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.