Friday, April 6, 2007

Racism against minorities versus majorities

I was thinking about this the other day, and finally decided to try to put it to words. In all these threads about being white == being racist, there seems to be a certain assumption that underlies it all, the assumption that all white people more or less owe whatever position or job or anything they have solely to their whiteness, because more qualified non-whites would otherwise have taken their position.

But this is a rather precarious notion when whites are a majority. For instance, I think African-Americans are only about 14% of the population. Whites are over 50%, in some places significantly so. What this means from a practical standpoint is that, all other things being equal, racism or not, when you are white and you are competing for a job, your main competitor from a purely demographic standpoint will be another white person. Because if, say, there are 10 people representing the population as a whole vying for a job, then 7 or so of them will be white, and only one will be black. If there are three positions that those 10 people are seeking (in competition with each other) then no matter how well the African-American does - if he or she is the best qualified, or at least in the top 3, that still leaves two slots available for white applicants. So really, the only white people to get a benefit from racism are those at the margins - those who are at the bottom end of those who would get a job who might only get one if a qualified minority is kept out of the position due to racism. The other two whites would have gotten the job regardless, because somebody had to fill those jobs, and there simply are far more white people in the population than African-Americans.

And this simple demographic fact means that no matter how bad the racism is, there simply are not enough employment "spoils" to go around to benefit all whites - because the main competitor for things, such as jobs, will always be other whites as long as they are in the majority. So to blanket claim, for instance, that all whites have their jobs over non-whites due to racism is just plain false, even if there is rampant racism (which today, there isn't - in fact, in employment, it is ILLEGAL and you can pay MILLIONS OF DOLLARS if you violate that law). I don't claim it is gone, or that people still might risk losing their businesses and livlihood in order to continue racism, but it is far far less than it used to be.

Now, this demographic situation didn't exist where there has been racism elsewhere - South Africa being the prime example. There, whites as a whole really did benefit from racism because they were a very small part of the population, so there probably was almost enough employment "spoils" to go to all of them, regardless of qualifications. But then, the United States is not South Africa.

I know employment isn't everything, but it sure is hell is the most important thing in one's life as an adult unless you are independently wealthy. Later, when I have time, I am going to tackle the long list of alleged white benefits I've seen mentioned elsewhere.

NOTE: I sure hope this won't turn into a blog that comments mostly on racism - but I guess I haven't quite exhausted my words on this subject as of yet. I have other things I want to talk about - prosecutors, for instance, but that will have to wait for another day.

Oh, and I seem to have gotten in trouble in this thread for asking a question, which was only slightly loaded, but which I genuinely wanted the answer to.


Tanglethis said...

Hi Disgusted, I wandered over from apostate, but I recognize you from TG's blog.

I'm not up on the particular discussions you allude to here, so I don't know whether this point was addressed specifically by them; I apologize if I'm covering old territory. You seem to be arguing that whites do not owe their jobs to white privilege because they are the racial majority and because there are in laws in place to prevent employers from racial discrimination. That's mostly true on either count, though there are notable exceptions to both. But it's not a fair representation of white privilege unless you take history into account. I am sitting in my office at the university where I work, and I *know* that my white privilege played a role in my sitting here--not because my university selected me over an equally qualified person of color, but because the US's history of racial oppression ensured that there would be far fewer persons of color qualified to take this position. I would like to say that time is mending that rift in education, but I haven't seen evidence. I used to teach public school in a city with a large black population and a high poverty rate. My students in particular were mostly from a housing project that was founded in this century when a nearby town chased its black population out--they had to go somewhere. My students' parents were educated when schools were racially separate and not the slightest bit equal. Frankly, in that school system, the same is still true. That's how close racism is to us now.
Those students have opportunities to succeed and some of them will, but they begin with disadvantages that most white people don't even think about. Not having to even think about it is another form of privilege.

DBB said...

I understand what you are saying. I do. But again, your statement that there would be "far fewer people of color" to compete with again doesn't take into account demographics - again, there are far more qualified whites you had to beat out to get to your position than there would have been qualified non-whites, just due to demographics, even without any discrimination. So without knowing the specifics of how you got your position and how your family before you got their position, all you can do is look at the overall statistics, and by that, odds are you and your ancestors got your position because you were more qualified than other whites, not because some qualified non-white person was excluded. Unless you were exactly on the margin, barely qualified for the position, the lowest unqualified white person, could you say that you might have gotten the position to some degree because you were white.

I think really the main artifact of discrimination that exists today is what you said about poverty - if the poverty rate for non-whites is higher (I don't know that it is) it could be because non-whites, when freed to fully participate in the economy, started out poor, while only 60-70%of whites were poor (or whatever the percentage was) - and it is can be very hard, regardless of race, to pull one's family out of being poor. (There are still far more white poor people than non-white in terms of sheer numbers, that I do know for a fact - and most of them will remain poor on down the line). But then you don't need racism to perpetuate the discrepancy there - just the simple fact that it is hard to get out of poverty will do the trick. So this makes it more about class than race. If a non-white makes it out of poverty into the middle or upper class, they will likely stay there, same as a white person.

And there are mechanisms in place to make it easier for non-whites to get out of poverty - there was affirmative action (and still is in some places - though I don't really agree with it) - and there are also laws that make it illegal to discriminate such that even the threat of a frivolous discrimination suit is enough to keep some employers from firing or not hiring less qualified minority candidates (another form of affirmative action).

