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April 22, 2018

Comments

Maybe more later, this is a big topic. First thoughts:

-- Sneetches.

-- When does a difference in degree become a difference that requires a different word?

-- Words do evolve. Decades ago I was accused of "abusing" a long-time friend after an argument in which -- by my perception -- we both gave as good as we got and ended with mutual "Damn you"s. This was at a time when "abuse" was mostly used, at least in my experience, with a much narrower meaning, and I was flummoxed by the over-the-topness of the accusation. (If I had accepted the usage, I certainly would have alleged that the abuse had been mutual.)

But the usage has expanded since then. Now, every micro-aggression is "abusive." Well, in a sense it is. But I think it's counterproductive to mush together daily ubiquitous meanness and one-upsmanship with rape by using the same word for both of them. Still, maybe "racism" will evolve similarly. I'm not in charge of word usage, much as I would like to be. ;-)

-- What's wrong with "bias"? Why use a loaded word that people are going to resist like crazy, and get sidetracked into making it about the word instead of about the actual phenomena and behaviors? I prefer to tell a story about one of my own "Aha!" moments. I might then call myself a racist, but I don't see much percentage in calling someone else one.

I have my suspicions about whether or not "bias" is going to receive less pushback. Anything that forces people to confront the fact that they, too, might be party of the problem and that no amount of good intentions can insulate them from the sheer weight of culture we all absorb whether we mean to or not is going to be a hard sell. I'm not convinced that the specific choice of words matters all that much.

stereotyping?

everything a brain encounters is first put into a group that the brain already knows about - a model. and then it takes work to learn about the individual object. a single individual, or even several, might not be enough to change your internal model. we learn these models early and they stick with us.

and in the US, a lot of people get taught, as i did, a lot of negative things about the 'dark-skinned' group. worse, if you grew up in a pure-white, small-town culture like i did, you won't meet any dark-skinned individuals who can challenge that model. and then it sticks. it just sits there, being annoying, making you to work to override it every time it gets activated.

I think there is a lot to be said for distinguishing racism and bias. Consider this scenario:

I'm in my 20s. My girl friend, like (almost) all of my previous girl friends, is of East Asian ancestry. (And I am not, just to be clear.) Ditto, into my 30s. Plus my wife now.

Does that indicate bias? Sure, no question. Is it racism? Sorry, I just can't see it.

To my mind, racism has to indicate at least some negative view or behavior. Bias is the neutral term.

I suspect we can have a less fraught, and more productive conversation if we think about groups other African Americans. Just to avoid the legacy involved there.

per cleek's comment, and I'm sure I've made this joke before, but it isn't even totally a joke: I was in high school before I realized that there were Irish Catholics too.

Also, nothing I write is meant to minimize or dismiss the centrality of racism as such in a nation founded on slavery and the 3/5 rule. It's just that I don't believe there is any magic formula for changing hearts. Vec is right that it's hard to look inside oneself and see what's hiding in the dark corners. But different people come to it in different ways, and even the best intentions about bringing people closer instead of pushing them away often misfire.

I say this in part as a gay person who has watched and participated in eight or nine (I lost count eventually) statewide referenda on my worthiness as a citizen and a human being, and heard and read every kind of vile description of who I am supposed to be by people who actually have no clue about who I am.

Some of them eventually changed their minds.

Some didn't.

The pathways vary.

...in a nation founded on slavery and the 3/5 rule.

I don't understand the 3/5 rule. The slaveholders wanted to count slaves equally with free persons. The other side didn't want to count them at all. Aside from the slaveholders being defacto morally wrong, who were the villains here?

CharlesWT, I find it hard to believe that you don't know this, and therefore that you aren't just dangling a hook for the fun of it. But the 3/5 rule was used to determine representation in Congress. Thus slaveholding states got more representation -- while slaves themselves got none. I.e. it gave slaveholders more say in making the laws of the country, in proportion to how many slaves they could afford to own. Really, do you seriously not see anything wrong with counting slaves equally with free persons while giving their owners the weight of their numbers?

I understand determining representation in Congress, etc.

But I've seen arguments about the evil of counting a slave as three-fifths of a person when it would have been better not to count them at all since it would have reduced the political power of the slaveholders.

Racism, like capitalism, sexism, or heteronormativity, intersecting with all three, is an ideology. It's partly unconscious, and, partly naturalized. We Marxists call capitalism the dynamic totality of social relationships. Lot of work been done on ideologies since Althusser.

Does my neighbour deserve her SUV, while I drive an old Ford? Why? Why don't I take her SUV, why don't I think about it? This submission to the economic norms is capitalism. This acceptance of capitalist reality has a lot of implications, the deference to workers (cause work time is valuable, and doesn't belong to you), professionals, and the rich is constant and unthought.

Do I hate her cause she has property?

Why is ok to vote for a millionaire but not a Klansman?

Ok, but my point, at least for me, is that I try to, since it is immanently connected, try to think racism with capitalism (etc). Not that everything reduces to the economic, but the formal relations are homologous.

Not that everything reduces to the economic

You could have fooled me.

when it would have been better not to count them at all

that's probably true.

but what happened was both politically cynical (counting people who aren't actually being represented) and ultimately degrading (calling them 60% of a person).

Once you add the "-ism" suffix, "racism" goes into the basket of deplorable "-ism"s, which includes fascism, nationalism, capitalism, communism, anarchism, terrorism...and rationalism.

They all rhyme, I guess.

but what happened was both politically cynical (counting people who aren't actually being represented)

It was an attempt to count people who aren't actually being represented in order to preserve the system whereby they were disenfranchised and dehumanized. Quite a trick!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_(philosophy)

Not that everything reduces to the economic

You could have fooled me.

We need sarcasm tags.

Current reading 1) Enzo Traverso, Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism after Auschwitz Like a 2 x 4 between the mule's eyes, no, everything doesn't reduce to the economic and class struggle.

In a similar project, David Roediger has an impressive CV, studied with Rawick and CLR James, founder of whiteness studies, active in 50-60s labor and social movements. His newest is Class, Race, and Marxism 2017 kinda a survey of the fields. David Harvey, settler colonialism, Bernie, etc. Full of citations of most excellent colleagues to search out.

