• Daniel Ethan Finneran

The Racism of Nick Cannon

July 2020

The notion that racism not only still exists, but is systemically pervasive in this liberal land of my youth, this hearty soil out of which, by dint of the shared fortuity of our well-placed birth, all my neighbors, men and women alike, emerge inviolably equal and free, is one of which I’d lately found myself disabused.

Previously, the belief I held in the received wisdom of this “truth”—a truth to whose defense, I’ll not hesitate to admit, I once lent all the ardor of my empathy and the vigor of my pen—was unshakeable. In it, I believed wholeheartedly. From it, I simply couldn’t be moved. I wouldn’t dare question the veracity of its motives, the strength of its cause, nor the legitimacy of those great progressive thinkers by whom it was so passionately conveyed, of whose irrefragable brilliance I was, until recently, so fully convinced.

As of late, however, the strength of this once redoubtable belief—as well as the floridity of the language in which it was dressed and the intentions of those by whom was so rigorously tailored—has diminished. It’s grown weaker as my mind’s taken it into deeper consideration, increasingly barren as it’s met the unclouded vision of my eye. With the application of good evidence, research, statistics, contrary arguments, and more reasonable thoughts forwarded by eminently more reasonable people, it’s been undressed down to the skin (which, as I suppose, is what it’s really all about). Now, every part of it is visible in the glow of a newfound light, every sinew susceptible to the examination it’s so long eluded. It’s to be seen in the honesty of all of its constituent parts.

It appears, thus, to be vulnerable, fearful, empty, and deservedly fated to the imminence of its decline.

In a desperate effort, those vaunted progressive thinkers of whom I made prior note, for whom I once held such high regard, are attempting to combat this fate. It’s their mission never to let racism die. They’ll not abide its natural dissolution and its withering away. They believe in its immortality, its undying applicability, and they’ll fight for these ends. When cracked, they’ll pick up its pieces, into which they’ll breathe fresh life once again. When challenged, they’ll defend its deceits, around which too many brave thinkers have been rendered reticent and cautious.

They want, instead, to revitalize it and to use it every day, in every conceivable context. It’s a garb, a lament to be worn at all hours and in all seasons. There is no time when it suits its wearer ill. It’s to be a constant raiment in which they can clad themselves any day or night, an impenetrable façade by which the emptiness of their own ideas might be all the better concealed.

Racism, it’s said, is an unfortunate fact, but an unconquerable armor, a doughty metal jacket through which no argument can ever fully penetrate. It is, in this way, the last refuge of the feeble debater, the maladroit swordsman uncertain of the aim and power of his argument’s thrust. His attacks, while aimless, can afford not to hit their target, so long as he himself can’t be struck down. No matter how empirically sharp, each argument levied against the idea of systemic racism in America that he promotes finds itself bent, if not broken, in the process. It never seems capable of cutting at the truth, of drawing blood and making us feel. And so, dejectedly, it walks away, hardly if ever being equal to the battle in which it was so inauspiciously engaged.

Yet, all that being said, the argument in favor of America’s systemic attachment to racism has been enfeebled, time and again. Still it dons its raiment, but it does so with carelessly and with misplaced pride. A thousand tiny cuts of truth to which—no matter the pigment it promotes—all flesh is unavoidably heir, have opened a view into what lies beneath. In these deeper parts, there’s little with which the hopeful, Liberal eye is to be met. There is no body of fact by which his dizzied convictions might be affirmed.

Finally, we step back in order again to gaze upon the scene. We’re startled by that which we see. Beneath the expanse of racism’s ill-fitting suit, a threadbare gown through which inquisitive eyes are beginning to penetrate, one sees, at last, its bottom half tremble and its credibility crumble.

In having borne witness to the events of the past few weeks, months, and years, an accrual of time by which this country has been forever and irreparably changed, the effect that this belief once impressed upon my soul, this conviction that racism exists in America and is wholly systemic, had been reduced. Less a full-bodied account of this nation as it is than a half-baked narrative of what it was or might be, less an esculent truth than an ersatz whim, it had become a political fiction behind which nothing substantive, certainly nothing empiric, stood. It had become a charge, the severest of which a nation built on the noble ideals of “universal equality” and “justice for all” can accuse itself, by which I’d become increasingly unconvinced.

