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February 04, 2006

Re-Undoing Reverse Anti-Racism

I don't know what the title of this post actually parses to mean, but I'm going to hazard a guess. Racism is racism, anti-racism is the fight against racism. Reverse anti-racism is the leapy thing because it's like reverse racism. Except there is no such thing as reverse racism, it's simply a euphemism for black people 'being racist towards' whites. 'Being racist towards' someone is an overblown way of saying that something insulting happened that could possibly be construed as racist... and thats about as much patience as I or anyone should have for this mumbo-jumbo.

People without a logical bone in their body have been trying to wordsmith themselves into a fairy-ring of colorblind nirvana for generations in this country. Dollars to donuts Harriett Beecher Stowe didn't get it right herself. That doesn't stop Americans from trying - but since there is no justice, all we can do really is comfort ourselves with the notion that our consciences are OK. And for the sake of salve, opportunists find their ways into the public every once in a while.

My buddy Dave Hoggard put his foot down on some such nonsense which I haven't the patience to investigate. Since he's my pal, I trust his judgement, but since I'm something of a hardass on the subject, I think I'm in decent enough proximity to the subject to say 'Undoing Racism' is yet another farce. The conversation started off something like this:

In today's print edition of the Rhino Times, editor John Hammer takes my councilwoman, Dr. Goldie Wells, to task because she (ed: allegedly) called him a racist. Hammer reports that Wells, " ... said that I was a racist because I'm white and my parents are white, and my parents taught me to judge people by the color of their skin because my parents are racists."

So that means I must be a racist, too. Right? My parents are white ... just like John's. So logic tells me that Dr. Wells is calling my parents racists... just like John's. But the problem is, my parents are not racists. Just as John says of his parents in his column, mine did not teach me "...to judge people by the color of their skin..." as my councilwoman accuses without having ever having met them. To the contrary, I believe it was my dad who coined the phrase "... but by the content of their character" several years before Dr. King uttered those famous words. Calling my parents racists is offensive. Moreover, it is just an outright baldfaced lie.

How can it be that it is acceptable for a black person to stereotype me and my parents, and all white people with white parents, by labeling us all as racists when no evidence exists to support such a claim? I'll tell you why. Because many otherwise intelligent black people, and many white ones as well, are buying in to a bunch of revisionist horse manure.

And in the comments I heard something like this:

Our Undoing Racism workshop group (large and racially diverse) couldn't come to an agreement on the definition of "racism," so it doesn't surprise me that the small and less diverse group of commenters on this thread can't agree either. I don't believe there is a public consensus on the definition of the word.

And if we can't agree on the definition of the word, then it's difficult to discuss or debate a person's use of it without confusion and conflict, both of which we have here.

Horse manure indeed.

According to a survey I started about four years ago, about 14% of people surveyed are straight up racist. It doesn't bother me to know if they are black or white. In fact, the way I wrote the test, it doesn't matter. I designed it according to some fairly strong definitions which well researched. You can take my word for it, or you can read 'In My Father's House'. OK let's not be extreme, I'll give you a two shortcuts. The long shortcut is here, the short shortcut is as follows:

The belief that there are differences between human beings which are inherited such that they can be ordered into separate races in such a way that each race shares traits and tendencies which are not shared by members of any other race. Each race has an 'essence'.

All forms of racism build from the premise of racialism. Notice that racialism is not saying anything 'good' or 'bad' about races just that mutually exclusive races absolutely exist and divide the species. The racialist would argue that you could trace the bloodlines of Jews throughout history and that you can definitely determine the 'jewness' of any human being according to his racial 'essence'.

A racialist does not necessarily believe that the races, as we understand them in America are complete. He may say that there are, in actuality, 37 races. We just don't know what they are yet. The racialist's point however is that race, whatever it turns out to be, is deterministic of human behavior and that we need to know.

extrinsic racism:
The extrinsic racist says that there is a moral component to the 'essence' of a race which warrants differential treatment. These differences are, to the extrinsic racist, not particularly controversial. The extrinsic racist, while maintaining the belief for example that Jews are greedy, might not feel anything wrong with befriending a Jew. The extrinsic racist might very well applaud the Jew who proves himself not greedy and call him a credit to his race.

intrinsic racism:
The intrinsic racist says that the moral 'essence' of a race establishes an incontrovertible status for the race. No matter what an individual member of a race does he should be treated just like the rest of his race. the extrinsic intrinsic racist would argue that the Jew is so greedy that he would hide his greed in order to gain other's confidence or that this generous person is simply not a Jew.

