Thursday, December 08, 2005

some thoughts on racism

"It's our job to keep that small percentage in check". i totally agree! there's this small percentage of the world that's like totally bullying and dominating everyone else.
They're called "white people".

Dumb Guy 2
The other day I discovered late that it was "Blog Against Racism" Day. Well, not being a fan of racism, but also not being prepared, I just tossed off this thing based on a comment I made on Less Idiots.

Several days later, I read the result of a controversy over at the Rev's. A lot of feathers were ruffled (or perhaps yanked out by the hand-full, depending on your perspective and love of under/over statement) between the Rev and a kind of troika of people at another site. All this bruhaha was built upon the troika's feelings that Billy Bob was being an insulting and insulated white boy who knew nothing of the suffering of minorities, and Billy Bob's feelings were that they were themselves a bunch of racist hypocrits.
Now, normally, despite my ranting and raving here, I am a kind of laissez-faire kind of guy. That is, I try to accept people as they are. I dont mean politicians, or anyone else who makes their living by trying to sell me something, but just ordinary people. This has a tendency to make me much less irritated at individuals, but I think also contributes to my feeling that people, as a whole, suck much of the time. This doesnt mean that I'm non-judgemental, just that I try not to let it get in the way of my relationships with people in general. Once upon a time, I believe it may have been refered to as common courtesy. But this little flame-war made me think about more about race and racism, which led to this post.

So I'm going to try again.

Let's define racism first.

From Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary:

rac-ism n 1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
Now my turn: I would describe racism as the assumption that a person is automatically a certain way based solely on their race; that is, that they will be more likely to do something, or unable to do something, because of their ethnicity.

This seems simple enough, doesnt it? Black men are all criminals = racist statement. White boys cant dance = racist statement. All Gypsies are thieves = racist statement. All Orientals are inscrutible = racist statement. The French are pompous snobs who never eat Tomatoes = ...well, we'll get back to this one. Maybe not so simple, after all, though. I myself have (jokingly) used the "white boys cant dance" one. Was I making a racist comment against white males? Or, was I making a racist comment against blacks, because the flipside of that statement is the implied "all black men can dance"?

Okay, let's come at this from a different direction. Let's ask, "Should we care if people are racist?" But that's a stupid question, isnt it. We should care because racist statements often act to dehumanize the one they are aimed at, and this is never a good thing for human relations or civilized behavior. Racism is also wrapped up in the power issue. Racist statements are often used to de-humanize those who are under the power of those making the statements, to make crushing those under that power less unconscionable. They are used in time of conflict, to make it easier to destroy someone who under better circumstances might be just another human being. So, yes, I think caring that people are racists (and trying to make them stop) is a good thing. Better yet, let's call it a moral thing, an imperative, if you will.

So how do we stop racism?

I dont know. I wish I could answer that question.

I dont think the PC movement has been very effective. In fact, I'd say that racial tension has actually increased in the last decade or two since PC reared its head. I have no scientific or sociologic evidence for this, it's just a feeling. I think that the PC movement was just another American Easy Fix, like bussing and school testing, that will ultimately end up doing far more damage than good. It's certainly already contributed to the Rise of Republican Power. How many people sided with the GOP because of the Left's embracing of Political Correctness? If it's more than just 2%, would Bush have won either race without them?
Once upon a time, you knew who the racists were, because they'd tell you themselves. Now you cant tell who's a racist, and who's a perfectly nice person who also happens to be an insensitive boob, or an angry person lashing out at The Other, or just someone repeating the words they grew up with without any real malice behind them.

Think I'm wrong? Let's redirect:

Whatever "color" you are, think about these questions: If you're a tall man, and you are angry at someone shorter than you, have you ever described that person as a "little bastard"? Yes? Does that then make you a heightist? If you are a petite woman, and you've been in a conflict with a larger female, have you ever refered to her as "that fat bitch"? If so, are you a weightist? Is it worse to make fun of black people than it is to make fun of bald people?
I myself am rather tall. I work with a shorter man who irritates me. I have refered to him, at least in my own thoughts as, "that little bastard". I could have used "russian" or "armenian" or "ex-communist" or "apologist" or "swarthy", but "little" is just more satisfying. Is this because I hate short people? No. Is it because I wish to dehumanise him a bit and sub-consciously recognise heighth as a possible cleave-point with which to separate him from the crowd? Maybe.
There's great satisfaction in occasionally dehumanizing The Other, whoever that may be. I suspect a little bit may even be healthy. When it becomes a lifestyle is when it becomes a problem. When it focuses not occassionally on an available subject at hand, but repeatedly on a specific group or groups (or even every other group). When it is the result of ingrained belief rather than a passion of the moment.

Like any self-esteem builder based on running others down to raise yourself up, it's not only ineffective in the long run, it also damages your soul.

I wish I could advise people to switch from jokes about ethnicity (or any other thing which one is born into) to jokes about choices made (like lawyer jokes, or blond jokes), but I dont think, ultimately, that these are any better. There are good lawyers, there are bad lawyers. There are good whites, there are bad whites. There are good blondes and bad. There are good asians and bad. Same for blacks, same for Republicans, same for Nordic types, same even for the French.

