Walter Rhett

Walter Rhett: Resetting Racism

The historic test for racism beside motive and purpose, are the 3 elements I listed in an earlier post, a code word, a myth, and the denial of racist intent. These elements are fitted to the times, and oppose progress by attitude, legal or institutional action.

Racism changes as society changes. But always has the 3 elements to deter progress. For example, slavery had the myth of helping the heathen and intellectually inferior Africans; its denial was represented as good work since slave holders provided full support. The word Negro was used in the newspapers and polite society because it was less offensive than the word of slave.

In a great irony, during the civil rights era, the myth was Southern blacks were “content,” satisified with the status quo! Agitator was the word, or communist, as applied to Dr. King. The myth of contentment served as its own denial.
The use of “food stamp” in SC as the myth, a state with a long context of opposing the quest for human dignity by people of color–and its easy denial, it resonates not as assistance for those black and white unemployed by the recession, but as those “dependent” (the code) on government “entitlements,” not mentioning the benefits to the nutrition of young children, the commerical benefits to local groceries (or fees to banks that issue the cards), and the restrictions on items that prevent misuse.

There many ways to attack Obama, but food stamp is a racist misuse. Everyone doesn’t have to agree for it to be so.


A Lee Atwater co-worker is the one who actually taught me the elements I have shared. In a discussion about the Willie Horton ad, he told me how it was not done at random, but systematically, composed of the elements I have described and illustrated in other comments.


While without logic, racism of all stripes has common, repeated structural elements–a code word, a myth, and denial of racist intent. Racist appeals make use of all three. Socialist, food stamp are the code words that trigger the myths–and the denial. The denial has high appeal; it allows those with race-based views to avoid self-examination or confrontation; they get by guilt-free, scot-free without being held accountable. These elements, skillfully used by Newt and others, manipulate our moral compass.

  1. Walter, I think there is a fourth element you might consider. I tried to deal with it in a reply to your excellent comment on Charles Blow 9/1, but the Times reviewer rejected my reply. The fourth element is that the practice of racism does not require “races” but only the existence of a group that differs in one or more ways from the racist. I make this point because American writers at all levels, yourself included, and many genetic and medical researchers refer to “races” knowing full well that there are no genetically distinct “races”. I am perfectly well aware of “socially constructed races”.

    In my reply to your comment I pointed to the brilliant book by Professor Dorothy Roberts, newly appointed as professor of both law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dorothy, who in Email to me described herself as “black”, has written the most important book I have read in a very long time. Fatal Invention-How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the 21st Century.

    I urge you to sample it and comment.

    Larry Lundgren Linkoeping, Sweden

  2. ジューシー,juicyクチュール

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