Thursday, March 29, 2007

Denial is definitely not just a river in Egypt...

Ok, I suppose it is like slowing down to watch an accident, but I saw a few good posts on that same racism thread that articulated better than I did the problems with the defintion change for the word "racism" and also pointed out how TFS is a one-note band.

There was also a post that made a very good point about the strange definition of racism - if one is racist for being a beneficiary of a system that exploits others, that means everyone in the US is racist for enjoying the benefits the US enjoys from exploiting the poor in the rest of the world (all those nice 1 penny a day factories in China or wherever).

Of course, this sort of logical argument is then countered by TFS with his usual penetrating mind, as he says that nope, still only whites are racist, because blacks don't control anything and are just along for the ride. Gotta love it. He'd make a good textbook entry on denial.

Of course this is based on a premise that if you are white, you control society just for being white. Let's just explore if this is really true. I'll do an experiment. The next time the legislature opens in the State Capitol, I'll head on in, and go up to the lawmakers. I'll give them my list of how I want them to vote on all of the bills pending. I'll even give them my own bills I've written from scratch. And I expect that they will all do my bidding because hey, I'm white, so that gives me the power to control everything, according to TFS.

If that doesn't work, I'll go to the local city council meeting. Surely there, my whiteness will allow me to set the agenda and pass some of my great ordinance ideas.

Or better yet, I'll just walk into the local supermarket and start rearranging the place and taking the merchandise, because hey, I'm white, and so I control and own all of it. That makes it my store.

Anyone want to place some bets on whether or not any of the above will work?

I'd say the absurdity of the notion that sharing the same skin pigmentation with the tiny minority that does have actual power does not, in itself, give one any real power at all. The absurdity is made abundantly clear with a simple hypothetical. Imagine there is a nation that is all one race. Maybe it is a small nation, but it is still a nation. Now if the hypothesis that sharing the race of the rulers gives one anything like real power is true, that nation must be the most unique place on Earth, because then every single person in that nation would be in power, and yet, we all know that this is NEVER the case. Always, there is a tiny minority that has actual power. This tiny minority usually guards this power jealously against everyone else, and fights for it within that tiny minority. If anyone outside of that minority asked for power based on shared race, those in the tiny minority would fall over laughing, and would share nothing. So race by itself gives no one any power at all. The tiny minority is not letting anyone in if it can avoid it.

It is clear that one's race does NOT give one power. It is like me saying I have power because my hair color is the same as the president's. I think he'd beg to differ on that.

Class is what determines power, not race. Rich parents have rich kids. This doesn't change depending on the race of the parents. Poor parents have poor kids. This also does not change for race. What is often forgotten is that there are far far more poor white people than there are poor black people. And right in the middle, the middle class - if you are middle class, your kids will be too. It again has nothing to do with race. And finally, if you are born in one class, it is extremely difficult to get out of it - one generally has to be exceptional to do so. It certainly is far easier to just stay in the same class. And this also has nothing to do with race. White poor people also tend to stay poor. The number of white poor people has been increasing.

Really, this illogical position is just another attempt for those who hate based on race to avoid labeling themselves as racist even as they label those who do not hate as racist just for their skin color. But then what use is logic when you have your hate.


Sage said...

Okay, TFS makes me nuts, but beyond that, let me ask you a question. I posted at TG's site on the white=racist thing that it's logically problematic. But I do get the general idea and don't think it's actually changing the definition of racist. Like this...

Say you and a black guy are waiting for a job interview, and you get to talking, and you soon realize that this guy is way more qualified for the position. He goes in first and you can hear him articulating thoughts brilliantly. You go in to meet three white interviewers. You flub your thoughts and get confused, and generally it's your worst interview ever. Then you get the job. The interviewers are clearly racist (for the sake of argument anyway). But is it racist to accept the position if you believe that you're benefitting from your whiteness? Is it actively discriminating against someone of a different race to benefit from someone else's discriminating actions?

Personally, I think it is. I think that I accept benefits due to race all the time. Sure my parents were upper-middle class, but, both professors, would either have gotten tenure or even gotten in as students back in the 1940 and 50s if they were black? I don't think so. So I've directly benefitted from my parents getting jobs and getting an education that might have gone to someone better qualified but the wrong race.

I say I'm racist because I actively accept privileges afforded my race historically and whenever they come my way.

BUT - I also think people of other races can certainly be lumped with us as racist against, for example, 1st nations people who were sent packing once we got here.

DBB said...

First, in reality, there's no way to know if you really got the job because of your race.

Second, I know from personal experience that someone who is really good in an interview can really suck at the actual job, and vice-versa - especially if the job is highly technical and not social. I.e. social skills as one would see in an interview do not indicate technical prowess. In fact, some of the star technical people I've known did terrible in interviews. So again, doing well in an interview doesn't mean one is the best fit for a job - all smart hiring managers know this.

And third, why not reverse the scenario - what if you did awesome and the other candidate was clearly not qualified and yet he still got the job and took it. Maybe it was affirmative action, even. Would you call him a racist for taking the job? Would you then call all beneficiaries of affirmative action racist?

Fourth, what if in your scenario, you have a family of four to feed and if you don't accept the job, they all starve? Are you a racist for not letting your family starve?

