Racism: Annoying and Tragic

This post is primarily to have a conversation with @dexdigi in bites larger than 140 characters. This is a dirty laundry post; management is not responsible for hurt feelings. But I plan to be vicious to myself, so maybe it evens out.

Hi Dex. That spelling is correct with the capital, right? I want to first make sure you’re aware of my previous posts, for obvious reasons. And you should also know that I gained respect for you in reading your pieces on Medium, but I hope I was clear about that on Twitter. Getting me to understand something so foreign to me, and even orthogonal to my worldview, is not a simple thing, but you managed it well. That’s why I’m suddenly so persistent, although I’m afraid I might be annoying you. My strength is in considering things at length, not so much in communicating well. And this paragraph may be an over-correction.

I found these links from Twitter useful:

  • Racism: A History – I can see from this a context where a modern progressive worldview makes sense. It hasn’t changed my opinions (yet), but it has laid a significant portion of the foundation for my understanding of yours.
  • ChangeTheMascot.org and Proud To Be – These, particularly the first, did actually nudge me toward agreement with them. I’m still undecided on the issue, because I find that I fall on opposite sides of hypothetical issues of the same general class (concerning rights of identity).
  • Wikipedia: Political correctness – This was useful for a bird’s-eye view of our positions. I actually chuckled when I realized you had jumped me down the timeline of the term.

Your other link, Books to read on racism and white privilege, is now in my bookmarks (and blog) in case I ever decide I like paper again. (How ignorant of me.)

Racism in Me

Now, despite what I implied on Twitter, I do find racism in myself, but I think I’ve done a decent job of shielding my worldview from it. That is, I think I manage to reprimand it before it changes things, although of course it prevents other things from being changed through conversation – because I don’t have a significant interracial life. But let me explain exactly what that means.

Speaking by race, I know a Filipino James and a Mexican Dave, I see an African Joe at work, and I live in an apartment complex dominated by Africans. (They’re all American.) I honestly wouldn’t be interested in knowing Joe regardless of his race, but I won’t go into that. I make a sincere effort to greet my neighbors as we pass, and, confirmation bias notwithstanding, don’t see the gesture returned. (I don’t know any white neighbors, either, being an introvert.)

But James and Dave are involved in a more interesting story. While Dave was absent, I confided in James and our white friend that I sometimes have trouble relating because of a measure of racism. This happened:

Someone is either a racist and therefore an inhuman monster, or they’re an actual, complex human being, and therefore, by definition, incapable of being a racist.

I spent a good deal of effort calming my two friends down after, as far as they were concerned, calling myself a monster. I haven’t had a candid conversation about race since, except with my very white, right-of-center, one-drop-of-Cherokee, very close friend.

And, like many institutions, my company has reliably selected for whites. I’m confident that’s the economy rather than my bosses, for reasons I won’t go into here. Let it suffice to say that the hiring patterns are very inclusive within other specific characteristics.

So I’m honestly not sure what you or others of your complexion expect of me or others of my complexion in personal conversation. As mentioned above, I am an introvert with social anxieties; it’s against my nature to go out of my way to meet people. I have standard social anxiety toward my neighbors, compounded by the issue of race. (Feedback loop!)

To offer something I think you can agree on, I avoid my neighbors partially because I don’t distinguish between them and the unpleasant issue of race. Yet I contacted you because you had already broached the issue. Annoyed by the wart of racism on my thoughts, I took advantage of that safety.

So for my experience, racism is decidedly annoying in at least two ways (intellectual and social), but then a third thing creeps in: I’m annoyed that progressives, after pointing out my privilege, insist that I use it to mitigate itself.

I’m really fine with it being mitigated, but generally those who benefit from something are supposed to be responsible for producing it. Despite understanding the dynamics of lingering segregation and that my “race” is in a better position to address the problem, I’m offended to be expected to work hard for the benefit of others.

It’s not that I have a problem with hard work for others’ benefit; that figures significantly in what I want to do with my life. When something comes up that would obviously be a contribution to society, I try to do it. But if someone tries to shame me into doing it, I’ll resent that, and I probably won’t do it. However, in this case the work is harder for me than recent examples; I might not have done it anyway.

So is this the idea, to shame white folks into ceding their privilege? I have to say I think we’re more open to diplomacy than to require that. But I understand why trust is lacking.

Racism in History

The videos about historical racism were very informative, but really they didn’t change my idea of what it is. They helped me understand three things:

  1. A whole lot more racist stuff was done than was ever hinted to me;
  2. The worst things I had known were worse than I knew;
  3. The solutions for the atrocious forms of racism seen in centuries past were consistently top-down, and appropriately so.

That third one is the important part. And I don’t mean governments decided on them of their own accords; no, they had to be harassed persistently before they bothered. But, once a solution was offered, a heavy-handed government agency was there to offer it.

This was significant to me because I had never understood why progressives take that approach to modern racism. I thought it was simply because they are progressives and top-down is all they know. And I have always considered it an affront to my conservative and, later, libertarian sensibilities. (Top-down is why I can’t stand Republican politics, either.)

Given all that, I still think bottom-up is better in the 21st century. Top-down solutions tend to address symptoms rather than causes. Historically those symptoms have been of extremely immediate concern. Some of the symptoms remain so, but would actually be addressed by less government – which I want anyway.

For example, the marijuana bans (in respective states) are totally absurd. Society would probably be better served if even some of the more harmful drugs were legalized with appropriate controls. Find any other laws that are used as excuses to unnecessarily toss people into prison and scrap them, too. (I’d be for a non-violent governmental reboot, actually. Refactor the Constitution, scrap the laws, start over with more citizen involvement.)

Another example (which follows from the first): We have way too many people in prison, especially black folks. A large portion of prison facilities are probably totally unjustified. These bandwagons are probably pretty easy to find, if I were to try.

But as for things like income disparities, I think any attempt to solve the problem tends to simply move it somewhere else, often aggravating it in the process. This particular opinion is a function of my belief in the free market, which is apparently an incredibly racist idea. Try harder to tame it and it will just throw you harder. (Yes, I’m from Texas.) I think we’re better off with grassroots social networking – the real kind.

And, despite the abundance of shallow online “social networks,” I think the real thing can be aided by technology. Just have it arrange personal meetings between total strangers (say, five of them at a time). Tune it to match people of diverse races and opinions, if you like. Get it mainstreamed and wait a while, and hopefully our stupid feedback loop of race is broken. Government efforts cannot address the problem at this level.

Racism in Conversation

OK, so this section isn’t really as labeled, but I liked keeping with the theme. First of all, the Wikipedia link you gave me for political correctness jumped to 1990, when it became charged with an anti-“liberal” connotation. The common thread between that and all its previous incarnations was “something politically inadvisable to express.” That is what I mean when I use the term, and what I understand when I read it. It fits nicely, and is equally usable from either side of the aisle (or any other position).

I want to pose a couple hypothetical situations and see how you would describe them.

At a Christian church function, one of the attendees happens to be an evolutionary biologist. Another member mentions creationist ideas as part of typical conversation, and the biologist explains that they don’t make sense. Social pressures are applied, and the biologist is successfully silenced. Ignoring his poor discretion, what did the biologist experience?

A few women are having lunch together, and one of them has recently had a miscarriage. Another is a mother of three, and she somehow mentions her children, not realizing how sensitive the issue is. The first woman is offended and the others join in shaming the mother after she has apologized. What did the mother experience?

I recognize that these are not representative of “political correctness” issues; I deliberately made them morally unambiguous in favor of the “victim” of… whatever you decide to call it.

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