Racism . . . or not?

Don Quixote, with his usual politeness, kindness and razor intelligence, disagreed with my saying that Harry Reid was himself being racist when he called racist the "English is the official American language" initiative. For one thing, DQ pointed out, rightly, that there's no mileage in throwing the phrase "racist" around with the same abandon as Reid. But that was just a style thing. What he really challenged me on was whether "racist" is the right phrase at all.

If you read my original post, you'll see that I thought Reid was demeaning Hispanics by implying that they were incapable of mastering another language — something I considered racist. DQ thought that a different impulse motivated Reid's statement — the fact that we (that is, English speaking Americans) are imposing ourselves on Hispanics, something that is inherently wrong. DQ says that Reid isn't saying Hispanics are incapable of mastering English; he's saying that, in his world view, we in America have no business imposing our values on anyone else.
Feeling myself trapped in an argument with a master of logic, I turned my attention to the way the liberals view African-Americans which, again, I consider a form of racism. To explain this, let me explain what I mean by racism. To me, racism means the belief that another race is inferior to your own. You can have the malevolent racism of the Nazi, which says this race is inferior and must be destroyed, or what I view as the benevolent racism of the liberals, which says this race is inferior and must be protected.

My example to DQ was how Damian Williams, one of the young black men who savaged Reginald Denny during the Rodney King riots, explained that he was "caught up in the rapture." The jury acquitted him of most charges (although I don't recall whether he testified about his rapture, or whether that was an ex post facto statement). I believe that, had the speaker been a white man who killed gays or blacks, that statement would have been held up by the liberal establishment as the most disgusting, horrific, vile statement ever. As it was, my memory (and I'm open to correction here) was that the media piled on with a bunch of stories about young men, and black rage, and mob identity, etc. In other words, being caught up in the rapture was a pretty acceptable excuse for trying to beat a man's head in because he was the wrong color, in the wrong place.

DQ argued that his theory still covers the Damian Williams scenario. He felt that, in viewing the liberal position about blacks, I was forgetting the race-warfare theory that underpins so much of the view from the Left. This view, which John McWhorter discusses in his wonderful Winning the Race : Beyond the Crisis in Black America,is that blacks have been at the receiving end of systemic white racism for so long that their only response can be anger. (It's sort of a Sister Souljah thing.) Because rage is an entirely legitimate response, then acting on that rage is entirely legitimate. That is, we're not simply excusing African-Americans for engaging in behavior that is not consistent with what we'd expect from whites — which would be racist. Instead, we're saying that anyone under those same conditions would act the same way and, in this case, it's blacks laboring under those conditions.

DQ's same theory fits in perfectly with the MSM's approach to Representative William Jefferson, the African-American Congressman from New Orleans who was caught on tape collecting $100,000 in bribes — $90,000 of which later turned up in his freezer. Within less than a week, the New York Times came out with a glowing, sympathetic portrayal of his poverty-stricken youth. I don't remember equally sympathetic portrayals of Ward Connerly, who also arose from poverty. The thing is, he didn't use that background as an excuse for criminal conduct. Instead, he argued that affirmative action is destroying African-Americans. Indeed, if I remember correctly, the MSM kept trying to portray him as essentially middle-class, his poverty-stricken youth notwithstanding. (And, interestingly, a group that describes itself as passionately committed to opposing him is working vigorously to show that he's a crook.)

Presumably, in the NY Times view, black poverty equals anger which equals entirely justifiable corruption. It's not racism to think this, it's logic. And, to carry the logic further, there's no doubt that the more vile the criminal in the dock, the more sympathy he gets from whites (as long as a white is the victim of his crime). There are no bad people, just bad environments.

Though it pains me to admit it, I think that DQ may well be right. Going back to Reid, it wasn't racism motivating his statement; it was a profound belief that we as Americans have no business expecting immigrants to conform to our cultural norms, including our language. Likewise, white Americans have no business expecting people carrying justifiable rage to control that rage. In other words, it's all about us having ruined the world, and not about "them" (whoever "them "is in any given context) being held to a lower standard. I'll therefore be careful with that "racist" word in future.

Having said that, I still think there's something profoundly wrong with the liberal view, and that it is damaging for a community (the African-American community) to be perpetually cast as the victim, rather than a group capable of controlling its own destiny. I also think that some of the more extreme liberal groups have managed to engage in classic racist conduct, not just this kind of race-warfare thing, when their target is a black Republican. (See here, here and here for examples.) I'm also very interested in what any of you have to say on this subject (provided, as always, that you're as polite as DQ was to me).

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  • erp

    I respectfully disagree. I think liberals are guilty of breathtakingly casual racism.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    Only if you’re talking about white people. I mean, if you listen to the New Black Panthers talk, whites are inferior to blacks. Or the reverse is true for them, blacks are superior to whites. I owuldn’t say Reid is being racist, his motivations are something else entirely.