Okay, forget the jokes. What about stereotyping? Bad, right, just bad. Bad, bad, bad.
No, actually, I wouldnt exactly say that. Stereotypes are shorthand for an identifiable group. Maybe that means a racial group, maybe that means a professional group, maybe that means a meat product. And they serve a purpose: they give you a starting point.
When you meet a big, hairy, tattooed, leather-clad guy on a Hog named "Crusher", do you really want to approach him the same way that you would a wizened, old, blue-haired lady with a cane. But you shouldnt be surprised if Crusher turns out to be just a tattoo-loving guy who works at an auto-scrapyard and arrived at Budhism by way of Robert Pirsig. Or if that sweet little old lady pays you with a ten, then claims she gave you a twenty. Because, you see, stereotypes and other blanket statements are good for about the first few minutes you meet anyone, and that's about it. Any further use of them is pure laziness. Oh sure, often, maybe even most of the time, a stereotype may be more-or-less true, but it's that phrase, "more-or-less" where the trouble begins. People, however sheep-like they may act much of the time, are not cut out with cookie cutters. They are all different, even bubble-headed rich blonde girls, even neatly-dressed bespectacled Indian fellows, even whiskey-swilling, jig-dancing Irishmen. And all should be treated as individuals using stereotypes only as a starting off point. Anything else is lazy, and unfair, and just simply disrespectful. Everyone you ever meet will start giving you personal information as soon as you meet them, whether face-to-face, or through some form of media. Use that information, and deal with them as individuals.

That said, racism doesnt have to be a conscious decision. Try taking one of these tests from Harvard. You may be surprised, regardless of your color.

Finally, this note: In the Troika/Gisher incident, there was one voice who managed to stay reasonable and calm throughout the discussion. Can you guess who this person was? A Conservative Gun-nut.

That's right.

Can you say "Individual"? In-di-vid-u-al. Sure, knew ya' could.

post-script: I had hoped to adress "culturism" also, which I think many people confuse with racism, but I'll save that for another time.


Kevin said...

Not only that, a self-described "conservative gun-nut."

Good piece. Thanks for the link.

And wait 'till you see the peice my wife (who pretty much hates the internet) is writing to "the troika." When I get my home computer back on line this weekend, I get to post it.

That ought to be... interesting.

Omnipotent Poobah said...

Bravo Dave!

My little contribution to the discussion about the Rev's question was similar to yours essentially. I maintained that context is the key to the whole schmear. That and a healthy dose of common sense.

Personally, I don't think racism (or most of the other "isms" either) are ever going away. As long as one person has something the other one wants we'll continue to have the argument (civilized or not).


Because charging someone as a racist says as much - or maybe more - about the person leveling the charge as about the person who did the alleged "race-baiting".

The other thing that seems a bit off about the Rev's discussion is this: Who knows whether the Rev is a black, disabled, lesbian, gun-nut or just a white, athletic, transgender with too much time on his hands?

Not me, that's for sure.

rev. billy bob gisher ©2008 said...

nicely done twerp. a bit too deep and lengthy for pinheads, my how you have grown as a writer. you get a linky do for this. i hope dumbguy doesn't read your post. he won't get the point of it.

rev. billy bob gisher ©2008 said...

pooby that is why i used gisher, instead of my real name. i have a color, gish has a color and it's red because he is pissed. my trick is to keep dave from sqeeging out the cracks as "dave" does sometimes. not you dave

Jenn said...

I love how you guys assume that I had a problem with Gisher because he's White.

"Reverse Racism" pleas are so easy to throw out. Doesn't it make you feel special? My post was about ethnic jokes.

daveawayfromhome said...

Jenn, you did have a problem with Gisher because he's white. These are your words, control-C'ed off your page:

So, all that being said, my question for Gisher would have to be why he, and by he, I am of course putting him on the spot as a representative for all of the White mainstream (and perhaps I simply misunderstand his reasoning for posting about offensive material in the first place), feel the need and demand the right to make fun of people of other cultures, backgrounds and identities. No longer are we to be enslaved so suddenly we need to be made the buffoon?

Why would you assume that Gisher was representing "white" people? I dont assume that you represent "asian" people, or that James represents "black" people (though I might accept that Dumb Guy 2 represents "dumb" people).
Until everyone stops taking the remarks of one person to represent a whole race, even those who claim to represent a whole race, then racism will never be eradicated.

As for "reverse racism", there is no such thing. It is racism, whichever direction it may be going. Your post was about ethnic jokes, so was Gisher's. The difference between your post and Gisher's is that he never demonized anybody, and he presented jokes about everybody.

Finally, do I feel special? You betcha. But it's got nothing to do with my skin color. It's because whenever someone asks me who I'd like to be if I could be anyone in the world, the answer is always "me" (with a bit more money).

Anonymous said...

Very nice piece, but you left out the cynics point of view. One of my favorite lines on the topic has always been "why would someone hate someone else base solely on the color of their skin, when if they took the time to get to know that someone, they'd find a myriad of other reasons to hate them". Not verbatim, I know, but I can't even remember who said it, either, so it just doesn't matter.

Carlos Serra said...

Very good insights, congratulations!I'm going to quote you...

rev. billy bob gisher ©2008 said...

1 million damn times: by reacting to words you empower them over you. by living only through absolutes you insulate yourself from the truth of the wonder of your own individuality.

we are burying problems under the rug daily with this junk, and pc only helps hide it.