And of course, Du Bois.

I say this in part as a gay person who has watched and participated in eight or nine (I lost count eventually) statewide referenda on my worthiness as a citizen and a human being, and heard and read every kind of vile description of who I am supposed to be by people who actually have no clue about who I am.

I's pretty clear that we need a generic description/tag which allows us to include both racism and other forms of bigotry taken to seriously toxic lengths. (I considered "homosexualityism", but recoiled in horror. 😉 Seriously, what an ugly excuse for a word!) Still, a way to label that kind of "racism-absent-actual-race" would be handy.

Ya know, I think we need stories more than we need labels.

Racism operates at the level of culture/society/policy.

On an individual level we are talking about "Implicit Bias" or "Implicit Social Cognition."

See Project Implicit for more.

Last summer I read "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson - it's a shocking account of institutionalized racism and a perverted justice system.

I would say that the generic term for the "isms" is prejudice.

"Implicit bias" or just "bias" or whatever term seems more suitable than "racism" are all fine. Except I'm not they are helpful other than by providing a comfort level for folks who are not comfortable with racism as a term.

If I participate in a prejudice or implicit bias with no ill intent, am I not still prejudiced?

If I participate in a prejudice that is based on race, is it somehow no longer racist if I call it something else?

Does racism have to be an ideology? Or is it sufficient to consider and interact with people differently because of the color of their skin?

If I participate in an ideology unconsciously, or without embracing it, is it no longer an ideology that is at work?

One reason I'm thinking of all of this is my sense that the discussion of how people of different races - whether the difference is real or just a "social construction" - relate to each other here has gotten wedged. Again.

Black people (or brown, or insert any marker you like) say "we are not being treated the same as others".

Not-black (or -brown, or whatever) people say that can't be, because they personally are not racists. And, quit saying what you're saying, because you're calling us racists, and we're not.

Black people say "black lives matter".

Non-black people say "All lives matter!".

And the black people say "Yes, that's our point. All lives matter, and ours are not treated as though they do".

So, nobody hears anybody else.

What occurred to me in my conversation with my friend is: if the charged quality of the word "racism" is making it impossible to talk about racism, maybe de-escalate the charge around the word.

We could, as an alternative, use a different word. But I'm not sure what that word would be.

"Implicit bias" doesn't seem to get it for me. It's not just not charged, it's utterly devoid of valence of any kind. Treating people differently because of something like the color of their skin actually kind of a charged thing - it hurts people. Does it help to wave that away?

I'm just looking to recognize the harm, without demonizing the people involved. Like my friend, or myself for that matter, or most folks I know.

I'm looking for a way to respond to folks who say they are the butt of racism, without pretending what they're saying isn't so, and also without letting anyone off the hook (including well-meaning people), and without judging and pointing fingers.

If labels - names for things - seems like an ill-advised approach, and stories seem better, that's fine with me.

But I'm not sure we're all hearing each other's stories, either.

I think the useful feature of a term like implicit bias is not that it decreases discomfort, but rather that by using it and racism in this way it draws attention to what needs to change. Your friend does not necessarily need a change of heart, but she (and we) certainly need a change of policy, and a recognition of the ways in which our societal structures implicitly disadvantage social groups.

"We need to change this racist policy."

Implicit bias, meanwhile, is something that an individual can work to reduce without the immediate, counterproductive defensiveness that usually happens whenever one is accused of being a racist. Not a change of heart, but a change of experience. The answer to implicit bias is diversity. I've taken most of those Harvard tests a few times over the years and my implicit bias has reduced over time as my classroom has become more diverse. That wasn't a result of a personal reduction in hatred; I never bore any personal or group animus towards any groups against which I had implicit bias. But I did gain a wider perspective that allowed my empathy to work more often for a wider range of people.

The answer to implicit bias is diversity.

Yes. Otherwise known as "integration." In fact, although I have been predisposed to try to examine my own racism, working in a diverse environment during my 20's made "nonracism" easier.
The Obama presidency made me celebrate diversity rather than try so hard to work on accepting "others". It really is a matter of knowing people, and having role models.

As to what we call it, "racism" is a term that everyone understands. "Implicit bias" seems like a sociology class. I'm fine with spreading the word, but "racism" has an immediate meaning, and I'm with russell: it's not necessarily about hate; it's about inherited attitude.

But I'm not sure we're all hearing each other's stories, either.

No, of course we're not. It's hard to hear either labels or stories that suggest that you're a bad person. And though you (the specific you, russell) may be doing your best not to be blaming or accusatory, it's hard -- outside deliberately created safe spaces that are few and far between -- to ensure that the other person will hear you that way.

When I say stories I mean not just stories from disadvantaged groups, but stories like this, which again I have probably told here before:

Some years ago I was in my home town for my annualish visit, and I took my five-year-old great-niece to the mall, the first outing we had ever had together, all the more precious because she had just come through a couple of years of cancer treatment and was now doing fine. (She's still doing fine at fourteen.)

Rounding a corner in the mall, we came upon a short line of people waiting at an ATM. At the back of the line were three or four adult women and a little boy. My great-niece and the little boy took one look at each other and fell into a well of enchantment. They gazed into each other's eyes in a sort of daze, and then she touched his cheek. All of us adults looked at each other and just laughed, because it was so sudden and tender.

Then we all nodded and smiled and my niece and I went about our business and that was the end of that.

Except -- the little boy and the women he was with were Hispanic, a group that had not been amongst the ethnicities there when I was growing up. There had been ethnic rivalries aplenty, plus the usual racial divisions, and of course some religious fault lines. But no Hispanics, or at least not enough to rise to visibility in the context of all the other groupings.

As we walked away I felt this little thread of a thought/feeling go through my system: "What are those people doing in my town?" (Which had not in fact been my town for forty years!)

I don't feel that way when I'm in Boston, so the origins of the feeling were no doubt complex. But it's a story about my own recognition of, and dismay at, the implicit bias in my own heart. I know from experience both that it's there, and also that, as nous says, it can change over time.