And I'm sorry, some of the "privileges" attributed to being white are just ridiculous - "not having to think about disadvantages of others" - uh, ok, and how much money is that worth? How much do you think about the disadvantages of those who are poor and white? Everyone, EVERYONE has disadvantages of some sort, some more than others, but unless you are a Billionaire, or in the power elite, you are pretty much in the same boat as most everyone else.

For a privilege to mean something, it has to be something tangible, not some fuzzy thing that allows you to just claim there's 'privilege' because you don't have to think about having privilege.

Ugly people are discriminated against, regardless of race. You'll pretty much never see an ugly executive at a company. Is it a form of 'non-ugly privilege' not to have to think about that if you are not ugly?

This really motivates me to go back to that list of 'privileges' and address them one by one - I think most of them are just the sort of b.s. I see on stupid lawsuits where all sorts of ridiculous 'damages' are claimed that really amount to not much of anything.

DBB said...

Oh, and tanglethis, thanks for posting - a conversation is always more stimulating than ranting toward empty internet space... ;)

Tanglethis said...

Dbb, it can't be "more" about class than race because class and race are inextricably linked in this country. I can see that is true in the communities where I've lived, and I can recommend a reading list to fill out the information for places I have not lived: John A. Williams, Chester B. Himes, etc.
It's true that there are whites who live in poverty, but it is also undeniably true that in some cities, the majority of citizens living in poverty are black and are living in poverty *because* they or their recent ancestors were black--as in the example I gave. I could give more, but I want to refocus on that one because I can speak from observation rather than generalizing, and I'm rather alarmed at the way you've flattened that experience (which is unfortunately not exceptional, particularly in the Southern US) into a disadvantage on par with the disadvantages "anyone" could have. Are my former students "in the same boat" as any other students in the city, or even students of the same economic level but different race? No. Absolutely not. It's foolish to think so. Because although there are mechanisms in place that would seem to give them a leg up over poor white students--affirmative action, minority scholarship--there are also less official mechanisms in place to keep them away from positions where they could receive those benefits. They have to decide to get a high-paying job (affirmative action is not typically practiced in the service industry) or a college education, a rather remarkable decision if they have no family in such jobs, don't know anyone who went to college, and do not often see people of their color in such positions anyway. They have to avoid being drafted into or victimized by crime in their own neighborhoods, to which the police force turns a blind eye as long as they stay out of white/wealthier (pretty much the same thing) neighborhoods. They have to acquire the skills to pass college entry exams, which is possible but difficult given the public school education available--more qualified career teachers naturally seek out more comfortable positions, so the school where I taught had a high turnover rate for poorly trained teachers (like myself, being part of one of those band-aid programs) who were hard pressed to actually teach anything with No Child Left Behind sanctions revising our syllabi at ever turn.

It is a privilege to not have to realize the extent to which you're privileged. I'm reminded of something I heard someone say about George W. Bush recently.... "He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." I think something similar could be said about people who think that racism was fixed by post-civil rights legislation, and that anyone who still suffers the setbacks is just not trying hard enough. You can say some of things you've written here because you are not forced to know otherwise.

DBB said...

Before I comment further on this, I am curious about your own personal experience - have you ever lived in and worked in an area that was dirt poor but was primarily a white community?

Octogalore said...

DBB -- re your aside about the question you asked, I think you were entirely justified in doing so. And, I appreciate your turning the resulting snarking into a joke (and possible job opportunity).

DBB said...

Tanglethis said:

it can't be "more" about class than race because class and race are inextricably linked in this country

. . .

They have to decide to get a high-paying job (affirmative action is not typically practiced in the service industry) or a college education, a rather remarkable decision if they have no family in such jobs, don't know anyone who went to college

I say in response:

What you've described there is all about class, not race. The same is true of most every poor white person as well.

You also said this: They have to avoid being drafted into or victimized by crime in their own neighborhoods

But that is also true of poor white neighborhoods. Then you said this: to which the police force turns a blind eye as long as they stay out of white/wealthier (pretty much the same thing) neighborhoods

But then as I've already noted, there are far more poor whites than poor blacks, and the white poor certainly outnumber the wealthy by a large margin. So your assertion there is flatly false. There are plenty of poor white neighborhoods - more of them, in fact, then there are poor black neighborhoods. That is simply because of demographics.

Now, I don't deny that there are probably, proportionally, more poor blacks than whites, but then as I already stated, that can be traced back to having almost all of them start out at zero a hundred and forty years ago combined with the fact that it is nearly impossible to get out of poverty no matter what race you are. But then that makes what perpetuates it today mostly class, not race - middle class and upper class African Americans will have middle class and upper class children. If you want to predict the socio-economic class of someone, the predictor that will work far far far better than race is to look at how well-off their parents are. That is why I say it is far more about class than race.

I was not born on third base, by the way. More like first. My parents were born dirt poor, though they had clawed their way to the middle class by the time I was born. The vast majority of poor people do not manage so well.

I don't have time now to go into the false 'privileges' attributed to whites (not that none exist, but that the ones used generically are often bogus) - but I will soon.

Oh, and I asked you if you worked in any poor white communities because I wanted to ask you if you saw the same problems with poverty and crime in a purely poor white area - I suspect you'd find them very much alike, because what matters is the 'poor' part not the 'white' or 'black' part.