Fifth, to answer your hypothetical directly, if I truly thought I was an incompetent in the position and the other person was obviously a star, and they still hired me, I think I'd not want to work there because that is a company destined to go out of business if they hire incompetent people based solely on their race - odds are everyone in the company is pretty incompetent, then. Doesn't sound like good job security to me.

And as for your parents, just because they managed to have jobs does not make them racist - even in a completely racist-free society, there are still jobs for white people, and more of them than there are for others based simply on demographics. If an office has ten people in it and only one is African-American, that is a fair cross-section of the nation since they are only 14% or so of the population.

Unless you are saying your parents were not qualified to be professors, then there was no racism in their taking jobs as such - somebody had to take those positions, some of those people would have to be white. It is a rather huge assumption to make that they only got it because they were white.

So no, I do not accept the premise that one is 'racist' just for one's race. As I said before, that dilutes the meaning of the word to almost nothing and also insults everyone who is a member of that race, while letting off the hook all those who are racist by any ordinary meaning of the word who are not of that race.

Sage said...

I think you got caught up in details of the example and missed my point somewhat. For example, I'm not saying the only reason my parents got hired is their race, but that, if they were black, regardless of their qualifications, they definitely wouldn't have gotten hired (or to that level of education) at the time. And, if there wasn't a disciminating policy in place at the time, they might not have been as qualified as someone else of a different race who was suddenly allowed in the game.

I typically differentiate racism from "systemic racism" when talking about benefitting from privilege. But I still contend that, since most of us white guys likely wouldn't be where we are without having exploited other races, then we continue to benefit from racist policies.

However, I hear you about watering down the term. It's like my disagreement with calling every verbal slam "abuse" - it makes abusive relationships seem like a walk in the park compared to what's really happening in some homes. And there's certainly a world of difference between refusing to hire someone in front of you because of race and benefitting from a policy in place 50 years ago.

But I think it's crucial to live with the recognization of how we've benefitted from our place historically. We tend to keep on thinking we deserve more and more. Personally, I think we're done deserving stuff.

DBB said...

I understand what you are saying about benefiting somewhat from historical abuses vis a vis your parents, but think about this:

You are comparing past racism in your parents favor versus past racism in their disfavor, i.e. saying that it wasn't that they got a job they were disqualified for it was that they got a job they were qualified for and did not lose just for their race. But is that really a benefit of racism or a beneif of not having racism against you?

That's probably a bit unclear, come to think of it, so here's three hypotheticals:

1. There is racism and it is against races other than your parents.
2. There is racism and it is against your parents.
3. There is no racism, only qualifications matter.

You seem to posit a theory that since you benefit from your parents' middle-classness, that makes you a beneficiary of racism because they had their positions only because it was scenario 1 above. But I think that isn't quite accurate. Assuming they are qualified, it isn't racism against others that benefited them, because even without racism, scenario 3, they could still get a job and give you that lifestyle and it would not have anything to do with racism. So they are not benefiting from racism against non-whites, they are benefiting from the fact that there wasn't as much racism AGAINST whites. It may seem like a subtle difference, but I think it is an important one. Because then it is not about benefiting from others being kept down, only about benefiting from the fact that you weren't kept down. But then that would be the case for both scenarios 1 and 3, so one can't say that you owe all of your position to racism because it is the same position you would hold without it.

What really gets my goat about being accused of racism for getting some sort of benefit for being white, especially today, when that is not only frowned upon but is illegal, is that in my life, every time I've interviewed for a position where there was competition (i.e. they didn't just hire every warm body that came in the door) I always lost out, because I am a terrible interviee (amongst other things I'm sure). The only way I got the job I have now is by working hard, working free, and finally convincing the boss I was an asset - I graduated 2nd in my class, I got a ridiculously high score on the bar exam (one of the highest ever). I put myself through law school based on my scholastics and by working 70 hour weeks and taking classes at night. In short, no one handed me anything, I worked very hard to get to where I am today, and so to say that I only got here because I'm white I find particularly insulting. No one ever gave me anything for my race. In fact, I was usually on the outside looking in, never popular socially, and I still spend much of my time alone, despite having a family. Though I guess I'm not quite alone with my little rug-rat, though I have no idea what she's saying most of the time...

I don't deny there was institutionalized racism in the past. I don't deny that some degree of it still exists today, despite the fact that if you get caught doing it, you can lose hundreds of millions of dollars (if you are an institution) for doing so. But that does not mean every single decision people make is about race and that does not mean that those who are qualfied should feel guilty for accomplishing what they are qualified for.

When it comes to a job interview, an outgoing, engaging, funny, smiling African-American of equal qualifications to me is likely to get the job over me because of his or her social skills in the interview. Does that mean they are shy-person-ist for taking advantage of my natural, inborn shyness? Or does that mean I just need to work harder and overcome that obstacle? I see racism in the institutional sense as more of an obstacle that still exists in some places, but not others. Just like my social deficit is an obstacle. Just like being overweight is an obstacle in hiring, or being unattractive, or any number of other factors, some fair, some not, that everyone has to overcome to one degree or another.

Ask someone if they'd like to be born white, but poor, or black, but a billionaire, I think most would go for the money. And I'd think the black billionaire would have fewer obstacles in life than the poor white.