This isn't a story about my experience of bias as a gay person, it's a story about a little slice of my own tendency to make other groups the object of my bias. I would like to think the two kinds of stories have different effects, with the latter maybe not so readily triggering the fortifications to go up.

On the one hand, disadvantaged groups get sick of waiting. I know the feeling, believe me. By the ninth statewide referendum I just wanted to shove the homophobes (for lack of a better word) off a cliff. On the other hand, personal change is hard, as I also know from painful experience. That's a fact, and anyone who wants to change people's hearts will have to reckon with it sooner or later to be truly effective. (I don't mean you, russell.....I think you know this as well as anyone.)

Sure, agreed. I don't think that it's a matter of not talking about racism in general conversation, but rather using 'implicit bias" as a way of clarifying what you mean when you are talking to someone who has a defensive reaction to the term. You can clarify what you are talking about and continue the deeper discussion.

I do this all the time in my classes when we are dealing with one or another fraught "-ism" conversations. It's a chance to introduce a useful distinction and work through the implications on both a personal and a policy level.

Nous, you're the best. Unfortunately, I just had a conversation with one of the few people I know who is an avid Trumpist, based on his own racism, who truly thinks he's totally justified in his views.

It was a phone conversation. I hung up on him. I can't talk these people down. I don't have the skill set. I'm extremely conscious of the fact that I have implicit bias, and try to confront it. There are people who, I don't know, I just don't get it - they are just infuriatingly racist. These are people who are not so white themselves as to be beyond being targeted if push came to shove.

AAAARGGGHHHHHH!!!!

"We need to change this racist policy."

Aye, this is the nub of it. I can see the difficulty of people getting all defensive about being called racist. The problem is, when you try to find some other approach, it usually ends up with them finding comfort in their own apparent "lack of racism", and this in turn leads to not wanting to do much of anything (in the way of public policy) to correct a monstrous historical wrong. In this vein, I highly recommend Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law, especially the Q&A at the end of the book.

I might be undertaking a giant reach here, but what the hell.

Take Israel.

I would posit that our support for that nation is underlain by Western guilt....the recognition of the blood on all our hands due to our historic anti-semitism and the horror of the Holocaust (this is not to deny other factors-bear with me).

Thus our unquestioning support, a public policy that is still in force today, serves our commitment to right a historic wrong.

It is this kind of recognition that is missing in our efforts to right the historic wrong of American white racism. Sure, African Americans can vote now. They can sit in the movie theater with us now. But this does nothing to right the wrongs of repeatedly beating them down and using public policy to either deny them the means to build the kind of wealth we enjoy, or as happened repeatedly, simply destroy what wealth they have worked to painfully to acquire.

So sure, maybe there are a lot of white people who are not so racist as their forebearers, but we we who so blithly enjoy the wealth accumulated at their expense owe a debt.

It is a debt we should and can pay.

Interesting stuff. I've quoted this before, so I'll do it again, but Sartre said 'Saying a Jew is smart is just as racist as say he's anything else'. And while there is pushback about that consider something like. "Wow, you folks are so athletic!"

Every act of categorization carries with it the potential for bias, depending on how you define the group. It has become very odious to use racial categories, especially when one ignores systematic historic struggles that may make that group the way they are.

This article, via LGM, is well worth the read
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2018/04/black-in-america-3

Maybe it is too big an ask to classify those structural aspects of society as 'racist', since they are largely unattended and certainly could, perhaps in an alternate reality, be flipped so that the people on top would be on the bottom and vice versa. But seeing how it plays out, it is hard to think of it as anything other than racist. I resisted the way nous framed implicit bias initially, but I like the idea of using it to get at some of the more difficult, hidden away aspects.

I find this interesting so I will not add much except two things:

I agree that there is a problem talking about bias, all kinds. It is almost impossible to generally get people to even understand what is trying to be discussed because to most people racism implies animus, and is used that way in almost all political rhetoric. That makes it almost impossible to discuss it in other forums using a different definition.

98%? 95%? of people do not feel like they share in "the kind of wealth we enjoy," when it's talked about that way. Focusing on righting the wrongs of how the nation became wealthy because of those policies misses that most individuals simply aren't wealthy. Having a focus on helping poor people do better, improving the lot of working poor, creating upward mobility for the lower middle class are all subjects that could be discussed much more easily that would address the same underlying issues without the rhetoric around race.

But generally that concept is viewed as racist.

So do we want to create an equal and opportunity filled society or do we want to create policy to right wrongs, can we at least separate those discussions? Which helps the victims more?

https://prosperitynow.org/files/PDFs/road_to_zero_wealth.pdf

Having a focus on helping poor people do better, improving the lot of working poor, creating upward mobility for the lower middle class are all subjects that could be discussed much more easily that would address the same underlying issues without the rhetoric around race.

That's a really sweet sentiment, but doesn't really work in real life. Was the incident in the Philly starbucks because "98%? 95%? of people do not feel like they share in "the kind of wealth we enjoy," "? I don't think so. So it looks to me like talking about this is viewed as racist because it really looks like a failure to address the systemic problems that people of color face in the US. This is not to claim that you are racist, but at a certain point, it becomes a question of changing the conversation. It is not a question of righting wrongs, (though there are wrongs to be righted) it is simply reaching a point where two black men of color to waiting for their friend at a Starbucks don't prompt a call to the police.

Looking at this selected list taken from memory:
Freddie Gray
Alton Sterling
Eric Harris
Tamir Rice
Michael Brown
Stephon Clark
Eric Garner

It is hard for me to see that the underlying issue is not racism.

Some David Roediger, op cit. 1st internal quote is anonymous planter.

"“that man is as much duty bound to improve and cultivate his fellow-men as … to cultivate and improve the ground.”10 When management of labor was broached, experts tended to discuss black workers in conjunction with managing and improving land and animals. Within the longer and wider view of US history, such placing of alleged white managerial genius vis-à-vis slaves alongside a general ability to husband and develop nature sets proslavery arguments within the context of settler colonialism’s dispossession of indigenous people. The antebellum South, and especially the Southwest, was not only the site of slavery but also of brutal dispossession, dislocation, and decimation of Indians."

"...that man is as much duty bound to improve and cultivate..."

