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September 24, 2004

Einstein's Negro

Care of Art McGee

There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the "Whites" toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards
Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which
we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this
country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense
of responsibility, reliability."

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers
from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these
black people from their homes by force; and in the white
man's quest for wealth and an easy life they have been
ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery.
The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the
desire to maintain this unworthy condition.


---Albert Einstein
"The Negro Question", 1946

Posted by mbowen at September 24, 2004 02:06 AM

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Engaged in the inquiry from Ray Garraud
Sometimes the best way to deal with a question is to engage your imagination in the inquiry. And, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, "Words ... must be interpreted and expressed in order to clarify and give meaning to [Read More]

Tracked on September 25, 2004 09:08 PM

Comments

Einstein was right in '46, and this situation still exists (albeit to a much lesser degree) today.

But it continues to serve NAACP and ilk well as raison d'tre.

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 24, 2004 02:45 PM

[Paraphrasing from Steven Steinberg's book "The Ethnic Myth" pg. 288]

With the emergence of a large demographic of upper middle class and upwardly mobile blacks, white society has now come to recognize a new face of black America, and has responded by refining racism to take class into account.

Instead of blanket stereotypes that once applied to all blacks, whites have learned to discriminate between what they perceive to be respectable blacks (who are reasonably tolerated) and those blacks who bear the stigma of the ghetto and are still objects of racial stereotyping, fear and scorn.

The distinction between race and class however, should not obscure the racist dimensions of behavior that may be motivated by class but is racist in its consequences.

Posted by: Ray G. at September 24, 2004 05:16 PM

If you look at Einstein's statement, it indicates a stereotyping on his part as well. We whine today about 1,000 lost in Iraq; think of the 600,000 losses it took to end slavery, and the resolve by men of good will it took to endure that loss and stay the course. Our country had many fewer people then, and many fewer resources. If you look at the casualty lists for the various battles, the larger number were white Union soldiers. When Einstein makes the statement he does, he misunderstands "white America" as a whole in the same statement that lumps me (I'm white) into some amorphous and occasionally evil mass that desires to exploit or grind others under their collective heels.

Do I think that many people like Einstein described exist today? Yes I do, and I've seen worse, sometimes from those who claim to be on the other side of the circle. That's where I think Einstein went in his commentary.

Ray G.'s commentary above also sort of leaves me agast -- it's similar to the Einstein piece in terms of its baldness, but dissimilar in that he defeats his own statements in just a few paragraphs (and not Socratically either). After all, how does anyone become upper middle class or upwardly mobile except through their own exertions? Should they not be recognized for those exertions? I believe that a major life goal is improvement of economic status.

The one part of Ray G.'s commentary I don't understand is the "behavior that may be motivated by class, but is racist in its consequences" statement. Is he saying, for example, that I am a racist if I deny a black person a job because I determine during the interview that she lacks the skills necessary to perform the job, and cannot quickly obtain them? Am I therefore a racist because I failed to consider racial circumstances (e.g., previous racial discrimination against the person) that may have prevented them from having the skill set necessary for my job?

In my mind, of course, I am not. I think Ray G. is sayng I am.

Posted by: Uncle Smrgol at September 24, 2004 11:29 PM

"...Is he saying, for example, that I am a racist if I deny a black person a job because I determine during the interview that she lacks the skills necessary to perform the job, and cannot quickly obtain them? Am I therefore a racist because I failed to consider racial circumstances (e.g., previous racial discrimination against the person) that may have prevented them from having the skill set necessary for my job?..."

Unk, Let's say you are black employer in exactly this situation, reaching the same hiring decision. I wonder if Ray G. would conclude a racism aspect? Or would it merely be you're seeking a good job/skills match?

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 25, 2004 04:08 AM

Hold on there, gentlemen, I think some clarification is in order.

I prefaced my comments above saying that I was paraphrasing from Sociologist Stephen Steinberg's book the "Ethnic Myth". The bulk of the statement is not mine, it is Mr. Steinberg's opinion.

I'd like to further clarify that I agree with the author's assertion.

Your rebuttal to the statement is clearly not within the context that the author asserts. The author is simply describing one aspect of modern racial prejudice, that's all. You've spun into something that it is not.

Mr Steinberg's book looks at Race through an historical framework of ethnicity, class, locality and other social conditions. For further clarification, I'll suggest that you read his book (he has written several on matters of race and ethnicity).

Posted by: Ray G. at September 25, 2004 07:47 PM

I'd like to further clarify:

"behavior that may be motivated by class, but is racist in its consequences" statement. Is he saying, for example, that I am a racist if I deny a black person a job because I determine during the interview that she lacks the skills necessary to perform the job ...


If you're a hiring manager interviewing a black applicant, how can you hiring decision be based on "class"? I find that unlikely. Of course it would be based on the applicant's credentials. So yours is not a good example.

As an example of a behavior motivated by "class" ... let's say a city wants to construct low cost housing in a middle class white neighborhood. If most of the community opposes and resist the construction thinking that the move would introduce poor blacks into their middle class neighborhoods - The motivation here could be one of "class" - as I'm sure most of the neighborhood may not be racist.

Now let's say the white community succeeds in not allowing the construction to go on, and the blacks that would have otherwise benefited from this low cost housing are disenfranchised. The consequence can therefore be "Racist" by definition because it perpetuates racial distinctions and inequalities.

Have a good day gentlemen.

Posted by: Ray G. at September 25, 2004 08:20 PM

Ah, I understand. NIMBY can be driven by racism.

Got it.

Posted by: Uncle Smrgol at September 26, 2004 02:17 AM

You bring up the term NIMBY (not in my back yard) which leads in some very interesting directions.

