Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Racism" 101

Back when I was in the professin' bidness, and I was teaching a class in which the notion of 'racism' might crop up (since I professed in the field of Education, it was pretty much in every class I taught), I'd have to deliver a lecture including the following points:
"Let's not confuse individual acts of bigotry, or bias, or prejudice with 'racism.' There will always be cretins and morons, in every social group or culture, who regard anyone exogenous to the group to be inferior, and nurture an animus against anyone whom they regard as an exogene. That is not "racism," per se: "Racism" does not consist in individual acts, no matter how ignoble; it is systemic, social, embedded.

The best example I can imagine is recent; it is probably going to become the exemplary case: the "spontaneous" rejection by the (White) lower and middle classes of health care reform measures which would have improved conditions for everyone in the whole country. "Racism" in the systemic sense (which is the only kind there is) is revealed in the willingness of even marginalized "Whites" to reject the improvement in the health benefits they'd experience with reform, so as to deny any improvement to the "minorities" whom they regard as their inferiors.
E.g.: "Ah don' wan' MAH tayx dollurs goin' t' help no got-dam, drunk, lazy, drugged-out, baby-making ________s!" (Fill in the blank yourself)
The individual acts of bias, prejudice, bogotry or discrimination are invidious enough, but their effects can be vitiated, locally, by close, private attention to one's own behavior. It's the systemic problem, the tacit agreements on superiority/inferiority, and the social conventions that arise from those tacit agreements that are the well-spring of real 'racism.'

A correspondent (this discussion occurred on Facebook today) replied:
It's not limited to whites. Dare YOU to go to areas in large rust belt cities after dark, or some rural southwestern towns and try to stay. I'm sick of racism being labeled as a whites only issue, that's total BS. It's unfortunately everywhere people haven't been exposed to other races in a positive way. Once you've personally been judged by your color you know what a foul stench racism is. Yes, systematic and embedded. It may be regional, or institutional, but it's not just whites.
One of the interesting things that White people do is to avoid responsibility for their own participation in racist practices by finding examples of it in "non-White" cultures and societies. Such examples do not alter the fact that, in the in the USofA, it is "whites only." Show me how USer minorities have ever used their status to deprive Whites of basic rights or the benefit of commons HERE.

Racism is a function of power, not of individual depravity. For example, in Japan, the Japanese culture is "racist" with respect to other Asians. They erect (tacit, but well-understood) barriers to the social integration of Koreans, Chinese, and others. In Britain, there are still deep, societal attitudes which permit the marginalization and exploitation of "colonials.'

I'm sorry to be the one to bear the bad news, but yeah: In Murka, racism is a "whites only" kinda thing......
Okay, well there's the bell. Class dismissed.

1 comment:

Charles D said...

Americans have some kind of innate aversion to acknowledging any systemic problems with the "greatest nation on the face of the earth". I grew up in the segregated south and I am sickened by the many people who want to tell us that racism is over now. It is not and probably never will be. Your health care example is quite telling and accurate.

I've been auditing your online class here for some time and learn something every day - or at least have a good laugh. Keep it up!