Here's some intersectionality. Capitalist Reason includes Calvinist stewardship, the moral duty to improve and cultivate available resources for maximum productivity and efficiency, and distribute those resources in such a way so that control and management is given to the most skilled and capable.

Like white (or Japanese) colonists. Or entrepreneurs. Or bureaucrats, lawyers, and technicians.

I am very wary of arguments from efficiency, "tax cuts don't generate growth" for instance. Or "equal societies develop faster and further." Productivity, growth, development, efficiency ain't my problem, and ain't justice.

Forgot.

Part of Capitalist Reason involves classifying and categorizing everything from grammar to nebulae. Instrumental reason divides the environment according to utility and ease of extraction and so determines what level and kind of management is needed for maximum production and reproduction of each resource. PR and advertising, social media, politics

Racism determines a people who can be brutally managed for high efficiency, and a class who are competent managers. The Nazis segmented their labor force according to different criteria.

But...2x4. Auschwitz was not rational.

do we want to create an equal and opportunity filled society or...

these seem like different issues, to me. not completely unrelated, but distinct.

I think if we want to provide "the means to build the kind of wealth we enjoy" that requires both equality and opportunity.

Otherwise we are discussing providing opportunity unequally in a population most of whom arent wealthy or providing equal lack of opportunity.

Neither of these provides a good starting point to resolve the effects of historical racist policies.

policies and society are two different things.

you can write neutral policy, but society often finds ways of using colorblind policy to discriminate. good old cake baking, for example. IMO, that means the policy isn't adequate.

And it's hard to write colorblind policy to address a problem that isn't colorblind. Of course, when you write policy that isn't colorblind, even though you're doing so to address a problem that isn't colorblind, you become the real racist.

The same sometimes holds true when simply discussing a non-colorblind problem. Don't mention race, or you're the real racist!

Then again, I am racist, at least in the sense that russell discusses here. (Maybe I am the real racist, after all!)

will the Real Racist please stand up?

Auschwitz was not rational.

I'm curious why you say that. Richard Rubenstein, in The Cunning of History says

One of the least helpful ways of understanding the Holocaust is to regard the destruction process as the work of a small group of irresponsible criminals who were atypical of normal statesmen and who somehow gained control of the German people, forcing them by terror and the deliberate stimulation of religious and ethnic hatred to pursue a barbaric and retrograde policy that was thoroughly at odds with the great traditions of Western civilization. On the contrary, we are more likely to understand the Holocaust if we regard it as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the twentieth century.

which I thought would have been right up your alley. Adorno and Horkheimer argue something similar, so I'm wondering why you say Auschwitz wasn't rational as it was a pure expression of Capitalist Reason.

I'm also wondering who you are thinking about when you say "Like white (or Japanese) colonists." Who are you thinking about?

lj, 10:30: Wow, that's a lot of Rubinstein paragraph to get from my little line and I am not sure it is all implied there.

Oh, for instance I just finished Franz Neumann's Behemoth 1943-44. He's connected to the Frankfurt School, Marxian legal and political philosophy, and he says categorically that the Nazis won't kill the Jews because they are useful as slave labor and because the Nazis needed an iconic enemy*. The extermination was not economically justifiable. I am not sure how you are using "rational."

*See my comment above about segmenting labor as source of racism. Divide and conquer, it is easy to fall into class analysis.

The Japanese thing was a reference to imperial paternalism and assimilation policy in Taiwan and Korea, to make the point that the pathologies of settler colonialism is not limited to Northwest Europeans, although interestingly dominated by them.

I think if we want to provide "the means to build the kind of wealth we enjoy" that requires both equality and opportunity.

I guess what I'm getting at is that equally enjoying the wealth is not the whole of what folks mean when they talk about racism.

There are historical reasons for some groups of being poorer than others, and for people of color many of those reasons involve the fact that they are people of color. For other groups of people, maybe other reasons are in play.

All of those factors deserve attention, so that in fact everyone has an opportunity to achieve sufficient means to live their lives.

But the issue of race is broader than just economics.

Then again, I am racist

Yeah, me too, according to how I'm characterizing it here.

I guess what I'm trying to understand, or find, is a way to discuss it that recognizes it for what it is - which is prejudice based on skin color - without demonizing the people who are prone to it. Which is probably most of us, at least in some situations or contexts.

I think that, to the people who are on the receiving end of it, it certainly feels like racism. Even if they understand that it's reflexive, and carries no specific ill will toward them. It is, still, harmful.

I'm on thin ice here, as throughout the whole thread, because I'm not black or Hispanic or even remotely brown, and I'm reluctant to speak for people who are. I'm just trying to make sense of *my* experience. And that of people like me.

It's fine for me to say "I'm not a racist", because I bear no particular ill will toward people of color, and in fact the opposite.

If I behave differently toward them because of their skin color, and I'm not a racist, what am I?

And where does that response come from, on my part? I have never had a negative experience of any significance with anyone of color. On the contrary. How did I learn to even register skin color as a matter of any significance? I don't notice eye color, or hair color, or height, or any other incidental physical aspect in the same way.

I picked it up somewhere. And, I experience it. It's *my* experience. And I'm an adult, I'm responsible for it at this point.

If black people, or people of color generally, want to tell me that they are subject to racism, do I get a pass, somehow? Because I mean well?

We've had this disease a long long time, I'm just trying to find a way for us all to get well.

What Marty said (at 10:30 PM yesterday).

lj: at's a really sweet sentiment, but doesn't really work in real life.

I depends on whether you insist on solving the entire problem. Or are willing to take solving part of it as a first step. What Marty is saying is a practical approach to how we can approach addressing the historic economic injustice. Which, no question, we should. This is how you go about leveling the economic playing field.

That doesn't mean that the racism (or lesser bias) shouldn't be addressed. Just that a) it's going to be a bigger step, and b) it's going to require a different approach. Sure, if we solved it first, it would be easy to address the historic economic injustice second. But that's not a road that's viable.

If I behave differently toward them because of their skin color, and I'm not a racist, what am I?

I really think it seriously depends on how you behave differently. For example, I work for a company headed by a South Asian woman. We are currently engaged in a joint effort with a professional organization currently headed by a black man. When we were making a pitch to some potential customers, I suggested that I go along and give a part of the presentation.