The NAMBY movement has many aspects. It can also include undesirable neighborhood projects such as the dumping of toxic waste, a commercial chain that threatens community well-being, a highway, shopping malls etc

But I'll keep my reply in context to address your assumption.

The most common reason for NYMBYism is that the placement of low income housing results in decreased property values. Numerous studies have proven this assumption wrong. This NYMBYism syndrome is rooted in American fears, ill-informed assumptions and suspicion of people who are different than themselves.

In 1989, Ed Koch, former mayor on New York city said, "at the very moment when barriers are coming down all over the world, we will find ourselves marching backward toward the imaginary safety of feudal fiefdom divided by NAMBY walls", and I agree.

The NIMBY phenomenon (with regard to housing) not only hurts individuals and groups, but it prevents many communities of all sizes from enjoying the benefits of diversity.

Posted by: Ray G. at September 26, 2004 08:25 AM

"...The NIMBY phenomenon (with regard to housing) not only hurts individuals and groups, but it prevents many communities of all sizes from enjoying the benefits of diversity..."

In what way does it hurt individuals?
In what way does it hurt groups?

And there are all kinds of diversity; diversity in skin color, diversity in place of birth, diversity in cultural appreciation. All of these may be found to benefit the community.

And then there is diversity of ethical (NOT ethnic) values. THIS is where many people draw the NIMBY line; Do you blame them?

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 26, 2004 10:47 AM

How does NIMBY hurt individuals? How does NIMBY hurt groups?

It leads to diminished incomes, access to education, access to quality health care among blacks, latinos, and poor whites. It leads to increased access to environmental waste sites, increased poverty, increased hypersegregation, which negatively impact groups and individuals within those groups.

At the same time I hypothesize (but don't know the lit here) that it also negatively impacts the people who fight the hardest for it. It increases their stress levels, their commute times, their health care bills, etc.

What ethical line are you talking about?

Posted by: Lester Spence at September 26, 2004 11:42 AM

Let's consider the ethical line first. "Life, faculties, production in other words, individuality, liberty, property this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. " ~ Frdric Bastiat, The Law

In many places in this world these rights are abridged. An ethic of the US is that we seek to protect these rights for all citizens. But if the government tries to make my neighborhood into a place where those who have a history of violating said rights will likely settle, that's an ethical "diversity" (heh...) I have a right to protest. Then NIMBY is justified, isn't it?

Or is my only recourse to call the cops (and hope they arrive in time) when my life, liberty, or property rights (or a neighbors' ) are violated?

But beyond that, is there ANY PLACE IN AMERICA where a person cannot get an education, a job, a flu shot because he is forced to live in an un-diverse community? American society is practically defined by the upward mobility of its citizens.

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 26, 2004 12:22 PM

I'll even go a step farther. In my city, the best hospitals are located in the "combat zone" - the street-crime, low-income, substance-abuse areas of town.

In fact, the US military sends its doctors to these hospitals for real-life training in battleground injuries. A very realistic apprenticeship for the medics, coupled with a low-income clientele who benefit from the treatment.

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 26, 2004 12:30 PM

TL said: Let's consider the ethical line first. "Life, faculties, production in other words, individuality, liberty, property this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. " ~ Frdric Bastiat, The Law

I have considered the ethical and since you're quoting Bastiat, I will as well (for the sake of comparison).

>>... Since all persons seek well-being and perfection, would not a condition of justice be sufficient to cause the greatest efforts toward progress, and the greatest possible equality that is compatible with individual responsibility... ~ Frdric Bastiat, The Law
TL said: "In many places in this world these rights are abridged. An ethic of the US is that we seek to protect these rights for all citizens. But if the government tries to make my neighborhood into a place where those who have a history of violating said rights will likely settle, that's an ethical "diversity" (heh...) I have a right to protest. Then NIMBY is justified, isn't it?"

Who are these people of whom you speak that have a history of violating other's rights . Certain beliefs can perpetuate the problem and hinder a constructive discussion - this generalization-syndrome where a whole group is lumped into the same category. The rights of all American citizens should be protected and respected. Of course you have the right to protest, but so does everyone.

TL said: Or is my only recourse to call the cops (and hope they arrive in time) when my life, liberty, or property rights (or a neighbors' ) are violated?"

Aye, there's the rub. Are you speaking from experience or from pre-conceived notions?

TL said: " But beyond that, is there ANY PLACE IN AMERICA where a person cannot get an education, a job, a flu shot because he is forced to live in an un-diverse community?"

Yes. unfortunately, there are many "un-diverse communities".

TL said: "American society is practically defined by the upward mobility of its citizens."

Yes, you're right. Upward mobility for all citizens.

Posted by: Ray G. at September 26, 2004 03:01 PM

"...Who are these people of whom you speak that have a history of violating other's rights ..."

I'm speaking of individuals - not groups - whose transgressions are a matter of public record.

"...Yes, you're right. Upward mobility for all citizens..."

For all who EARN it.

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 26, 2004 04:30 PM

Could you give me a date for that citation from Bastiat?

Posted by: Lester Spence at September 27, 2004 08:12 PM

Frdric Bastiat, "The Law" :

Most references cite 1850, although I have also seen 1840

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 28, 2004 12:55 PM

Ok. How did Bastiat's define "property" and "man"? While I understand thinking about language as timeless and universal, it is very time-bound.

Posted by: Lester Spence at September 28, 2004 01:13 PM

Read for yourself at:

http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html

(If you prefer the original French version, it's at the same site)

Posted by: True_Liberal at September 29, 2004 06:57 AM