Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Few Thoughts About Racism

Racism is second only to pedophilia in the catalogue of socially unacceptable sins, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s obviously wrong, and unnecessary (can a sin be necessary for society? I would argue yes—abortion is necessary for modern society as we know it), and anti-intellectual. Given the gravity of this crime, it’s not surprising that people love to throw around accusations of racism, since being convicted of racism in the court of public opinion can destroy credibility and careers.

Sadly, a lot of people forget (or never knew) what racism really is; they just equate “racist” with “bad person.” The actual dictionary definition defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Presumably, “superior” and “inferior” refers to moral superiority or inferiority; that people of one race are worth more than a person of another race.

Using this definition, many, perhaps most, accusations of racism can be debunked. One example is the case of the Golf Channel anchor who said that the only way Tiger Woods could be beaten is if his competitors “lynched him in a dark alley.” That comment, while arguably in poor taste, certainly wasn’t racist according to the dictionary definition. (Trent Lott’s Strom Thurmond comments, while also in bad taste, aren’t really racist either).

However, most accusations of racism aren’t like the ones above. Rather, both sides of the political aisle accuse the other of institutional racism. Liberals accuse conservatives of subtle racism evidenced by their opposition to social programs designed to help blacks and other racial minorities. Conservatives accuse liberals of reverse racism—of preferring minorities to whites in retaliation for white bigotry from the past.

The first accusation is easily the most common—it is a central liberal belief that the Republican party’s success is dependant upon pandering to racists. They point to Nixon’s Southern Strategy as evidence of this, ignoring the fact that that strategy attempted to woo voters whom were angry with the Democratic party’s positions on the Vietnam War and social issues, not race. (Of course, many of those voters were angry about the Democrat position on race too, but unfortunately for them Nixon was pretty progressive on race). The Southern Strategy was based on disgust with “amnesty, acid, and abortion,” not integration.

The accusation that conservatives’ opposition to social programs shows that they don’t much care for the problems of black people is also mostly flawed. There is actually a grain of truth to that, I think—blacks seldom vote Republican, so few Republican lawmakers really worry about the problems of that constituency.

But most conservative opposition to social programs arises from libertarian philosophy, which holds that the less government involvement, the better. And the truth of that philosophy has been borne out by the effectiveness of such social programs over time—since the Great Society transformed America into a welfare state, the lot of the poorest people (disproportionately black) has improved little, if at all.

On this issue, conservatives aren’t being racists—they are being realists. Social programs don’t (or at least haven’t) work—and conservatives realize that.

As for the accusation that liberals are reverse racists, there is a grain of truth in that accusation as well. There are some liberals who think that all whites are indelibly stained by their culture’s past racial sins, and are therefore inferior to other, less wicked races. This, of course, is as racist as anything the Ku Klux Klan believes.

However, there aren’t many liberals who think that way. The most common rationale for affirmative action is the idea that generations of racial discrimination have set the black community so far behind the mainstream culture that minorities need some sort of help to succeed. This idea isn’t altogether false—it is undeniable that decades of discrimination haven’t done much for black society—but it ignores that facts that a) giving blacks access to positions they aren’t qualified for won’t help them in the long run, and b) it is unjust to those who do deserve the position. The son shouldn’t suffer for the sins of the father.

However, unjust as affirmative action may be, it is merely racial prejudice, not racism.

Even if neither the right nor the left goes in for racism, that is not to say that our society is free from racism. There is, sadly, a great deal of racism in the black community, where acting “white” is an ultimate insult. And the white world is not as free of racism as it thinks it is—few whites know many blacks, and it is difficult to succeed as a minority in the white world. Overt racism is dead—but mistrust and distain between black and white lives on.


At May 29, 2009 at 5:58 AM , Anonymous Charlie the Angel said...

Ya want to see racism at it's best, check out this:

At May 29, 2009 at 10:01 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Whatever you call it, the main thing is that whenever we use labels to disrespect another person, it is wrong.

At May 30, 2009 at 4:30 AM , Anonymous steve_b said...

From a purely intellectual standpoint what I find most interesting is the case of racism or racial predjudice between blacks and whites. With every other race after a couple generations have past the animosity, direct or indirect, has largely died off. But between blacks and whites it seems to always be there just under the surface.

I realize of course blacks experience in America is drastically different from say Italians or the Irish, or even the Chinese, but you'd think eventually the inherent melting pot effect would take place.

This is perhaps one of the only reasons Obama's presidency might do some lasting good. (I know that is a sentence hard for conservatives to hear- believe me =0) Will the next generation of black kids have a fundamentally different idea of what it means to be black in America?

One hopes so.

At January 19, 2012 at 10:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love all people and think people should embrace their culture because the traditions and diversity make life rich and colorful. what i DONT LIKE is when people use race as an excuse or as a crutch or as a weapon. what i dont like is when they have a miss black america but, if we had a miss white america that would be racist. i dont like that african american or any other race have special privliges and are treated more fragil because of past wrongs white people have done to them. white people were horribly wrong for enslaving and lowering other people but now must we bow down to them. we are all equals...but do we act like it? no? there are still racists out there, mean cruel ignorant racists who need to work on themselves...but now we see another extreme... a suck up is ignorant to IGNORE race...but it is not helping when we try to make up or suck up now. in my highschool we have african american, chinese, japanese, mexican, puerto rican, russian, ukranian, and lebonese support and club groups. im caucassian or "white". where do i fit in? it would be racist for me to have a club or group for other caucasian students. i love all races because there is only one true race..the human race. diversity is what makes the world rich and i feel like all those kids should HAVE a club for there culture. but i dont understand why i cant have one for mine?

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