It seemed to me that specific instances of racism, examples onto which, without hesitation, our collective opprobrium and detestation would be immediately poured, were more often than not imaginary. To put it bluntly, with consistency, they weren’t true. We were emptying our outrage into a bottomless vat, a deep well of feeling and emotion around which nothing solid nor reasonable was ever built. For every one supposedly “racist” encounter of which we, an extraordinarily sensitive and tolerant people, would be made aware, two spurious events would gather steam and demand the frayed edges of our attention. It was like the monstrous Hydra of Grecian myth, out of whose every decapitated head, two more would spring.

With dizzying rapidity, these supposed racist events would be circulated through, though seldom deeply investigated by, the news media—an industry for whose bottom line, frankly, racism is all too enticingly lucrative a topic. These pseudo-events of which overt acts of racism were the subject, these specious tales by which America’s incorrigible attachment to this discrimination based on color was repeatedly demonstrated and confirmed, proved to be exactly that—illegitimate and unreal.

I’ll not bore you with the specific examples (with whose tired plot lines and predictable scripts, you’ve likely become familiar) in my defense of this point. They include notes affixed to the windshields of cars and open letters sent to Oregonian politicians. They include gymnastic ropes suspended from trees, and deaths by suicide confused with murders by lynching. They include nooses dangling with innocent intent from the beams of garage ceilings, to matutinal muggings of an Empire actor. They include messages left on restaurant bills, and confrontations with Amazon workers. They include these examples, and so many uncreative more.

Given that none of the aforementioned proved itself a legitimately racist event, I found myself, if only cautiously, heartened. I was happy to know that they didn’t actually occur and, in acknowledging this, my spirits were raised. It was a trend by which I was increasingly buoyed. Strangely, this placed me somewhat at odds with the rest of society, for whom the untruthfulness of these events appeared to be, oddly enough, an acute source of disappointment. The rest of America, it seemed, had been hoping for them to be true, if only to have them lend credence to a narrative for which we might flagellate our broken selves.

Nevertheless, the lack of “meat” on the bones of these stories, the dearth of the evidence by which they might be confirmed, was a deficiency by which I was greatly encouraged. It spoke to the fact that, perhaps, “racist attacks” in America—at least those kinds described by the creative dexterity of those by whom they were invented—aren’t nearly as inveterate and pervasive as we’d been led to believe. Maybe, just maybe, they were neither as constant nor omnipresent as once we were made to think them to be. Gladsome in the quiet acknowledgement of this fact, I thought I was finally seeing a truth, starkly at odds with that pushed by the media, by which the image of my abused country might be rehabilitated and saved.

My optimism, then, was on the ascendant, or so it was until I heard the remarks of which the network television host and podcast provocateur, Nick Cannon, unbosomed himself. He alone proved premature my rosy conclusion that racism was vanishing from the American mind. Now a notion of which I’ve been fully disabused, my opinion changed after hearing him give to the expression of his thoughts a most sincere treatment. He showed me that racism, sadly, does still exist. He opened my ears to the fact that it does still leap from the mouths of prominent figures and is gaining through their circulation a formidable strength.

At length, Cannon spoke of a race of etiolated white people who, having ascended the mountains of Eurasia, unwittingly deprived themselves of the salubrious effects of the sun. At this newly-acquired altitude, they became pallid, effeminate weaklings, a group of golems incapable of the grandeur of their earlier equatorial feats. That, he said, was the consequence of having taken as their home the Caucuses Mountains, a large expanse of snow-capped boulders between the Black and Caspian Seas. As an aside, this is the geologic structure from which the demonym Caucasian derives.

There, in the elevation not only of their physical altitude but their psychological conceit, these proto-white people shed not only their humanity, but their melanin. The latter was no longer needed, and the former dissolved with its shedding; northern climes demand of an epidermis less toilsome access to the rays of the sun. A protein of which, all of a sudden, these early Caucasians found themselves completely drained, melanin (in the a-scientific opinion of Cannon) actually did much more than absorb an excess of ultraviolet solar radiation.

Melanin, he declared, is mixed and infused with the sparkling droplets of “compassion”, an emotion in which, as we’ve recently learned, every white person is so obviously deficient. The natural accompaniment of melanin is compassion, or, as he more poetically put it, “soul”. Black people have more of it, and thus more familiarity with humankind and the ineffability of its suffering. These are the things to which the Black man’s “soul” makes him privy. White people have less of it and, thus, less of a conception of that same brother and sisterhood of which they fail commensurately to partake.

