Neutral and Neutrality are both terms meant to express non-partiality and non-specificity.
The antithesis of biased, these terms connote an absence of divided views on any subject. However, many of the most Racist elements of the system of Racism are “neutral.” Let that dwell in your mind for a few moments and then begin to contemplate what that means.
Recall in my book, “White Supremacy and the Post-Racial Color Blind Era: Exploring Visible and Invisible Whiteness in the United States — an Unbleached Unbook Look,” I discussed the terms, “normal,” “neutral,” and “natural” and their relationship as euphemisms for whiteness, especially in an era where color blindness was necessary in order to justify a newly retooled version of Racism as interpersonal, individual behavior and attitudes.
While it is clear Racism had always had the systemic intent of denial and discrimination structurally within all institutions, the Civil Rights Act and other laws designed for redress of past discrimination and denial placed motivation squarely on the shoulders of the institutions themselves, chiefly employment, education and housing. White supremacists in the legislature understood very well the difficulty in proving no generational discrimination and denial. They also knew there was no way to hide Racism behind Race as Color after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s.
Consequently, corporations, universities and lending institutions among others had the burden of proof that there was no discrimination or denial of Black people, which of course was difficult for these institutions to prove, since Racism in the form of Jim Crow and segregation had created the environment of denial and discrimination within those institutions as well as others in the first place. There was no hiding the fact there were laws in place to deny and discriminate. Therefore, neutrality could not be accomplished prior to the Post-Racial Color Blind era.
During the next two generations, Race as Character replaced Race as Color, a much better mask for hiding the overarching ideology of white supremacy as well as the systemic policies, rules and laws designed to discriminate and deny in support and for maintenance of the ideology. Race as Character shifted the paradigm of Racism in the last half of the twentieth century from segregation as “Racist,” to primarily the individual behavior and attitudes of any individual of any identity, as a socially constructed behavior and attitude where the “character” of the individual determined if Racism existed in any space where white and Black people coexisted. This allowed for literally anyone to be “Racist” instead of policies, laws, and practices, or even segregation, creating the concept of “color blind neutrality.”
This neutrality afforded white supremacy an avenue to flourish unseen, hidden in the mythological concept of meritocracy, used among white people to categorize and codify their own separation and discrimination of themselves. Yet, color blind neutrality alone would not suffice as a way to undermine progress made during the Civil Rights movements of the sixties. There needed to be a way to obscure another facet of Race as Character within three terms: Intent and Motivation, and Implicit Bias.
Today, both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts are shells of their original motivation to end systemic denial and discrimination against Black people, with intent now used against the very Black people these laws and policies were originally created by legislators to help.
Evidence of this paradigm shift away from Racist, systemic, institutional structures to individual behavior and attitudes can be found almost immediately as having occurred when Nixon became president in 1968, the period they and other so-called social conservatives began the business of “neutralizing” the provisions of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, continuing to gnaw at them both nationally and statewide, and for 53 years, chipping away at intent to make them all appear neutral. The burden of proof has now shifted from the Racist system of denial and discrimination to the aggrieved people subjugated by it in proving such intent.
Moreover, implicit bias, which is nothing more than non-verbal, or quiet expressions of white supremacism among friends, has been the extra large bottle of colorblind neutrality white people have been using like Coppertone SPF 365 sun screen for generations, so they could pretend being unaware of the systemic structures of Racism all around them, and to hide their active complicity. While the effects of these individual implicitly biased motivations help create disparities for Black people, supremacists discovered long ago that color blind neutrality was the way to continue discriminating and denying after the sixties when overt expressions became against the law, and covering themselves with copious amounts of color blind neutrality protected them from the glare of reality.
Take the voter suppression laws created and passed today for example. These laws do not have to be specific to Black people to deny their ability to vote. They are designed to be neutral. The secret, however, is in the intent. The motivation is clearly to stop Black people from voting. Even if other nationalities and ethnicities get caught up into their net like dolphins and whales with the tuna on a fishing expedition, the intent is still as clear as their feigned attempts at neutrality, which the white supremacists know can be debated, and with the judicial system working in their favor today, they can prevail. They are just “neutral” enough in their application so that while we know they are Racist, they already know they don’t have to “prove Racism” was their motivation. They have accounted for the collateral damage their policies create for other non-white people. The same neutral language was used by the Supreme Court in their recent ruling to overturn Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. So neutrality can be considered the demon informing the rules that would deny and discriminate and an erosion of already fragile Constitutional rights.
One major problem faced by Black people today is the silence among Democratic legislators during these latest rounds of neutralization. This is because the overt white supremacist conservatives are not the only ones neutralizing. The quieter, liberal white supremacists are also using the tools of color blind neutralization in their attempt to placate those people identifying as white and soured by Trump but who wish to continue benefiting from the system of Racism while pretending it no longer exists, except in the behaviors and attitudes of individual people. They apparently believe they can galvanize bipartisanship on the basis of a mutual dislike for Trump, and are dismissing their own implicit biases based on the character of Black people. They cannot show any overt expressions of dismantling white supremacy except through the same lip service being shared as talking points from Biden all the way down the Democratic ladder of power. The fact is, they cannot produce justice for Black people. They must remain neutral.
These new tools create the silence needed to keep white supremacy working in the background until like a lava flow ready to erupt inside the guts of the earth, it explodes once again into a visible, explicit and brutal catastrophe for Black people. This silence is deafening, and there is no foreseeable end, though Black people are running out of time on this short span even as we have experienced only the appearance of Constitutional rights in this country.