Are Americans really racists?

The current “scandal” is that a poll shows that one third of white Democrats harbor racist views towards blacks.  I have two problems with this poll’s approach and two questions about whether its conclusions have any real meaning.

My first problem is the poll’s underlying assumption, one that reveals entirely the pollsters’ bias:  Why the heck isn’t Obama winning because, in pollsters’ minds, he really ought to?

The pollsters set out to determine why Obama is locked in a close race with McCain even as the political landscape seems to favor Democrats. President Bush’s unpopularity, the Iraq war and a national sense of economic hard times cut against GOP candidates, as does that fact that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the pollsters that, as the election draws near, Americans, including Democratic Americans, may actually be looking at issues, not candidates, and may have concluded that Obama’s thin resume is not a helpful antidote to the issues confronting Americans — and that this is true irrespective of either the candidate’s or the voters’ race.

Apparently having dismissed that possibility out of the box, the pollsters, with their assumptions firmly in place about the fundamental abnormality in American’s failure to recognize what a vastly superior candidate Obama is, cheerfully set about using their all new methodology to prove that Americans are racists.

To this end (and herein lies my second problem with the poll results), the pollsters relied on a “unique methodology,” “pioneered” by one company, Knowledge Networks, that thinks it can delve into people’s psyches.  First, they used online interviews, on the assumption that people will be more honest in the anonymity of cyberspace, which may well be true.

However, it may also be untrue.  Once online, people may feel more playful or obstreperous and be less honest.  Who knows?  You can only prove people’s honesty if you have an objective measure of the absolute truth.  And in opinion polls, what the heck is that measure?  We’re in a gray area that sees the pollsters assuming that their own biases about people’s probable beliefs constitute absolute truth, if only the pollsters can arrive at a methodology to prove that fact (in other words, there’s lots of room for bootstrapping and circular reasoning).

If that wasn’t a gray enough area, pollsters delved into an even grayer one, which again uses their own beliefs about people’s biases as the objective truth their psychological evaluation will ultimately prove:

Other techniques used in the poll included recording people’s responses to black or white faces flashed on a computer screen, asking participants to rate how well certain adjectives apply to blacks, measuring whether people believe blacks’ troubles are their own fault, and simply asking people how much they like or dislike blacks.

In other word, they used a technique that many might simply see as a trick.  When a Harvard gal first came up with the idea, which was to prove that people’s first, instinctive responses to imagines of different races inevitably proved them to be racist, I wandered over to check it out.  What you get is a split screen with images of people and different words flashing.  You then have to hit buttons on the right and left side of your keyboard to tie “appropriate” words with equally “appropriate” images.

What I discovered was that, just as I am a word person, I’m very strongly not an image person.  I don’t see pictures very well, and quickly got confused.  I’m also horrible at hand/eye coordination, or even hand/hand coordination.  After randomly hitting buttons a few times, I got bored and stopped.  It was as pointless and frustrating for me as a lot of the Wii games or Nintendo games my kids play.  Rather than delving into the depths of my evil, racist psyche, it proved only that I lack eye/hand coordination.

Still, since I’m not a pollster or a social scientist or a statistician or someone who assumes that racism is the norm, I’m going to assume for purposes of the next part of this post that the poll is so closely attuned to reality that it can actually catch people shlumping at their home computers in acts of vile racism (blacks = lazy, boastful or irresponsible).  Even assuming that, though, I still have my doubts about whether the poll proves that racism will be the problem when/if Democrats turn away from Obama.

To begin with, while the pollsters managed to prove that everybody is a racist (Republican or Democrat), they’ve admitted only that Democrats are so dumb they can’t look beyond their racial preferences, while Republicans are smart enough to be able to examine issues, not race.  (And please tell me if the pollsters or the AP writers really meant to make this point?)

Lots of Republicans harbor prejudices, too, but the survey found they weren’t voting against Obama because of his race. Most Republicans wouldn’t vote for any Democrat for president — white, black or brown.

Second of all — and I know I’m wandering into sensitive territory here — is my suspicion that Americans aren’t racist, they’re “classist” or “value-ist.”  Bear with me here as I try to develop this argument.

Historically, racism actually had to do with the genetics of race.  Prejudiced whites believed that blacks, merely by virtue of the color of their skin, were inherently inferior.  To the mind of the whites who held this attitude, and it’s one with deep roots amongst Europeans and Americans, the mere fact of black skin meant that it was impossible for the person possessing such skin to be intelligent or hard working (and the latter belief was true despite the fact that slavery put those blacks to hard work the likes of which whites never did, unless they were, in turn, unlucky enough to be enslaved by Muslims).

I suspect that things are different nowadays.  Assuming American Democrats (oh!  and, of course, Republicans) really are every bit as prejudiced against blacks as this study seems to show, I doubt that anyone of them would claim that their prejudicial beliefs are tied to blacks’ biology.  That is, unlike your 1850s Southern planter, or 1950s Southern KKK member, no one nowadays would ever say that blacks are, from the womb, lazy or boastful or irresponsible.