    I grew up surrounded by a predominantly black neighborhood, and when I was in school my thin asian build, weird looking eyes, and non-black hair, there was always racist remarks about my looks. In the same time period, I would move to a school with more white people, and suddenly they weren’t as racist or rude. I appreciated that. If blacks want my sympathy cause their ancestors were former slaves, they need to act with some class. What I’ve witnessed and seen from black talking heads on tv and Jesse Jackson, doesn’t exactly fill me up with the “black african experience”.

    Feeling myself trapped in an argument with a master of logic

    Bah, what do you need logic for, whatever happened to female intuition? ; )

    I think there are two class of people in a movement. The true believers and the puppet masters. The true believers are the cannon fodder, they truly truly believe whites are inferior because their black ancestors suffered. this is a sort of “esprit de corps” as is known in military parlance, which cements a group of people together with common bonds. Racism to me, is believing any race is inferior or superior to your own based upon their skin color or the look of their physical features. It is just as insulting to me, when black people come up to me and say that Asians are all smart compared to the dumb white people. I’m like, “what am I going to do with this racism?”. Maybe it’ll go away. They’re fine folks, black people I talk to, but they just get crazy when they talk about the ‘superiority’ of the asians and the inferiority of whites. That is just wack.

    The other class of people, the puppet masters aren’t racists. They are manipulators. Among the true believers, you could have white people guilty of being people and black people who feel that they deserve compensation from whites cause their father’s father’s father was etc. But among the puppet masters, you just have people out for power. They say what the believers want to hear, in order to get populist support.

    So is Harry reid a true believer in white guilt (racism) or is he a puppet master that believes in nothing but power? I don’t know. But I do know ALan Colmes is a true believer i nwhite guilt, just hear him go on about how he doesn’t know the “black experience”. Pathetic fawning.

  • expat

    It’s not just a race thing; it is also a class thing. Far too many of the left are incredible snobs who think they and only they know what is good for people. They are are incapable of seeing people as individuals. Excusing horrible behavior by a black is simply a reversal of dismissing every concern voiced by an evangelical. The only thing they really care about is their own ego.

  • Lissa

    Understanding the motivations behind the actions does not equate with forgiving or justifying the actions; to do so removes all personal responsibility from the perpetrator as well as earned accolades from other innocents. Were there other people who grew up in the same neighborhood with the same skin color and the same conditions? Did they commit crimes? If not, why not? To say that the environment dicated the actions is to unfairly demean every other person from that environment who resisted whatever impulses to which the criminal succumbed. Now follow that to its logical conclusion: If it’s not a person’s fault that s/he committed a crime, it’s just that s/he is black (Asian, Muslim, insert identity group here) . . . then you are now viewing an entire identity group as possible, perhaps even LIKELY, to commit a crime. How can that possibly have a positive effect on your, my, society’s regard and subconscious treatment of that identity group?

    To (finally!) directly address DQ’s argument, I say: If Americans are not allowed to impose their values on people who are coming to this country to be Americans, doesn’t that seem a little silly? If I were planning on immigrating to Mexico, don’t you think I’d be frantically cramming Spanish lessons in between my jobs?

    Let me attempt to remove any and all feet currently in my mouth. I do not accuse DQ of racism; if I understood it correctly, he’s being a splendid devil’s advocate and more power to him! My point is that while Reid’s statement may not have been the direct racist smear that Bookwork described, the attitude discussed in her response (“caught up in the rapture,” the idea that crimes are understandable and forgiveable if the criminals “had it bad” growing up etc.) are inherently unfair, unjust, racist and demean any identity group as a whole. And the rest of us along with them.

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com/ Don Quixote

    Hi Lissa,

    Thanks for you comment and you are right on with your “devil’s advocate” comment. I favor English as the official language and think every country is entitled to insist that immigrants learn the language of the country they are moving to. I also think that we should not excuse criminal and other reprehensible behavior because of skin color, poverty, environment, racism or anything else. People must take responsibility for their own acts and for their own self control.

    However, I do believe that we are better off trying to understand the true world-view, and motives of those who disagree with us, rather than labeling them and dismissing them. We cannot persuade those we do not understand.

    To be sure, there are racists on the left, as there are racists on the right. I’m especially appauled by the open reverse racism of many black leaders and educators. But we do not accomplish any more by calling the left racist than they do by calling the right racist. My point to Bookworm, which she phrased more eloquently than I could have, is that we are better off attributing the best of motives to our opponents an dealing with their ideas than we are simply slapping an offensive label on them.

    Finally, kudos to Bookworm for her open mind and eagerness to engage in these kinds of discussions. We learn a lot from each other over lunch and I enjoy our discussions enormously. Let’s hope the discussions on this blog are equally pleasant and productive for all who visit here.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    There are opponents and there are domestic and foreign enemies to the United States. Finding who is who, is the first step, not ascribing good motivations to whoever is in the opposition.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    To elaborate on my I mean, there is a strict methodology to dealing with certain people. It would do no good to say “kill all our enemies” but you don’t know who is in front of you yet you are ordered to fire. The first step is to identifying the enemy and seeing where and who he is. This separates the chaff from the wheat.