So the very idea that people would be willing to pay 250 bucks to participate in a seminar that doesn't have definitions that are this good is prima facia fraud as far as I'm concerned. But the various failures of anti-racism don't really surprise me. We have endured two generations of liberal politics cowed by various radical sentiments and fuzzy wishful thinking and swallowed it whole. It's no wonder that we're barfing up garbage. I could take that metaphor even further, but I'm not really upset by the pervasiveness of idiocy. I just call it as I see it. I dont' think much has changed since the last time I called it.

So here's the quick answer for people who get confused over the matter of power and racism. Racism is a moral error. So long as a person is in moral error it doesn't matter what they do. It matters what they think. Most Americans are powerless anyway. What matters is their intent. Free your mind and your ass will follow. If you want to know how, you can start with the Survey and then on to the Race Man's Home Companion. I'm not going to link you to it. Find it yourself.

Posted by mbowen at February 4, 2006 10:28 PM

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(Cobb, look at your definition of intrinsic racism, at the sentence "the extrinsic racist would argue that the Jew is so greedy..." - I think you meant "intrinsic".)

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) at February 5, 2006 07:05 AM

Ah, ha, Michael, here I am, one of the clueless. I've been a participant in many undoing racism workshops and am hoping to become a trainer myself. And I am white. You must find this amusing. A bunch of white people sitting around talking about something they can't possibly understand. THAT is, my friend, my point. I am unfortunately inarticulate about it. What my Greensboro friends can't understand is that just because they can't see racism, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I haven't seen a million bucks, but I know it exists. I haven't seen God, but...okay, bad example. What my point in a lot of language is, racism is alive and well and I don't see it. I don't have to. But it's there. That's all. And if I can't see racism, how do I recognize who is racist. Somebody has to be. Why, in our own county, a member of David's party marketed a t-shirt with a picture of a boy urinating on the NAACP logo. That was an easy one. It's the more subtle ones that white people don't see. They just can't.

As long as we're talking,we may, just MAY find some solutions.

Unfortunately not in MY lifetime.


Posted by: jw at February 5, 2006 03:05 PM

This is disturbingly difficult to answer. My gut reaction is to advise you not to fight shadows. If you can't see it, should you go looking for it?

I believe that all the subtle racism is really not worth fighting. If blackfolks are too weak to handle subtle racism, then maybe they shouldn't succeed. The point of getting healthy is not to try and eliminate every microbe, but to strengthen the immune system. At some point you have to have a line in choosing your battles. Are you fighting crime, or just making people comfy?

If I were to go on an anti-racism crusade today, I would probably go back and review Theodore Cross' book again. It's over 20 years old, but it did have facts and figures. It's called "The Black Power Imperative".

I look at racism in terms of its ability to retard blackfolks. I look at the progress of blackfolks in the same terms as anyone else. What is a good nation supposed to deliver to its people? A political voice, work, safety, justice. How do you measure it? Look at the objective measures. Now figure out how racism impacts X or Y.

But here's the thing. Racism is decreasing and the strength of blackfolks is increasing. One of the reasons people can't agree is because the stakes are small. When the stakes are large, clarity is easy - everyone can see the problem, but when it's an insult on a t-shirt? How does that stop Jamal from getting a job?

Let's go back to Effective Resonance

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 6, 2006 07:42 AM

Not fighting shadows is good. Every now and then I hear a complaint and I think "if that's the worst you have to complain about, you're in pretty good shape." But it may not be the worst. It may be that people are not prioritizing problems and shrugging off the trivial stuff. If I know that you are not going to complain because somebody locked their car doors in front of you or some such crap, then I'll pay attention when you do complain.

I get very tired of loser-talk. Cobb, you talk like a winner. It's inspirational. It's why I keep reading your stuff.

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) at February 6, 2006 04:25 PM

Hi Cobb,

It's cool you have an opinion, and it's cooler you back it up with some reasons. Sure I disagree with you, and I don't think a bunch of mostly-white people blogging it up and trying to figure out what racism is and isn't will do much but shore up existing belief-walls.

