Thursday, January 29, 2009

The End of Racism: Self-congratulation and a world of oversimplification

Everybody's favorite elusive wingnut, Dinesh D'Souza, has posted something inane for us for the new year! And I thought that he committed suicide after Obama was elected. Maybe he was just getting his drink on.
Recognizing that Obama is untested material, the media has been focusing on the historic significance of Obama’s presidency. Never mind, we hear, that he gave a pedestrian inauguration speech without a single memorable line.
"Memorable" is subjective. But the fact that his presidency is "historical" isn't. Everybody can agree with it, because it is the plain truth. That's why the media focuses on that: to avoid hurting the feelings of you and your ilk, who will be trying your best to point out instances of bias, and play it off like you are unjustly persecuted for the next four to eight years. Of course, your modus operandi tends to be to do that same thing when you actually have impressive political power anyway, so I am not sure why it should matter.
As I watched Obama take the oath of office, I was moved, along with many others, but I also felt a sense of vindication. In 1995 I published a controversial book The End of Racism. The meaning of the title was not that there was no more racism in America. Certainly in a big country one can find many examples of racism. My argument was that racism, which once used to be systematic, had now become episodic. In other words, racism existed, but it no longer controlled the lives of blacks and other minorities.
In other words, you were being simplistic. Racism may be more "episodic", in the sense that it is 1. rarer, 2. less socially acceptable (and thus more covert), and 3. less legally defensible, it still exists enough to influence the self-perception of those who live in environments where racism is implicit in a number of social interactions. And, if this racism is possessed by a person in the right position, it can be stifling and discouraging, even if the event is rare. Sure, their lives are no longer "controlled" by racism, due to the fact that it is a legally rebuked and socially shunned viewpoint in the country as a whole. But...it still can have influence, in much the same way that sexism still has influence in both business and media and affects women's self-perception, despite explicit sexism also being a fringe viewpoint without government and vocal mainstream support. Basically, "episodic" racism isn't no racism.
Indeed racial discrimination could not explain why some groups succeeded in America and why other groups did not.
ORLY? Is this assuming the "systematic racism" you mentioned earlier, or no?
The old civil rights model held that groups at the top of society got there through discrimination. Yet the empirical evidence showed that the two most successful groups in America were Asian Americans and Jews.
And yet that is because they are smaller minority groups, and thus smaller samples, for one. Also, they are predominantly located in different regions of the country than the less fortunate minority groups, like Hispanics and African Americans. Or, more recently, those of Middle Eastern descent, where the racism involved is intermingled with anti-terrorism hysteria. In addition: it's not about getting to the top through discrimination, it is about preventing others who are not like you from getting near the top. It's not about the Presidency, or being a CEO, or being a billionaire. It's about being in government at all, being in high level management, being able to get employed for jobs that you are qualified for and get the same level of payment. The people at the top tend to be the exceptional, natural exceptions to general rules, self-made men (or people with the right connections to those who actually are self-made men). They are not really a good judgment of whether, in general, we are treating any given minority group fairly.
As for African Americans, their position near the bottom rung of the ladder could be better explained by cultural factors than by racial victimization.
It's not the victimization that's the problem, it's their culture that was shaped by that same past victimization that's at fault! Niiiiiiiiiiice.
If groups are hated just for their skin color, then this is irrational discrimination. But if groups provoke hostility on account of their behavior, then this is rational discrimination. The implication of this idea is that it is not racist to be wary of African Americans who behave badly, as long as you are well disposed toward African Americans who conduct themselves admirably.
