Silver Rights


News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.


Thursday, September 25, 2003  

'Subtle' support of racism
Part I: Evading the issues

I usually write about blatantly bigoted responses to opposition to racism here. However, that is not the only kind of untrustworthy response one gets. The person who tries to soft pedal his backwardness, wrapping it in academic musings, is equally dangerous to honest discourse. I recently happened across such a specimen right here in the blogosphere. He calls himself Joey and 'deals with' racism by evading the issues. Joey says:

"The sociological truths are that America, while still flawed in its race relations... is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa; and has gone through a dramatic change in its attitude toward miscegenation over the past 25 years."

-- Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, who is both black and quite a bit of a Marxist.

"Whiteness studies" is just another way to keep white people feeling guilty about past crimes that have been comprehensively rejected -- and, to a large extent, ameliorated -- on a scale unprecedented in human history.

When "the struggle" involves questions about whether whites are satisfactorily engaged in a constant internal "criticism/self-criticism" session, then it seems to me that the Big Questions of the civil rights movement are, indeed, largely settled. (Again, see Mr. Patterson's comment, which was published in the New York Times more than a decade ago. I think it's safe to assume that conditions are even better now.)

As for your second question, yes, the entire "whiteness studies" movement is, in my opinion, a huge example of wallowing in white guilt. Goading whites to think of the ways they are "oppressing" minorities merely by going about their daily lives may lead to more "concessions" from the "white power structure" that may (or may not!) make minorities feel better, but it perpetrates a cult of victimhood and increases a sense that black people's fate depends almost exclusively on "what whites think of us."

"..in spite of their common destiny and deeper interests, the people of the United States are being misled by misinformation to insist on exaggerating their ethnic differences. The problem is not the existence of ethnic differences, as is so often assumed, but the intrusion of such differences into areas where they do not belong."

-- Albert Murray, The Omni-Americans

Just trying to add to the discussion...

My initial reaction was one of consternation.

Hello? Orlando Patterson a Marxist? Actually, he is one of those conservative (often West Indian) black people Right Wingers love to cite. Heck, the guy is even a defender of Clarence Thomas. Yes, Patterson studied Marxism and still throws the word around as an antidote to his conservatism, but no claim he is a Marxist can be taken seriously. Patterson is a black David Horowitz. Albert Murray's conservative credentials are also unquestionable.

It is tempting to move on after making that remark, but I realize some readers might not be aware of just how inaccurate the assertions that have been made are. Fortunately, Joey's claims via Patterson are easily refuted.

[The U.S.] ... is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa; and has gone through a dramatic change in its attitude toward miscegenation over the past 25 years.

Where is the proof the U.S. is the least racist white majority society, pray tell? He hasn't cited any because there isn't any. I suspect Canada can claim to be a more successfully integrated society than the U.S., for one.

Legal protections? As Derrick Bell has so clearly demonstrated, those protections fail to make it from the statutes and the constitution to the courtroom far too often. If the legal protections were actually functioning well, I don't believe we would see the daily discrimination against African-Americans that still occurs, or, the huge disproportion in sentencing of young blacks to prison.

No opportunities anywhere in Africa? The large middle-classes in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria certainly belie that. The only reason the 'better off economically' argument can be made at all is because the U.S. is such a rich country even its poor look well-off in comparison to most of the world's population. The question to ask about minorities and income is 'in comparison to what?' Compare those incomes to those of white Americans and the discrepancy is clear.

About half of Americans now say they are no longer opposed to interracial relationships according to polls, with age being a determinant of their receptivity. However, talk is cheap. About five percent of white Americans marry outside of their race. The proportion would be much higher if 'something' wasn't going on.

Now that we've cut through Pal Joey's effort to distract us by pulling a rabbit out of his hat, let's discuss his other claim. What ordering people not to discuss white privilege actually does is keep white privilege from being criticized. That is part of keeping white supremacy intact. Always be suspicious of 'you'd better not talk about that.' It is usually a justification for maintaining the status quo.

Joey's own suppositions are also entitled to some examination. He says, ". . .Mr. Patterson's comment, which was published in the New York Times more than a decade ago. I think it's safe to assume that conditions are even better now." Why make such an assumption when one can check the data instead? Economic indicators for African-Americans remain stagnant. The differential between white salaries and those for blacks (and to a lesser extent other minorities, including Asians) remains at 30 to 40 percent, though women are closing the gap faster than men. Incarceration rates for African-Americans are higher than ever. Three strikes rules and other mandatory sentencing have led to longer terms in prison. One in a three black men will serve time in prison. Fewer black children attend integrated schools now than did in the 1970s because of resegregation.