It's something I would not have done otherwise. But I was aware that, like it or not, having an old white man visibly involved was likely to help get some people on board. That was recognition of some potential level of bias (racism, if you prefer) on the part of the customers. But was it racism on my part? After all, I was behaving differently on account of my boss's race....

What Marty is saying is a practical approach to how we can approach addressing the historic economic injustice.

In actuality, no, it is not. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that if you rob somebody, justice calls for righting that wrong?

Whether Auschwitz was rational or not depends on the Nazis' goals. Their logic, not ours, applies.

If the Nazis were merely trying to rule Germany, and win a war of conquest, without the racist ideology, it would have been irrational. But since wiping out the Jews was a major objective, Auschwitz was a perfectly rational way to do it.

That they misjudged their resources does not make it any more irrational than invading Poland.

After all, I was behaving differently on account of my boss's race....

If you are reacting to someone else's (perceived or expected or potential) racism, I don't think so. This would fall under what I brought up at 10:20 AM.

Racism exists. Pretending it doesn't would probably make you more of a racist than attempting to deal with it somehow.

If you wanted to give part of the presentation because you assumed your non-white colleagues were incapable, that would be another story.

In actuality, no, it is not. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that if you rob somebody, justice calls for righting that wrong?

First, IANAL but as far as I am aware restitution is often not a part of justice provided to the victim. Sure, if the particular object stolen is recovered, it can be returned. But if the perp has taken cash and spent it? The government doesn't reimburse the victims as far as I am aware.

Second, on one side we are dealing with people who are several generations away from actual slaves. Many of whom also have ancestors who were the slave holders. And on the other, with a lot of people who neither have ancestors who were slave holders nor in a position to benefit from slavery. Not to mention those whose ancestors arrived well after slavery was abolished.

And if you are going to try to provide restitution for subsequent economic disadvantage, you are going to have an even worse horror show determining who is responsible and who is the victim -- unless you are going with individuals currently alive who personally suffered. And it the amount that they have suffered economically.

And in that case, what do you propose to do about economic disadvantage going forward? How do you think it can be measured?

I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with a symbolic payment to those whose ancestors were slaves. With the explicit recognition that it is only a symbol and not remotely complete restitution. And with some care to filter out those who were not -- e.g. someone like Barack Obama, who is definitely African American, but totally lacking in ancestors who were slaves.

But was it racism on my part?

No. It's a recognition on your part that racism exists and is a possible dynamic in your presentation.

IMO.

Remarking to no particular end, because I need to think it over a bit:

wj's question and hsh's answer made me start thinking about the composition of the commenting community here and elsewhere.

I read, or glance through, three blogs every day: here, Crooked Timber, and Balloon-Juice.

(Disclaimer before anyone else decides to jump on me about it: I do not read any right-wing blogs.)

(Disclaimer #2: of course we mostly don't know who people are in blog commenting sections; we only know how they present themselves and how we read them.)

Here and at BJ there's mix of genders -- as far as one can tell from what people say about themselves, and from handles.

CT has almost no obviously female commenters at this point; there were never many, and even the ones who used to show up pretty frequently seem to have skedaddled. (Another disclaimer: I rarely read CT carefully anymore, and the moderation system means that I may be missing a lot, because I don't systematically scan whole threads the way I used to.)

BJ is not very international, as far as I can tell.

CT is *very* international, and that's one of the things I like about it.

ObWi also seems to be fairly international.

BJ has some very visible self-identified black commenters.

It's hard to tell with CT.

What I'm leading around to saying is: it suddenly struck me that here we are talking about racism and none of us -- as far as I know -- are African-American.

That's ... sad.

P.S. Every time BJ has a meet-up and puts up photos, I find that it's an older crowd than I was imagining. As an older folk myself, I carelessly imagine that people who haunt internet neighborhoods are much younger than I am.

"I guess what I'm getting at is that equally enjoying the wealth is not the whole of what folks mean when they talk about racism.

I understand this, I prefaced my comments that I was only adding two thoughts, the first was on the notion we can talk about racism without the presumption of animus, the second was specifically about the enjoying the wealth that was created that bobbyp mentioned.

I had/have no intention of trying to address the broader nature of the discussion.

But was it racism on my part?

No. It's a recognition on your part that racism exists and is a possible dynamic in your presentation.

So then your definition of "racism" needs, at minimum, some tweaking.

In actuality, no, it is not. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that if you rob somebody, justice calls for righting that wrong?

That isn't a hard concept, but nobody who was robbed or who did the robbing is here to pay or get paid.

The wealth of the nation is available to provide for everyone, there are all kinds of people who have been taken advantage of and beaten down and all of them aren't Black. The way to ensure a fair society is to create it for everyone today.

All White people have not benefitted from that creation of wealth, or are we saying their lot in life is entirely their creation? They had white privilege economically and blew it?

IMHO the word "racism" needs adjectives like "interpersonal", "internalized", "systemic" and "institutional" to reach its full useful potential.

But, at root, I'm persuaded that the idea there even is such a thing as race is itself racism. (The book Racecraft had a lot to do with my thinking here.)

There are genes that code for skin color, just as there are for eye and hair color, but there are no genes for "race" - that's purely a social construct. When I meet a new person I rarely even notice what color their eyes are, but if they're african-american then it's literally the first thing I notice, and I'm unable to stop noticing it afterward. I'm not hostile, but I'm always aware of a person's race - which isn't even a real thing! - and it seems unlikely that my brain would be in such an all-fired rush to keep me informed of something unless my brain thought it was really important information. That implies that my brain is planning or expecting to behave differently in some way, whether I consciously intend it or no.

So, yeah, I seem to have the racism bug. This doesn't mean I hate anyone; it means I have a glitch in my brain, and it's better to know this and do my best to correct for it than to pretend it isn't there.

It's fine for me to say "I'm not a racist", because I bear no particular ill will toward people of color, and in fact the opposite.

It is fine. We may argue about what constitutes racism, but the fact is that calling someone racist is an insult. As such it is likely to do more harm than good when applied to well-intentioned but awkward behavior.