That's all well and good. Not every criticism of an African American is a critique of an entire race, or inherently racist. But I am sure that your "rational discrimination" could just as easily morph into a "rationalized discrimination" when people get a mighty desire to broaden the definition of "behave badly" from "doing things that are wantonly disruptive and possibly illegal" to "wearing baggy pants" (I believe people in Florida were really pissed off about that a while back).
I may have been ahead of my time, but it now seems that I was not wrong. Here we get to the real significance of Obama’s election and his ascendancy to the presidency.
The real significance? That our country is now non-racist enough so that 53% were willing to vote for a black guy in lieu of voting for more Republicans, whose policies had brought our country half-way to the gates of the Abyss? I mean, yes, it is encouraging. But...it really isn't that much of an improvement! All it means is that somewhere around half of our country might not be racist, and we have no ideas about the views of the others. Wonderful, but far from thorough. And won't even be close to resembling thorough until we have a near proportional amount of each racial and ethnic minority group in our legislature.
Consider the oceans of ink that have been spilled over the past couple of decades about how America is a racist society, how bigotry runs in the veins of white America, how little real progress has been made, how far we still have to go, and so on.
And those people stand corrected ever so slightly. We still have some distance to go, though, and I think it is disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise. But, progress has been made, America is not as racist as it once was, and bigotry has been squelched more than it used to be. We're still not quite as racially magnanimous as other Western societies, but we're trying at least.
A few years ago I debated Jesse Jackson at Stanford University and he couldn’t give any evidence that contemporary racism had kept his children down. At the same time, he said that precisely the absence of evidence is what worried him the most. Jackson’s argument was that racism, once overt, had now become covert. In other words, racism hadn’t decreased in the slightest but it now worked in ever-more-subtle ways to deny African Americans their share of the American dream.
This is why you shouldn't debate D'Souza and those like him. Ever. He's just in it for the street cred given by saying "I completely humiliated INSERT FAMOUS GUY HERE", and the ability to bring up one random part of the debate that makes him look good and that he can use, more or less, as a strawman position to argue against. I think, by it's very nature, in order for racism to become a covert operation it needs to decrease to some degree. Unless it is "covert" in the sense of an elaborate and strictly defined conspiracy that is secretly unified, it is going to have to be inherently less significant than when it is unified in plain view.
True, Obama is no Jesse Jackson. But precisely the difference between the two shows that it is individual conduct and demeanor that is decisive here, not skin color. Obama doesn’t come across as a race-hustler. He doesn’t seek to turn victimization into profit.
These are the very reasons he wasn't deemed "black enough". He didn't speak out enough. Of course, Reverend Wright was smeared for speaking out in such a manner so it is probably best that Obama kept a level head about that, and almost every other issue. Now, on the subject of Obama and victimization though, he was born to a white college student and a Kenyan student at the same University. He may have personally experienced racism due entirely to skin color, but his family situation and economic situation and prospects for an education didn't suffer for that. So, he doesn't try to play the victim card, largely because he was able to succeed due to his parents never having been victimized, since they themselves did not have to try to build up families when "systematic racism" was the rule of law. Oh, and once again, one guy getting a powerful position does not "the end of racism" make.
If Obama’s election means anything, it means that we are now living in post-racist America. That’s why even those of us who didn’t vote for Obama have good reason to celebrate.
Whatever makes you happy, Dineshikins.

