Sunday, April 24, 2011

Racism is Alive and Well in America

It's just a variety of racism that's politically incorrect to discuss because the perpetrators aren't white. Eric Holder was right when he said we're a nation of cowards for refusing to have an open discussion about race. But it's guilt and fear and shame and condescension and politics that keeps us from having this discussion.


White people in this country are pathologically guilty about the sins of the past, even though most white people today had nothing to do with lynchings, Jim Crow laws, slavery, institutional discrimination, etc. We are also guilty about the economic disparities between whites and Hispanics and blacks, even though these disparities have far more to do with productivity disparities than racism, which in turn has everything to do with cultural differences and virtually nothing to do with race. Guilt forces white people into only wanting to have discussions about race that adhere to the white oppressor narrative, and eschewing any other.


It is part of school curriculum everywhere to spend a lot of time reading, discussing, and watching films about racism in American history. Mississippi Burning, In the Heat of the Night, Separate But Equal, Brother Future, countless documentaries, etc, contribute to the American school student's understanding of what race relations were like in the old days (or at least, we are getting one part of a much larger story). Blacks and possibly Hispanics are seemingly unaware of just how terrified white people are of being called racist, partly as a result of this. Once, when I was working at a drive-through, the kitchen was taking too long to prepare a customer's order (nobody in the kitchen could have a clue what race the drive-through customers were and were not in a position to drag their feet, more to the point we had an racially diverse staff), and as I was finally handing the customer his order, he said "I hope it's not because of my color that it took so long." I was terrified at being associated with lynch-mobs, hood-wearing rednecks, George Wallace, shouting low-life mobs, etc., so I instantly put an extra order of fries in his bag to make up for the wait. Giving the customer a lagniappe is ordinary when the customer had to wait too long or there was some other problem, as a way of keeping customers happy. But what I did with the fries was solely a white guilt move.

After he drove away it occurred to me how powerful white guilt is, and how, if I were black or Hispanic or American Indian, I could exploit the heck out of it for personal gain. And I strongly believe that many many people do exploit white guilt for personal gain. An otherwise unemployable humanities PhD (but I repeat myself) could exploit white guilt to be given a professorship (or a whole studies department) where other humanities PhDs have to settle for working in book shops, for example. I don't see how any good can come about by lessening the incentives for an entire ethnic group to educate itself and become productive. Booker T. Washington was right, and his approach was the approach adopted (not according to any grand plan but due to people following the incentives they faced and adhering to the work ethic they group up in) by Jewish, German, and Chinese immigrants to this country, or to Brazil, or to Argentina, or to South Africa, or to Malaysia, etc. But I'm getting off-track. Many non-whites are also afraid of being called a "race traitor" or some such thing for discussing openly things that need to be addressed, which leads me to.....


Here I'm speaking primarily of the shame felt by blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and other economically disparate racial groups about the dysfunctional cultures that have gripped them. To a certain extent, these dysfunctional cultures formed as a reaction to the institutions of society. An entire cultural shift happened in many American Indians groups as a result of forced resettling and segregation onto reservations. An entire culture shift happened as a result of huge masses of blacks resorting to welfare instead of work, making illegitimacy and absentee fathers the norm among blacks where once it was the exception.

The particulars are for a whole other post (indeed I've talked about this before on this blog as the interplay between culture and economics is a favorite subject of mine), but the long and short of it is that many black people feel deep shame about the high crime rate, high illiteracy rate, widespread improvidence, uncouthness, even "loud-talking." It is something that many minority groups do not discuss in front of white people, but only in racially uniform company. And it is shame that keeps people from discussing this dysfunctional culture openly.


This is one you don't hear about much but it was introduced to me by reading a Larry Elder book (The Ten Things You Can't Say In America). It is the concept that whites hold non-whites to lower standards. For example, he tells the story of an attendee of some conference on minorities in film who spoke to the group about how hard it was for him to find work in the industry, and how the attendee (who was a black guy) believe he was the victim of racism from would-be employers. Larry Elder asked a white woman who was in attendance, during the drive home, what she thought of the speaker. Her answer was that she felt sorry for the guy, and that he may have a point about racism. Then Larry asked her what her opinion would be if the guy was white, but said the same things and spoke in the same way. She realized her mistake. She said that if the guy were white, and spoke in the same way, she would say that the guy came across as uneducated, uncouth, and speaking bad English, and that she wouldn't hire a guy like that either. She realized she had two standards, one for black people, one for white people.

For black people, her standards were lower. Her attitude, and the attitude I see from many whites, is verging on subconscious but it goes like this: "I shouldn't really expect black people to speak good English or be all that educated or work hard or have a good job, that would be expecting too much from a black guy." You saw this white condescension on display when Obama ran for President and people couldn't stop talking about how incredibly bright he was because he said "before" instead of "befo" (unless he was speaking to an all-black audience) and because he used proper English and had been to Harvard. It's like how when people say their dog is really smart because it can open a door, when if the brightest thing a human could do is open the door you'd call them mentally retarded.

A lot of white people just have lower expectations for black people or Hispanics and don't even see it as a racist attitude, when it totally is. "Oh, they couldn't learn proper English because it wasn't spoken in their household." That excuse never held back Asian immigrants. I've met more Asian immigrants than I can count whose parents are from another country and who themselves were born elsewhere and grew up in Asian-American communities but who speak flawless English. But people have one standard for one group and another standard for another.

It is this white condescension that prevents people from saying things like "you know, maybe we should stop glorifying rap stars who have been unrepentant gang members, pimps, murderers, thugs, etc." Because white condescension will make white people think "nah, this is normal for black people, in their culture it's okay so we shouldn't say anything." You simply let all of the gangsterism, thuggery, misogyny, crass materialism, criminality, illiteracy, innumeracy, etc. pass because after all, "they're only black."

White people often don't realize they're doing this until it's pointed out to them.


And the last thing that keeps us from having an honest discussion about race is politics, which is another way of saying it's about power, ego, and money. I suppose, since racism was prolonged in this country by politics in the first place it shouldn't be a surprise that because of political reasons, we still haven't sorted all this race stuff out. It was the government that sanctioned slavery as a legal institution and Africans as property, it was the government that put into place keeping blacks from moving into this or that neighborhood, or owning land, or marrying whites, or voting, or using this or that park or public facility, and it was the government that decided to make up for these shameful acts by swapping out black fathers and installing the welfare state instead (don't agree with me? Lyndon Johnson, one of the architects of the modern American welfare state, agreed with me), and it was the government that lessened incentives for underachieving minorities to do better by enacting racial quotas (either real or de facto) in hiring and promotion and subcontracting.

There's a lot of politics invested in the racial status quo, a lot of people in positions of political power or with cushy jobs who might find themselves forced to get a real job if we could move past our obsession/fear/guilt/shame/etc. over race.

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