If I behave differently toward them because of their skin color, and I'm not a racist, what am I?

Why do we need a one-word description? What you may be is someone who recognizes a need to try hard to avoid race-based behavior, with the consequence that you come across as somewhat artificial.

I lived a long time in the south. I knew people, plenty of them, who had grown up in a racist society and had picked up the attitudes, yet were aware that these were wrong and had abandoned them. Nonetheless they no doubt behaved as you describe. Some, among other things, may act excessively friendly when meeting black people. But these individuals seem to me to be admirable, not worthy of being labelled racists.

It's hard to unlearn things.


"That implies that my brain is planning or expecting to behave differently in some way, whether I consciously intend it or no."

No clearer indicator of biased expectation than the thought that this person acts white.

I lived a long time in the south. I knew people, plenty of them, who had grown up in a racist society and had picked up the attitudes, yet were aware that these were wrong and had abandoned them. Nonetheless they no doubt behaved as you describe.

One of the hardest things in the world is to get rid of the culture you grew up in. Even when, intellectually, you know better. As I know first hand.

I grew up in a culture where homosexuality (even though most of us were unaware of having ever met a homosexual; although we doubtless had) was massively negatively viewed. Intellectually, I got past that. In fact, I decided that gay marriage should be legalized in the late 1980s -- which put me pretty far ahead of the curve. I've had gay co-workers (some out, some of whom came out during the time we were working together) and never had a problem with them.

And yet, just the thought of gay sex still makes my skin crawl. I know that's a remnant of my youth, and that it's nonsense. But the attitude lingers nevertheless. That some people have similar issues with race is totally unsurprising.

wj...srsly...opposite-sex couples do all kinds of kinky things that the Catholic Church wouldn't approve of too. Some of them are for all practical purposes indistinguishable from what gay people do. (This is a family blog, so I will leave the details to your imagination. ;-)

Does your skin crawl when you think about *that*?

So then your definition of "racism" needs, at minimum, some tweaking.

I'm sure that's so.

the fact is that calling someone racist is an insult.

Yes, that is almost certainly also true.

My headline here is not "who is a racist". It's "what is racism".

And it's a question, not a claim.

If I behave differently toward people who are a different color, is that racism? If it's not, what is it? If I just call it a less offensive word, does that change anything?

If I call it a less offensive word because people equate "racism" with "hatred", does that help, or does it actually make things worse, because it lets me deflect responsibility for my own thoughts and behaviors?

Those are my questions.

I'm not looking to label anybody as anything.

Mostly I'm just trying to own my own crap.

The government doesn't reimburse the victims as far as I am aware.

It can, and it has. cf Japanese internment. See also Mandatory Restitution Act of 1996 (feds don't reimburse directly, but provides ways to obtain restitution via the legal system).

The wealth of the nation is available to provide for everyone, there are all kinds of people who have been taken advantage of and beaten down and all of them aren't Black.

Certainly, there are "all kinds" but historically, unlike other groups, blacks were explicitly singled out for de jure as well as de facto discrimination. See also mass incarceration and stop and frisk...it's not as if these were policies of the "distant past".

There's the rub.

For another thread I'm sure but is this gay sex only? The idea of another man, or the acts themselves that you envision?

I know plenty of women cringing at the idea of gay sex, based on certain specifics, or those same acts with a heterosexual partner and lots of men same, none of whom have anything against gay men.

Following bobbyp @1:03, I'll The Color of Law., which he already cited but which deserves as much mention as it can get in this context.

bobbyp @1:02, not 1:03........

Does your skin crawl when you think about *that*?

Actually, no. I certainly think "Why would anyone want to (or be willing to) do that?!?!?" But I don't seem to have the same visceral reaction.

If I behave differently toward people who are a different color, is that racism? If it's not, what is it? If I just call it a less offensive word, does that change anything?

Yes, it does. It allows for some conversation, without shutting it down instantly. And without that conversation, nothing of substance will be accomplished to rectify the very real problems that you (correctly) identify.

That is why we should avoid spreading the label of "racism" far and wide. Words matter. And using a word that has, as others have noted, massive negative connotations to include behavior (or even attitudes absent behavior) which have only minor impacts, makes it harder to do something useful about the real problems.

The government doesn't reimburse the victims as far as I am aware.

It can, and it has. cf Japanese internment.

Note, however, that that was explicitly and apology, not restitution. And that it went to those who were actually interned. Not to their (unborn at the time) children and grandchildren.

If I behave differently toward people who are a different color, is that racism?

It depends on the behavior.

If it's not, what is it?

I don't have a good term for innocuous behaviors.

If I just call it a less offensive word, does that change anything?

Yes. If you tell someone that going out of their way to be say, welcoming to a new employee who is black is a racist act you will often make an unnecessary enemy, or start an irrelevant argument, and accomplish nothing.

If I call it a less offensive word because people equate "racism" with "hatred", does that help, or does it actually make things worse, because it lets me deflect responsibility for my own thoughts and behaviors?

It helps. I don't think it lets you deflect responsibility as long as you are aware of what you are doing. As I am quite certain you are.

Those are my questions.

Those are my answers.

is this gay sex only? The idea of another man, or the acts themselves that you envision?

It's the idea of another man. The acts themselves, with heterosexuals, fall into the "Why would anyone want to do that?" category. At least for me.

Yes, it does. It allows for some conversation, without shutting it down instantly.

Those are my answers.

All good, and thank you.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts on this thread, it's a charged topic and I appreciate your thoughtful and measured responses. They've been helpful to me.

Mostly this was me thinking out loud, which is not always fruitful. :) Thanks to everyone especially for not taking offense, in what can often be an offense-rich environment.

A story about thinking of people differently based on the category you perceive them to be part of:

Long ago when I was going to a UU church, there was one openly gay male couple (this was long enough ago so that gay people were still by default closeted...even though not as much so in UU churches).

A straight female friend of mine in that congregation (who knew I was gay ) told me something like what wj just said: she had a hard time concerning that couple, because gay sex seemed so icky to her.

I asked her: Well, do you sit around in church imagining the sex lives of anyone else?

Answer: No.

