A political codeword

America has a deep passion for declaring “wars” on abstract entities: the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, the War on Terror. It’s a strange usage, because traditionally, wars are carried out between two groups of human beings, rather than between a group of human beings and a vague concept. But if you look at the actual practice of these conceptual wars, you’ll see that there is a group of human beings being targeted: non-white people! The Wars on Drugs and Crime are, effectively, wars on urban blacks, while the War on Terror is a war on the swarthy.

This is why, for instance, it can make sense that people are discussing moving the NYC police commissioner, who carried out the racist War on Drugs/Crime, to the head of Homeland Security, where he’d be helping out with the racist War on Terror. It’s a transferable skill-set.

7 thoughts on “A political codeword

  1. I would turn it around and say that the wars on drugs, crime and terror are but concretizations of that most abstract war of all: class war! The tensions and anxieties resulting from America’s harsh class antagonism, the drug dealers just a few blocks away, the junkie washing your windshield on your way to work, threaten to explode our society, our sense of safety. These are the stakes of the wars on drugs, crime and terror; to protect suburban living from the lower class, which is the symptom and condition of possibility for the former’s wealth and comfort. It’s not black/swarthy versus white.

  2. Not weird at all, since race is exactly how class antagonism is mystified. Rather than confront the existence of a class of poor people, its symptoms (drug use, crime) are turned into natural properties of a race. This strategy doesn’t completely work however since there are also poor white people. These are then turned into a ‘race’ of hillbillies and trailer trash. The aim of this mystification is to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’; lower class problems cannot affect us because they belong to a different ‘race’. The wars on drugs and crime and terror are to make sure that ‘they’ don’t come too close to ‘us’.

  3. Then why is it that hatred of nonwhites and hatred of poor whites don’t correlate very well? That is: the people who support the abstract wars because they don’t want to be around Those People aren’t the people who will talk about how all the rednecks need to hurry up and die. Poor nonwhites are lazy bums who vote Democrat to get handouts from commie academics, so of course we God-fearing, small-government Americans hate them; poor whites are inbred, intolerant, bigoted fundie illiterates who drink too much, beat their wives, hate everyone who doesn’t worship free-market Jesus, and are holding America back from its natural Whig-historical progression through time, so of course we tolerant and educated progressives have to want them all dead, and so on. And then there’s the term “white people”: grad students and urban blacks use it to mean completely different things, although this has been obscured by the popularity of Stuff White People Like. If I’m “acting white”, am I listening to Kanye and drinking an organic gluten-free chai latte in my Prius or am I chugging a light beer in my Hummer with my radio on Rush Limbaugh?

    The pop-analysis idea of the culture war, the Civil War never ended and all that, isn’t quite accurate, since there aren’t two monolithic cultures — Noam Chomsky and Trayvon Martin are not at all from the same culture, and neither are Eric S. Raymond, Mitt Romney, and the average Tea Partier — but the idea that there are two separate coalitions of cultures and that the division maps both onto the two-party divide and (less closely) certain geographical divides seems to have a lot more explanatory power than the race or class war hypotheses.

  4. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty could probably be taken as evidence that a war on an abstract idea doesn’t necessarily have to be brutal to minorities. But even there, the abstraction, in practice, turns out to mean non-white people.

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