Also, I think it's easier to get to your definitions looking at it on a person-by-person basis -- however, racism can exist on an institutional as well as a personal level.

That being said, here's a good study & online survey from some Harvard folk designed to pull out subconscious bias. Go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and click the “Demonstration” button.


Posted by: Joe Murphy at February 9, 2006 05:00 AM

I took those tests when they first came out and had no problem passing. But I don't think implicit assumptions do anything more than indicate individual bias. Further I don't think that the negative assumptions that any individual might possess necessarily rises to the standard of actionable offense.

Understand that whatever people think, and I strongly believe that most people want to do right, that desire doesn't necessarily translate into action, nor is translated action necessarily effective. The reason I am not impressed with anti-racist theory is because it doesn't translate into action.

The good news is that the same is the case on the flipside. A bunch of fools driving pickup trucks with the stars and bars doesn't do jack. So I basically shut out the noise on both sides of the equation. I want to see political impact. I want to see economic impact.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2006 01:14 PM

Heck Cobb, good answer. I thought in the shower this morning that not discussing it is worse than discussing it. Good discussion generates ideas, and ideas seed action.
So here goes. The "actionable offense" level of racism is waning. The subtle level that exists happens for a few reasons, class-based inertia being a major one.
I want to know how you deal with something like Harvard's legacy program? "Eventually it won't matter"? Or, "there are more important things to focus on"?
I think the strength of your argument lies in its "lets be honest here" angle. Yeah, definitions get weaker the more complicated they get. But this issue is about momentum and perception as much as it is about action and economics. You're not going to get action without momentum.

Posted by: Joe Murphy at February 9, 2006 10:31 PM

While I respect the principle behind arguments against Harvard legacies and do generally agree that uniformity breeds complacency, my first thought is to qualify the questioner.

Last night I was arguing to myself about this or that related to race raising, it's part about a piece I'm writing now called 'what do you mean we?'. The question i had was related to those people who dig at the morality of corporate wealth. I doubted that any of them would bet $100 bucks on the fate of Wal-Mart, or know how quickly and easily they could be a part of the investor class. Here's eTrade, login and buy a stock. Five minutes.

See, I know that there's a great component of racist complaint that eminates from people who are great moralizers but don't *know* much. Because they are essentially right and seek to push provocatively when everybody else loses energy and interest we tend to respect them as 'watchdogs' or as 'canaries' in a moral coalmine. But I wouldn't expect a watchdog to know the value of the house he guards, or to negotiate its price. Nor would I expect a canary to work out the chemistry that helps to explain the toxicity of mine gases. Likewise everybody who doesn't make it into Harvard because of legacies is not necessarily qualified to get into Harvard for any other reason. But I don't want to hear complaining from people who don't even apply to Harvard or couldn't locate Harvard on their own career path.

There's a lot of ignorance out there that is explained away as the result of a 'general racism'. It's not necessarily stupidity but it is ignorance. The arguments come in the form of the provocation, 'where are all the black physicists?' and then some ridiculous statistic begging questions of racist discrimination. But you're not hearing stories about the black kid who was doing calculus at the age of 12 who was denied a math scholarship because of some racist legacy. If there are no black kids doing calculus in middle school, if there are no black retail owners competing against Wal-Mart, then there aren't.

Bring it down to cases. What is racism stopping YOU from doing? Oh, are you that demoralized? Maybe you need some pride pills. There is one guaranteed way to beat racism and it is not to pray that the oppressor relent.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2006 08:16 AM

I dont mean to simplify things but as far as I am concerned racism is an IGNORANCE of another persons culture/race. What people dont know they are generally SCARED of. It works from and to any culture/race. I have first hand experience as I live in London in a mixed relationship and have an angel of a boy who is 5, and have experienced problems from white and black people. Live life as a Human Being and treat others as Human Beings and there would be more harmony. Im not saying it would solve everything but it is a bloody good start. Im no hippy but you know what that is the way I live my life. In any walk of life understanding anothers culture or race is difficult but if we all try just a little, surely that would at least put our children on the right track.

Posted by: Claire at February 11, 2006 03:51 PM