It was a revelatory moment.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing, wj. I would guess it's more likely that you're at least unconsciously putting yourself into a scene that you would ever want to be in, and reacting to that. (I'll send you my bill for the unsolicited amateur psychologizing later.)

I would guess it's more likely that you're at least unconsciously putting yourself into a scene that you would ever want to be in, and reacting to that.

I would guess the same. That's how it works for me. Maybe I just never met Mr. Right. ;^)

But does the same also hold for sex involving two people who are entirely unattractive, regardless of gender? Is it simply that all men are entirely unattractive by virtue of being men?

(And wouldn't the world be more fun if everyone was bisexual? Or would it just be more complicated?)

Yes, it does. It allows for some conversation, without shutting it down instantly.

Instead of assuming that conversation will be always be shut down by use of the word "racism", why don't we try understanding racism in a way that allows the conversation to keep going?

Racism is many things, but one of them is a cognitive error, like question begging or confirmation bias or the availability heuristic (all of which overlap with it to some extent). Everybody has cognitive errors; you don't need to be ashamed of them or angry about them, you just need to know they're there so you can correct for them. You can't fix a problem if you aren't willing to admit it's there.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing, wj. I would guess it's more likely that you're at least unconsciously putting yourself into a scene that you would ever want to be in, and reacting to that. (I'll send you my bill for the unsolicited amateur psychologizing later.)

I suppose I may be. Mostly, I try (generally successfully) not to think about it. Especially when I am around gay guys. I just deal with them as people, and it seems to work OK. I know the reaction would be there, but as long as I'm focused on the current situation, what they do elsewhere isn't a problem.

Instead of assuming that conversation will be always be shut down by use of the word "racism", why don't we try understanding racism in a way that allows the conversation to keep going?

It's a somewhat attractive idea. In some other reality. But in the world we live in, getting people, especially those who are already hypersensitive on the subject, to redefine the word for our convenience just isn't going to happen.

" I try (generally successfully) not to think about it. Especially when I am around gay guys."

You just need to get a few hugs, its like facing your fear of heights. The hugs feel just like hugs and you don't suddenly have sex. Not advised as a solution in work environments.

That isn't a hard concept, but nobody who was robbed or who did the robbing is here to pay or get paid.

but slavery wasn't the only robbery.

there's a whole wide range of ways in which white Americans continue to rob black Americans.

start with the simple black/white pay gap. then look at redlining. then look at unequal mortgages. then look at stop, arrest, conviction, sentencing and sentence length disparities.

all of that is supposed to be prevented by law. but the law isn't sufficient.

You just need to get a few hugs, its like facing your fear of heights.

On balance, dealing with my fear of heights would be more important for my quality of life. But at least I know where that came from. (Involves sweeping leaves off a flat roof, a skylight concealed by the leaves, and a fall through it to the patio below. Not injured, but....)

for wj.

there's a whole wide range of ways in which white Americans continue to rob black Americans.

start with the simple black/white pay gap.

OK, lets look at this one. Does anyone know if there is any research on whether this is consistent across the board, vs concentrated in a subset of industries/jobs? Is the problem the same in large corporations as in small businesses? Do we know how much is based on salary history? (In which case, a solution is going to need to focus on starting pay situations.)

In short, if we want to work on a problem, we need to be clear on exactly what we are dealing with. Otherwise, progress will be even more difficult.

then look at stop, arrest, conviction, sentencing and sentence length disparities.

Agreed. This needs to change. So how do we change it? Stop and arrest is going to take making changes to police personnel attitudes. Convictions is going to take, I suspect, general societal attitude changes. Although I suppose jury selection could help. Sentencing and sentence length is going to require changes in attitudes of judges. Any thoughts on how we make that happen? (Then, when we figure out how to make it happen anywhere, we can figure out how we expand that across the country.)

Assume (not a stretch) that pretty much everybody here agrees that these things should change. So can we move on to figuring out how to make it happen?

OK, lets look at this one.

sounds good to me.

Stop and arrest is going to take making changes to police personnel attitudes.

The opportunities for the police to engage with citizens could be greatly reduced by doing away with the laws on economic crimes; sex, drugs, and gambling. Except for marijuana, not going to happen anytime soon. And then there's the whole policing for profit thing.

Policing for profit is fine.

Thanks, Bobby.

I do wonder why they consider "differences in school quality" to be an unexplained factor. Seems like its something that could be teased out.

That said, if we see pretty much the same difference across all industries, all sizes of business, etc., etc. then it would appear that we are only going to get an improvement if we change attitudes on the part of those doing hiring. We already know that telling that they are racists is counterproductive. So what do we do that might actually change "hearts and minds"?

We can talk all we want about how there should be change. But what specifically can we (individually or collectively -- i.e. by law) that would make it happen?

"I suggest that it is, quite simply, racism. If you respond to people differently because of their skin color, that is racism."

This entails that 1) anti racist activists are racists, 2) sometimes racism is good.

Policing for profit is fine.

A lot of fines. :(

We already know that telling that they are racists is counterproductive.

Back in the good ol' days, telling segregationists they were racists did not apparently change their minds. And it most likely made a good number of them angry.

Some things don't change.

So it could be that your observation may just be the wrong line to initiate the inquiry.

Ask yourself how things did change in the great civil rights struggles of the past. There were (white) people back then defending their hurt feelings and invoking self-serving worries about "going too fast" on this issue. It was a commonly held (white) opinion at the time.

They were wrong then. They are wrong now.

I agree, even today we should call white segregationists racists. We do have a fair number of black segregationists today also.

Grist for the mill... a number of scholars in academia (Beth Coleman being my starting point), have begun to discuss race not as a biological trait or a social construct, but as a technology that can be used to accomplish different types of work (social, economic, etc.). I'm busy working through this way of thinking while I try to wrap my head around what afrofuturism is and does.

Thinking about race in this way certainly does a number on one's assumptions.

I agree, even today we should call white segregationists racists.

Well, there you go. So, would it be fair to call white flight to the suburbs (to send their kids to 'better schools') where blacks cannot follow racism? And if so, would it not seem reasonable to call such people, either collectively or yes, individually, racist?

We do have a fair number of black segregationists today also.

Hahahaha...um..no.