    Once you figure out who are your allies, who are your loyal opposition, and who are the domestic and foreign enemies of the United States, then you can appropriately decide what to do with them, including what motivations you ascribe to people.

  • Lissa

    Hi DQ,

    Thanks very much for your polite and thoughtful response; I TRULY appreciate it. I do take your point regarding attributing the best of motives to those who do not necessarily share our (current) points of view. My conclusion (perhaps biased?) is based upon a lifetime indoctrination with my family and fellow residents of Amherst, MA. While I was an unthinking liberal and easily agreed with the far-left viewpoints there (yes, I suffered from BDS Syndrome), all was well in the Happy Valley. In the past two years I began to question the unquestioned liberal principles that I *knew* were correct; in the past twelve months I’ve morphed into an odd hybrid political creature. The results have been quite interesting and, to me, unexpected — the majority of my liberal, tolerant, open-minded, free-thinking friends and family are universally horrified, disappointed, angered and bewildered by my deviation from The Path. If they were religious they’d be saying masses for my soul, I kid you not.

    Speaking from my own personal experiences, those who espouse the unthinking racism expressed by Harry Reid in his remark are already attributing the best possible (sometimes impossible) motives to themselves. Regarding my folks, it is not their motives I impugn — they are not trying to capture voter blocs, victim-based or otherwise — it is their logic that I question. Questioning their logic has led to absolute repulsion on their part regarding my migration to The Dark Side, and an absolute refusal to question their views on logical grounds. If a person’s outlook and beliefs rest entirely on their certainty that their motives and resulting opinions are the best — the only! — possible motives for anyone Not Evil, then what do you do?

    If a person’s opinions do not rest upon logical causes nor conclusions, but simply that They Care — how do you create a dialogue? If the sole pillar of their perception is their moral superiority and they will not stoop to a logic- or fact-based discussion, you must raise questions regarding their easy moral superiority in order to make them see the results of their caring.

    The conclusion (at last!!) — I understand them, all right, but I still can’t persuade them. Their victim-based opinions are buttressed, gilded, ironclad based on the fact that theirs is the Morally Superior viewpoint. Their (well-meaning) ideas and philosophies cannot have racist results, racist roots or racist implications because They Are Multicultural And They Care. Until I can get them to question that easy certainty, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to discuss politics at home!

    Thanks again to DQ for considering my comment, and thanks to Bookworm for hosting it!

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    If a person’s opinions do not rest upon logical causes nor conclusions, but simply that They Care — how do you create a dialogue?

    I suggest you research psychological warfare and propaganda warfare. The key you seem to be searching for, is how to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded. I use propaganda as to mean, tools and techniques to convince people through persuasion and other things.

    Advanced study in diplomacy, psychology, and war can perhaps give you a start on the solution. The solution isn’t fixed in stone, it is rather mercurial depending upon the opposition, what kind of person the opposition, and the beliefs of the opposition target.

    For example. If I were to try to convince people that Iraq War was right, I’d get a propaganda movie made starting let’s say, from the birth of Qusay and Uday. I’d tell their stories, then I’d tell the story of their victims, with interviews, camera shots, reenactions (re-enactions of Uday’s rape strategy is very important here), questions, drama, etc. The basic goal is to present a visual artifact to the person you are trying to persuade, to such an extent that it shatters their identity matrix. They are forced to either refute and deny that this happened before their eyes, thereby reinforcing their principle values of compassion and kindness. Or they are forced to recognize that this happened, and that opposing the liberation of the people the U Q brothers tortured is immoral and evil.

    It has to be seen, it cannot be told, it cannot be written and read. No, it has to be seen. Seeing is believing as they say, and it is true in propaganda as well as anything else.

    You can see the end product in AMerican Idol. We see the story of people and singers that we feel a kinship to, a love of. When they suffer, we suffer. When they are joyous we are joyous. So what would a person feel after seeing the happy life of a family in Iraq shattered because of the cruelty and power mad abuse of Qusay and Uday? What would a person feel when the parents and the survivors look into the camera and ask, “why did you help Qusay and Uday when you tried to stop the liberation of Iraq?”. The psychological shock is immense, the propaganda value unestimated. In the end, the results should be to convince many people who hold as their internal values, kindness, compassion, and etc.

    The conclusion (at last!!) — I understand them, all right, but I still can’t persuade them.

    This is not your failure. you did what you could do with the resources at your command. Neither of us have the ability nor the capital nor the strings to make a propaganda movie that would persuade many of the justness of OIF. Only the President could order such a movie made, using military footage (which are many), but the President is horrible at propaganda. He avoids it like the plague, and hence we see the results.

    9/11 woke people up because it was a great psychological surprise. It impressed upon people something they could not ignore. This is the trait of any good propaganda.

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