Rather short post of his. I am almost relieved. But after more than a month, I am a bit sad I didn't have more to gnash my teeth about. Oh well.

25 comments:

Mandar Malum said...

"Never mind, we hear, that he gave a pedestrian inauguration speech without a single memorable line."

Can you think of anything memorable from George Dubaya's inaugural speech? I know it was a long time ago, but i really don't think his was memorable either...

All i know is that I hope that with Obama as president, the racial issues will start to diminish some. However there are still those that I work with who think he's gonna take the rose garden out and put in a watermelon patch... and these people are serious...

Asylum Seeker said...

Wow. The worst I have is people I know who think that he is going to Hitler Jr. I...am not sure whether that is worse or not.

Also: good point with mentioning Bush. His only memorable quotes for his entire presidency were pretty much gaffes, lies, or a combination of the two.

mac said...

I understand Mandar.

I have a few good ole boys I work with who told me Snoop Dogg, Oprah and Coolio were going to be in the cabinet.

I was stymied on so many levels about that one.

"Yeah, just like W put in Kid Rock and David Allan Cole?"
"Coolio? WTF???"
I didn't have a serious response to such ridiculousness.

pboyfloyd said...

Sure, there's no more racism, suuuurrreee.

But we can all hate illegal immigrants for taking jobs yet hire them cheap at the same time.

Isn't this EXACTLY the same thing as hating blacks while putting them to work for food and a roof?

Of course the illegal immigrants have no particular ethnicity, do they?

Stacy said...

I have to look something up .. wait one ...
Whew! Here it is (I thought 1995 looked familiar!)So sorry about the long comment.
First is from NCSE -
...1925, the Klan became the first national organization to urge that creationism and evolution be given equal time in public schools (see Wade 1987). In the same year, Bryan's participation in the Scopes trial turned it into a major event of international interest. When Bryan died five days after the Scopes trial, the Klan burned crosses in Bryan's memory, eulogizing him as "the greatest Klansman of our time" (Werner 1929). The Klan vowed to take up Bryan's anti-evolution cause, and a defrocked Klan official formed a short-lived rival group called the Supreme Kingdom, "whose primary purpose was carrying on Bryan's crusade against teaching evolution" (Larson 1997). ...

...According to McIver (1994), perhaps as many as 40,000 fundamentalist preachers joined and were active in the Klan. ...

...Later in the 20th century, as most religious denominations in the US denounced the Klan, Southern Baptists - whose denomination was organized in 1845 as a haven for pro-slavery Baptists - were "unanimously silent on the question of the Klan" (Moore 2002a; Rosenberg 1989). ...

...Southern Baptists opposed not only integration and other antiracist efforts, but also the teaching of evolution (Ammerman 1990), denouncing Darwinism as "a soul-destroying, Bible-destroying, and God-dishonoring theory".


This is from the SBC in 1995

blah, blah, blah, "Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); etc, etc, ...
"

Richelle said...

"Never mind, we hear, that he gave a pedestrian inauguration speech without a single memorable line."

ya know, i don't really find the absence of a memorable line to be disheartening. i think it would have actually made his speech seem a little gimmicky, like he was saying it because he just KNEW someone was gonna print it on one of those damn obama plates they keep selling on tv. and how awesome would that be?!

what i think is important is not some line that i can recall over and over to give myself warm fuzzies about his presidency, but that any time he gives a speech he seems so genuine. that's the point, he's NOT gimmicky. it doesn't seem like he's been pondering over that one line he wants connected to his existence for all time.

like katt williams would say, obama is a real nigga, and there is nothing that a hater hates more than a real nigga.

pardon my ghetto fab talk, everyone, but that really is how katt would say it...

... i don't talk like that

:)

oneblood said...

Asylum,

You're like a fine wine, or maybe a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day.

During your well thought out critique of Dinesh's ridiculous overall assertion, I kept wondering why he didn't address Crackers?

I'm white, aren't the Crackers who had a poverty and timeline concurrent with Southern blacks to be counted?

They domineered any blacks around and their lack of success was still significant.

Poor Dinesh, they just don't seem to fit into his paradigm.

oneblood said...

I can't believe him.

He's so bourgeois the sentiment of French royalty just rolls off his words like a stench.

oneblood said...

No offense Stacy, but that is utterly erroneous.

I know religious and non-religious racists.

You can be hard core into atheistic philosophy and be a racist too.

Eugenics didn't just pop up from evolution for no reason.

And anti-Semitism didn't just come out of Christianity for no reason either.

Every group wants a scapegoat, it's just a matter of who and why.

Stacy said...

Oneblood - No offense taken. I just remembered the year 1995 as the year that the SB's FINALLY renounced racism (ridiculous that it took that long)and wondered if there was a connection.

Asylum Seeker said...

"Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); etc, etc, ..."

Well, maybe racism is over after all....

Having a straight talking president isn't a bad thing, is that the general sentiment Richelle? Because agree, though I am tickling myself with irony at phrasing it that way...