Does it matter, if there isn't hatred involved. Yes, I think it does. Because people perceive how you perceive them. And being perceived as different in a way that needs special treatment - whether it's animus, or the kind of weird walking-on-eggs deference that Liberals Like Me often adopt, or whatever form it might take - it harmful to people.

For various reasons I haven't had a lot of time to really engage with this thread, but every so often I've grabbed a moment and read the latest comments, because I find the question so interesting. I'm with russell on this subject, (in my case the walking-on-eggs, bending-over-backwards variety), and this causes me acute discomfort because of my family involvement in the fight against apartheid, which I was brought up to think of as pretty much the greatest evil in the contemporary world. Oh how I would wish to be colour-blind, and how I would wish that for all of us.

It reminds me of a story my sister told me about when my (white) South African cousin was visiting her and her late husband in San Francisco in the 90s. This cousin had been very active in what they call in SA "the struggle", had been in great danger from the apartheid regime several times, and had given refuge several times to ANC people on the run. While he was in SF, he went to a party with my sis and bro-in-law, who had some extremely cool musician friends. A black guy called Jonesy (drummer now for Tony Bennett, then for Natalie Cole and in the past for Ella Fitzgerald, and who played the drums at my bro-in-law's wake) was at the party, and he was standing next to my cousin as they were having a drink, and said to him: "how're you liking the party man?" To which my cousin replied "Oh, I don't know, I'm not used to being around so many white people". And not only was this a very fine joke, which made Jonesy and everyone else who heard it roar with laughter, but it grabbed the elephant in the room by the tail. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to acknowledge this problem with such grace.

A black guy called Jonesy

The great Harold Jones.

Besides Bennett, Cole, and Ella (as if there needs to anyone besides Ella!) the man worked with Basie, hands down the best swing rhythm section ever.

Nice.

Thanks russell! Telling you the story, I realised I never looked him up, and was about to...

It wasn't counterproductive to call the segregationists racists for the simple reason that the rest of the country was prepared to use force to make them change their behavior. (I can remember seeing TV news footage of the 82nd Airborne in Little Rock enforcing the desegregation of the high school.) Aided, in significant part, by the geographically limited range of legalized segregation.

Now, we are dealing with more spread out and less easily visible problems. And not ones which can be changed using the US Army. (Even if we had a President who was willing to.) So what worked then doesn't look likely to work now.

It isn't a matter of a lot of people not being racists. Even on my narrow definition. It's a matter of how you go about changing behavior.

Great story, GFNC. Everybody wants to know "what can we do"? I propose the creation of a number of new cities populated overwhelmingly by black people to which randomly drafted (bring back the draft!) white people are sent to undergo strenuous role reversal training.

This could take an extremely long time. But what the hey, the conservative policy response to white racism is to do virtually nothing....win, win.

An interesting brouhaha that seems related to the topic from several angles:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dc-lawmaker-says-recent-snowfall-caused-byrothschilds-controlling-the-climate/2018/03/18/daeb0eae-2ae0-11e8-911f-ca7f68bff0fc_story.html

https://forward.com/opinion/399476/the-shameful-character-assassination-of-trayon-white/

The two links are a month or so apart.

I propose the creation of a number of new cities populated overwhelmingly by black people to which randomly drafted (bring back the draft!) white people are sent to undergo strenuous role reversal training.

It would take an army of saints or conflict resolution ninja warriors to make that experiment not simply turn into a permanent reversal of the status quo. Maybe you think that's just what white people deserve, and maybe it's just what we'll get, eventually, even if our overlords turn out to be from that big economic rival across the Pacific in the end.

My life's greatest teacher, Danaan Parry, was someone I would have trusted to design the experiment, but he left before his time. He used to tell a story of going into a workshop in Northern Ireland (long before the peace process) where the two sides were already bickering when he arrived. He got everyone seated and said, "Okay, the men on this side of the room and the women on that," and ended up with Catholic and Protestant women seeing how much they had in common, ditto Catholic and Protestant men, through the lens of gender. [This is a HUGE topic...for another thread.]

I use the story not for the sake of the specifics, but just to cite the notion that sometimes you can't solve at a problem or conflict by butting your head against the well-fortified front door. You have to be creative and go through the back door, or from a side angle, or through a surreptitiously dug tunnel.

We're awfully stuck....I have a feeling only something very unexpected is going to unstick us, if indeed we ever get there.

Does anyone know if there is any research on whether this is consistent across the board, vs concentrated in a subset of industries/jobs? Is the problem the same in large corporations as in small businesses? Do we know how much is based on salary history?

https://psmag.com/economics/black-white-wage-gap-grows-as-americans-remain-in-denial

A new study finds Americans wildly overestimate the progress we have made toward racial economic equality.

Ironically, this news comes days after other research revealed a growing wage gap between blacks and whites, as well as an entrenched hiring bias against African Americans.

"These findings suggest a profound misperception of, and unfounded optimism regarding, societal race-based economic equality," concludes a research team led by Michael Kraus of the Yale University School of Management.

This ignorance "is likely to have important consequences for public policy," the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We cannot solve problems that we do not know exist, or that we think are already solving themselves."

These conclusions are based on four studies featuring 1,377 Americans—blacks and whites from both the top of the income ladder (greater than $100,000 annually) and the bottom ($40,000 or less). They were asked to estimate the hourly wages or annual income of black and white Americans at a specific point in the past (1947, 1973, or 1979) and during the second decade of the 21st century.

The results reveal "a shocking level of ignorance," the researchers write. "Overestimates of current levels of racial economic equality, on average, outstripped reality by roughly 25 percent."

We do have a fair number of black segregationists today also.

cool.

give em 400 years in power and we can call it even?

"give em 400 years in power and we can call it even?"

Do they get to enslave whitey for 250 of those years, and horsewhip the ones that act uppity? AFAAAF

first of all, apologies for not being able to keep up, real life has decided to take out its frustrations on me...

There are a number of things I'd like to take up, but I wouldn't give any of them the attention they deserve. Nonetheless, I didn't want to just make a drive-by comment, so if there is anything that I wrote that anyone has a question about, please let me know and I'll make time to reply.

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