We’ll have to take on the strength of his pronounced wisdom this unobservable fact. What we know, if we’re to take seriously his claim, is that Blacks have a sensitivity toward the plight of their common man to which that of Whites could never be tuned. The heart of the Black man is empathic and beautiful; that of the Caucasian, ugly and callous. The former is that of a saint, the latter that of a brute. The one is compassionate, the other is not and, by extension, the one is human, the other less so.

I wish the foregoing line was a dramatization of what Cannon said, a mere inference based on the veiled scurrility of his words. It is not. Cannon went on overtly to claim that White people, in their lack of melanin, are predestined to be “a little less…” As to precisely what they’ll be “less” of, he failed to make himself immediately clear. Mercifully, the elision didn’t remain long unfulfilled.

As it turns out, Whites are “less” in just about everything, save moral turpitude. He went on to say that White people are, “lacking in self-esteem”, “acting out of fear”, and have knowledge only in the ways of evil toward which they’re naturally inclined. They have to resort to robbing, stealing, raping, and killing if they’re to ensure their own preservation. Apparently, this isn’t completely their own fault; this is a life to which their genes and climate have predestined them. They’re caught under the persuasion of a biological force. Nevertheless, it is a list of crimes, the foulest of which man can be accused, on which their very survival is dependent. Whites were born and conditioned to be “savages” and inheritors of a “barbaric” culture—to which, of course, that of the more pronouncedly “melanated” people is far superior.

They, not Blacks, are the more bestial of the races. They mark the stunted growth, the cruel retardation seen in the course of our evolutionary tree. Their atavism is to be scorned, their lack of development, mocked. In their proximity to non-human animals, the slack-jawed beasts away from whom our species is supposed to have diverged, Whites can draw a shorter line. Theirs is a much more direct lineage than that of Blacks, or of any other more darkly pigmented people, for that matter. Whites are the modern Cro-Magnons, the boorish troglodytes by which our beloved civilized man was once preceded. They are the knuckle-dragging, phallus-slinging, feces-grinning barbarians to whom the noble title of “man” is, for all intents and purposes, wholly inapplicable.

To make his message clear, Cannon concluded by saying that Whites are “the ones who are actually closer to animals…they’re the ones who are actually the true savages”. With the confidence of a scientist, and the conceit of an evangelical, he concluded with these self-assured words this infamous screed.

Ignoring, for a moment, the identity of Cannon—the author by whom these startling lines were given voice—one might think them the product of a less-enlightened mind, from a less-enlightened century. One can easily imagine them spilling from the lips of a figure like Arthur Gobineau, the French aristocrat and racial theorist to the perversity of whose mind, the bloodiest parts of twentieth-century owed much of their philosophy.

Gobineau believed, among so many other repellent things, that race bred culture, and that between the three races observable on Earth (Black, Yellow, and White), there was an unbridgeable gap. The distance simply couldn’t be traversed, so great was their inherent chasm.

As a White European man, one could reasonably guess the race to which he gave the highest priority. White, in his opinion, was best; the unpolluted Nordic type, still better. The secondary race in his ranking was the Yellow, or the Asian, while the tertiary and lowest was the Black. In the most patronizing of terms, he applauded the former’s cupidity, the latter’s physicality, but he had little to say of the endowments of their intellect. He assumed such mental faculties to have been withheld from them and unobtainable, regardless of their efforts. He thought, shockingly, that their best features were their interactions with Whites, with whom, despite his severest discouragement, they might copulate, and by whom, with any luck, they might be improved.

He, like Cannon, spouted the same biologically deterministic rubbish; A man is not his own being, but a product, merely, of the darker or lighter hue of his skin. Replacing “compassion” with “wisdom”, Gobineau attributed the higher refinement of the intellect to less, as opposed to more melanin in the skin. Both thought in the same way and spoke the same language, albeit a century and a half removed.

As did Gobineau in the twentieth, Cannon has proven me wrong in the twenty-first century. Racism does exist, and so do racists. They do so in the form of aristocratic Frenchmen or millionaire television hosts. They do so among those from whom, absent better alternatives, we persist in taking our cultural cues. They do so among the professed “elites” of society, from whom we ought not to expect much better. There’s no longer an argument against this truth. It’s a fact, sorrowfully, to which I’ll have to learn to harden myself.

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