Thanks for the compliments again oneblood. I prefer to think of myself as lime-flavored turpentine, though. It took me a while to figure out what you were saying in that first post, but then it finally struck me: even in time periods where discrimination was happening in no uncertain terms, those who were the most discriminatory were not necessarily the most successful people in society, and that poverty is also a factor here. (With it just so happening that African Americans were prevented from escaping poverty for an inordinately long period of time, with a disproportionately large amount remaining poor). Is that right? Because it sounds right to me ;)

"You can be hard core into atheistic philosophy and be a racist too."

I think I've actually seen a few. I'm trying to wonder whether there is a large correlation between those atheists who have racist viewpoints and those who subscribe to Objectivism. I thought that I remembered something like that, but I honestly haven't met enough of either to know it to be accurate. Needless to say...Ayn Rand is crazy (ducks and covers).

oneblood said...

Well, and I admit this freely, just like religion and other culturally bound things racism is promulgated by surroundings.

Asylum Seeker said...

I pretty much can't disagree with that one! When it comes to racism, the rationalizatons for that hatred are deeply rooted in a long tradition of coming up with reasons to dehumanize others in order to glorify their own race. And the climate in which racism abounds is where this particular form of hatred is expressed freely, and where the rationalizations still float around unchallenged. Anyone raised in that climate who doesn't already have sufficient positive emotional attachments to those who are so criticized might be suckered into agreement. And that's how our natural tendency to divide ourselves into groups suddenly leads to subjugation of minorities, civil wars, and culture wars.

In fairness, what we are doing right here in regards to racism, in this comment section, is what small racist factions try to do when it comes to race. Get a bunch of people that agree with you, bat around a few ideas that we will more than willing to accept to as true from one another, and walk away with our preconceived notions confirmed. Group polarization: it's practically what the internet was built for.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

A dear friend of mine who happens to have an ancestral line with far more recent ties to mother Africa than mine and I were discussing the affect of race during one of Obama's debates with McCain. I asked him if he thought that Obama's having to smile through a lifetime of racist remarks had helped him be so calm in the face of McCain's verbal attacks. He smiled and said that was what all of his relatives had concluded. Finally, all that training to ignore slights had been put to a positive purpose.

pboyfloyd said...

"..Ayn Rand is crazy (ducks and covers)."

Did you meet The Knight_of_BAAWA (bad ass atheist with attitude)

I got the opinion that he was just way too smart to SAY that he adored hitler and simultaneously hate Hitler for naming his party 'something=SOCIALIST'!
Naw, he was awwyt! But he was a rotwieler(sp(shrug)) when it came to the one thing he loved more that atheism, anarcho-capitalism.

I was like, Reeeeeeeeeeeeeely????! And you don't imagine that some king with expendable soldiers or some totalitarian 'god' would chew you up and spit you out? (only if they could afford it 'thinks' the good knight of baawa!)

I like the basic axioms, and then Rand 'hates on' the commies.

Stacy said...

"...Ayn Rand is crazy (ducks and covers)."

You're not crazy. The only one's who got it right IMO were Bill and Ted.

"Be excellent to each other."

oneblood said...

"In fairness, what we are doing right here in regards to racism, in this comment section, is what small racist factions try to do when it comes to race."

-----------------------------------

True. But there are a lot of social interactions in different groups that have parallels.

It's in how we operate in general, no?

Asylum Seeker said...

Pliny: I think that Obama just is able to keep his cool in situations like that because he consciously decides that keeping that kind of level-headed demeanor is the best course of action. It's not just that he may have had many opportunities to put his ability to stay calm into practice, but that he actually WANTED to remain calm, because he figured that that was better than being blindly passionate. That is essentially where the difference between Obama and McCain began. Everything else may have just been a product of that different perception on how best to react.

Never met the guy you were talking about pboy (but apparently he is a wikipedia editor...). Sounds like a lot of the libertarians who show up at Pharyngula though. They're usually atheists, but they don't care about having that common ground because they have got their economic views, they hold them adamantly, and they will start clashing with anyone about their particular view of government's necessary role at the drop of a hat. I admire their willingness to defend their views, but when every other thread is an argument over posts essentially saying that we should become a collection of autonomous city states in order to make government less powerful, the madness begins to seep in...

