things one is no longer allowed to say while at work, on social media, and so forth. All of these, to those of us who were not paying attention, seemed to fall out of the sky without warning. But your uncle’s diatribes don’t sound so crazy now, do they?
Of course, your uncle wasn’t predicting the future. He’s not a prophet. He was just paying attention to the present. It’s why he bought a rifle. He’d be dumb to use it in self-defense, though. That’s against the rules now. But there was a part of your crazy uncle’s mind that believed despotism was really a possibility, not a theoretical one but an actual one, not a delusion of persecution, or something Plato talked about in the Republic, but something deducible from his own life, from what people said and believed and acted upon out in the open.
There may come a time when we will look back at Thanksgiving dinner rants as an unconscious warning, as an early, unheeded expression of something profoundly dangerous. It’s likely we’ll live in a time when Thanksgiving is canceled, after all.
We laughed when we should have listened. Sorry, uncle.