What your average American, if taken in a dark closet and promised complete anonymity, might claim is that black culture — which is a learned phenomon — is less appealing to them than white culture.  Is it racism to observe that a culture has values that you think are bad?  I don’t know.

It’s certainly not racism to approve of a culture’s values.  Your average Lefty would be delighted to tell you that the French or Nordic people (Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, etc.) have better cultures than ours.  They wouldn’t say that these people are biologically better; they’d say that the values they hand down to each other and put into law are much better than the embittered guns and God culture that characterizes middle America.

Also, is it wrong to say that blacks have a culture?  Again, I don’t think so.  We’re constantly being bombarded with messages telling us that blacks are a distinct subculture.  The whole point of the political correctness that has permeated the American landscape for the last 30 years is to do away with American commonality.  We no longer believe in a melting pot.  We believe in a chunky (and often inedible) salad, with disparate component parts that, in the PC mind, originate with America’s various “cultures” (racial, religious, sexual, country of origin, etc.), and that cannot be ignored or blended, even in the public square.

The problem, for both blacks and whites, is that black culture (not black biology, but black culture), publicly advances values that are antithetical to middle American values.  In my earlier post about false syllogisms, I pointed out that John McWhorter’s wonderful Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America recognizes that part of the black community’s self-sabotage is the refusal to engage in the “white” work ethic of being reliable.  I noted the probable false syllogism underlying that cultural attitude:  slavery was work, slavery was bad, therefore work is bad.

McWhorter also pointed to the advance Leftist guards of the Civil Rights movement (I guess we’d call them community activists nowadays) who told blacks that, after all their suffering, it was only fair and appropriate that the government should henceforth pay their way. So, while middle and working class America embrace the notion of hard work, substantial segments of the black culture believe (1) that work is a problem, inextricably and negatively entwined with slavery and (2) that it’s only fair that white America should financially compensate them for all the past evils done to blacks.

How about the drug/gang/boasting culture?  Yes, whites use drugs in greater numbers than blacks, but that’s because there are greater numbers of whites.  Even if that were not the case, in the post-psychadelic drug area, it hasn’t been middle and working class whites who developed an influential music form celebrating the drug/gansta life, it’s been black America that’s done this.

Even if, as many will assure us, gangsta rap represents only the smallest subsection of black culture, it is a huge public face.  The complicity of blacks, the music industry (liberal) and Madison Avenue (out of Blue New York) means that whites are deluged with cultural (not biological) images of blacks waving guns, degrading women, and boasting about their prowess, especially when it comes to drugs, violence, and sexual abuse — and they’ve been deluged with these images for more than a decade now.  You can’t profit off selling a violent, demeaning image about your own culture, and then wonder why people start believing the stereotypes you’ve created.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Americans also got some bad images of black culture. Significantly, all of these images came from the liberal media which, in its blind, manic rush to destroy the Bush administration, neglected to realize that it were broadcasting the worst type of stereotypes about blacks.

It was the Bush-hating media that said that blacks were eating each other (after only three days without food).  That same media frantically announced that blacks were murdering each other (after only a couple of very uncomfortable days in the convention center).  The media also shrieked at Bush-loving middle America that, because of Bush, blacks were raping each other (again, after only a couple of days in the convention center).  Media’s talking heads blamed Bush for the fact that Blacks were robbing stores and houses to survive.

With a few minor exceptions, all those hysterical stories, meant to show Bush’s both perfidy and his victims, were untrue.  Nobody was eaten, nobody was murdered, and I don’t think anybody was raped.  The only victims of this mad journalism were the blacks themselves — because a whole lot of white people carried away the message, fed to them by the liberal media, that black culture is so degraded that, in times of crisis, it will turn to rape, murder and cannibalism.

So there are a lot of messages about blacks out there that might lead Americans to view the black culture with suspicion.  As observant black commentators have noted themselves, the twin legacies of slavery and the community activists pushing a nanny state Civil Rights agenda is that many blacks view work with suspicion.  Viewing it with suspicion, they either don’t do it at all, or do it with poor grace.  It’s a cultural thing that may well lead outsiders who haven’t analyzed culture motives to conclude that blacks are lazy.

The perception that blacks are dangerous or boastful also finds probable roots in the modern black culture being sold to white America.  Worse, it’s a sales pitch that originates in two liberal American bastions:  Manhattan and Hollywood.  It’s this liberal America that’s sold us on gangsta rap (boastful and dangerous thugs) and on black violence and helplessness (Hurricane Katrina).  Having sold America on these images of a black culture made up of values antithetical to middle class white culture, these same liberal cadres now castigate us for being racist because some of us bought the garbage they were selling.

So do I think Americans are racist?  Not really.  First, I doubt the value of this novel polling technique, which seems to me to be intended, not to gather information, but to support the pollsters’ own biases.  Second, even if the polls is accurate, I don’t think Americans believe that blacks are biologically inferior.  I do believe, though, that Americans, both black and white, have been on the receiving end of sales pitches and manipulation, originating in liberal white America, aimed at presenting black culture as one hostile to work, and rife with drugs and crime and a very ugly type of boastfulness.