"Be excellent to each other". Yes. I think that is the best iteration of the "Golden Rule" yet...

"It's in how we operate in general, no?"

Yep. It's not necessarily how we should operate, but we definitely do it, and do it a lot. It's just that the internet let's you get that level of confirmation more easily than you could in real life, and for opinions that are more...fringe. Of course, that part doesn't actually factor into to our little discussion on this subject. But, yes, same principle, and it isn't really an uncommon one.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Seeker - I agree that Obama seems to have a knack for keeping his eye on the ball but the point is that he probably got a lot more opportunities to practice and refine this talent because of the racism he encountered along the way. A lot of groups in this country have to adopt camouflage strategies in order to reduce the negative impact of stereotyping (a far more prevalent form of racism) in order to be successful and become a 'tribute' to their race, gender, orientation, whatever.

Like my friend who has been pulled over twice for the crime of DwB, people of color in this country often learn to grin and bear it. Even in situations that the rest of the country would find intolerable.

It's a huge amount of baggage for people to carry around with them. Unfortunately as long as they have to racism will be alive and well.

Still, there clearly are reasons for hope.

sunnyskeptic said...

I'm really glad that racism is gone, as a translucent white chick, I was totally getting sick of it! :)

Now I know that my grandpappy was just pointing out facts, such as the fact that a 'burr head' was running for president, and that there would be riots at the inauguration because that many black people in one spot can only riot.

Sad truth: He is NOT the only person I heard this stuff from! How unreal!

Asylum Seeker said...

"Sad truth: He is NOT the only person I heard this stuff from! How unreal!"

I believe you...because I've been paying attention to the online discussions that have gone on just prior to the elections and immediately following. Calling it "racism" would be downplaying it. Bless FSTDT.com!

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Seeker - here's one I'd love hear your perspective on. Are racism and Fundamentalism essentially just variations of the dangers of revealed truth?

Asylum Seeker said...

"Are racism and Fundamentalism essentially just variations of the dangers of revealed truth?"

Do you mean the dangers of thinking that you possess "revealed truth"? Because that is particular combination of raw, fallible human intuition with a level of overconfidence that is just bound to end up ugly every so often. Especially when you only tend to believe in "revealed truths" that make you feel better (usually at the expense of others, but not always). In that sense, the obstinate racism we occasionally find today and fundamentalism could have a common root in their sense of certainty, regardless of evidence. Of course, fundamentalism doesn't necessarily lead to racism, or vice versa. But, in this country, there is at least a notable correlation(though this may also be a matter of the kind of temperament and/or education level of the people involved, all leading to the kind of overconfidence that both racism and fundamentalism seem to stem from).

Of course, I am not even sure if I am answering your question right now, but hopefully I at least nicked it.

Stacy said...

"(though this may also be a matter of the kind of temperament and/or education level of the people involved, all leading to the kind of overconfidence that both racism and fundamentalism seem to stem from)."

It's interesting that you bring up temperment.

Why IS it that (in my head at least) the racist seems to be an angry person?

Asylum Seeker said...

Complicated issue.

For one, racism is in of itself a state defined entirely by hatred. Anger goes hand-in-hand with that. That said, it doesn't have to. Homophobes of today don't need to be angry to be hateful. I don't need express anything resembling anger when I hate someone or something (though my hatred is pretty diffuse and nonspecific, so I might not be a good example). Racism of yesteryear, when it was institutional, didn't have to take the form of the enraged to be clearly expressed in the form of aversion and general lack of respect. Today, racism is either hidden (and thus unobserved) or expressed by those who are so incredibly temperamental that they don't care whether it reflects poorly on them, they just HAVE to express their contempt. And that's where the availability heuristic starts to kick in.

So, the reason is probably a combination of having a biased sample of particularly vocal racists to judge, in addition to racism being entirely defined by the negative emotions that associate so well with those who are easy to anger. A person who was a live-and-let-live kind of racist wouldn't get our attention, and probably wouldn't be all too racist, is what I'm trying to say.