An additional 'insight' from Joey:

"Goading whites to think of the ways they are "oppressing" minorities merely by going about their daily lives may lead to more "concessions" from the "white power structure" that may (or may not!) make minorities feel better, but it perpetrates a cult of victimhood and increases a sense that black people's fate depends almost exclusively on "what whites think of us."

This remark doesn't just miss the point, it is so blind as to suggest and eyeless -- or clueless -- man. When whites oppress people of color it is while "going about their daily lives." (When else would they engage in discriminatory acts, by the way, while they are sleeping?) Being followed by security guards in stores. Being disproportionately disciplined in schools. Being stopped by police for driving while brown or black. All of these and much more are daily discriminations encountered by people of color, usually at the hands of white people, though not all white people discriminate. To say that such acts should be ignored is to say that a racist status quo is fine. To order people of color to deny they experience discrimination on the grounds that by telling the truth they are are participating in "a cult of victimhood" is ludicrous. When wrongs are being perpetrated, silence is the worst possible response because it legitimizes the wrongs.

Last, but of considerable interest, Joey relies on Bell's Rules Nos. Three and Four. He believes he can trump a discussion of racism by trotting out a black spokesman who supports his conservative perspective that racism either doesn't exist or is a minor problem. Tain't so and never is.

Notes:

(1) Joey's email address lists his blog as Herethere.com, but the domain comes up as vacant and available. I would have cited his blog if I could find a legitimate URL.

(2) I will focus on when protests are protected speech and when they are acts of incitement in part two of this discussion.

posted by J. | 11:39 AM


Tuesday, September 23, 2003  

Off the Web

  • Reading
  • I'm rereading my mentor Richard Ford's A Multitude of Sins. I sometimes forget what an able writer of short stories he is. Raymond Carver said Richard was the best American writer of sentences years ago. Only now am I beginning to appreciate what he meant. One could extend that comment to paragraphs, which Richard manages to use more meaningfully than most writers do pages.

    You may have read Richard's Pen-Faulkner Award winning novel, The Sportswriter and his Pulitzer Prize winning sequel, Independence Day. Don't stop there. His other novels and short fiction are also worthy of your attention. The story that has struck me most a third of the way through rereading Multitude is "Calling." It takes what could be melodramatic material, the tale of a teenaged boy whose father has left his mother for another man in 1961, and mines it not for emotion, but for clarity. One of the most revealing insights is that the ill-starred hunting trip in the story is not the moment of truth. If there was a single deciding moment, it has already already happened. More likely, there were several, and they may have been so inexorable as to be fait accomplis before the parties knew what was going on. This is the kind of brilliant revelation I'm always surprised to see Richard produce seemingly effortlessly. If you haven't been reading Richard Ford, do. If you have, do it some more.

    Books I've recently ordered include Booker Prize Nominee Monica Ali's Brick Lane, former Portland Police Chief Charles Moose's Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper and Stolen, a light sci-fi work by Kelly Armstrong, a new writer who wrote an enjoyable first novel, Bitten.

  • Writing
  • Blog entries. Well, more than that... The novel I was working on when I began blogging is now in my editor's hands. I've turned my attention to trying to write sufficient short stories to fill out a collection. The plan is to obtain the rights to some previously published short fiction and use those stories to fuel interest in the book. I'm hoping to produce at least one story with an Internet, if not blogging, background. I've also agreed to contribute a chapter to a non-fiction book about life on the Web. It will probably be about racism in Bloggersville, which I have been gathering fresh material on.

  • Listening
  • My latest purchase is Aretha Franklin's new CD, So Damn Happy. Reviews of the Queen's latest have been mixed, but I'm down with it. I've also succumbed to P to P, again. Mainly I've been downloading vintage rhythm and blues. Last night's choices included the Chi Lite's "Have You Seen Her" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." If the enforcers come for LimeWire 'criminals,' my readers might have to bail me out.

    That reminds me at least one of you owes me a CD. You promised to send me one and I've been waiting for it. You know who you are. Mosey on over to Amazon, man. And, why should he be lonely? I haven't gotten around to updating the Wish List in ages, but my tastes in music and literature are very ecletic. If you like a book or CD enough to buy it and send it to me, I promise to read it or listen to it. So, just choose something you want me to read or hear.

    posted by J. | 11:34 AM
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