Ending Racism Facebook discussion

A few thoughts here referencing this essay. The author is a sociology prof at UCLA. I mostly agree with what he says, but would expand a couple points out a bit further.

My thoughts aren’t in much order and don’t necessarily flow together.

First though, it’s important to note what are social processes and what are the politics/ethics/morality of the discipline.

The author spends 4 out of 6 paragraphs talking about the morality of racism, and wanting to get rid of racism as its own moral end goal. That’s fine and all, but it captures what is frustrating with the discipline. This is a value-oriented goal. One which matters for ethical reasons, moral reasons. It’s not really different than a religious goal. If I am Christian, and think the world would be better if more people were Christian, I would approach it the same way. But, this is an essay not an actual article, so we’ll give him latitude to have morals. However, the moral discussion is different than the social process discussion. If we were going to increase Christianity or decrease racism, there are social tweaks we can work on to address either goal.

Also note, ending racism bumps into interesting legal problems. Here in the US, we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Your religion may say plaid people were marked by the devil. I may wish to outlaw such ideas, but I don’t know how you get that past the Constitution. You can make laws against behaviors of discriminating or harassing plaid people. But most Americans will be wary of anything smacking of thought crimes.

Racism means multiple things, and the author breezes through them quickly, assuming the reader is familiar. Let me reiterate three layers of racism. 1) Overt — I hate plaids. 2) Unconscious — I react to plaids without realizing it [this merits its own whole discussion, which I am happy to write up if anyone cares]. 3) Structural — because plaids are the descendants of broke immigrants, who never had any money, and who lived in the same neighborhoods, with the same bad schools, and did the same jobs as their parents, they’re still broke now (for example, think of the particularly rough flavor of working-class Boston Irish).

Shared goals. The armed services were one of the first to effectively diminish racism. It wasn’t through having segregated units either. Segregated units, even if they were fighting the same war, didn’t help reduce racism. It was by integrating the units, and then putting those units into action with common goals and against a common enemy. Integrated units, fighting the same enemy is what united people.

Humans certainly appear to be tribal. Even in a world where divisions don’t need to exist, we draw them. High school kids fight other high schools, just for the hell of it. What is it Orwell said? ‘Sport is war without the shooting’ or some such. People in Georgia dislike Alabama, and people in Nebraska dislike Iowa, even though it’s just flyover country to everyone else. The South is still pissed about the Civil War. The North is ready to let them go this time. People from small towns talk about the “Cidiots” (city idiots) and the city people just wonder what the hell those people are doing out in the middle of nowhere.

However, Americans are less tribal — at least about ethnicities. Face it, except for the First Nations and the African Americans, your people are the ones who left. One way or another those ancestors made a conscious decision that as individuals they would be better off in the US than wherever they were from. As greedy individuals trying to get rich, we are not focused on my group versus yours. The ethnic/racist scripts that weren’t useful have already faded away. Nobody cares about the Irish vs the Italians anymore.

Europe, Africa, the Middle East are all places where old fashioned tribalism holds more sway than in the US. The scariest thing about Trump’s NATO talk, is when Europe falls apart, we have genocides and World Wars. But Europe’s not special, that stuff happens everywhere people are well established. Can you imagine in the US, any of that happening? Hitler’s holocaust? Darfur’s genocide? ISIS rising up and attacking mainstream Islam? No! Americans don’t identify with those ethnic tribalisms the way others do. [There’s an implied discussion of the removal of First Nations here — but that is for another time].

Trying to squash human tendencies, to me seems futile. We remember the Victorians as Platonic Puritans who idealized love and fantasized about revealed ankles. Meanwhile, brothels were openly accepted in American cities, cartoon and early photographic pornography was being distributed, erotica flourished, and physicians were developing the first electric vibrators for ‘women’s issues.’ In short, no matter how much they wanted to, the Victorians could not wish sexuality away. Squash it down and it squirts out in unexpected places and ways. What is going to happen if our approach to racism is to either ignore it, or try and squash it down as immoral and evil? I can’t help but wonder if we won’t see even scarier fringes who are explicitly white nationalist.

If the Democratic party really wanted to end racism, they would need to unite the black and white working and middle classes against a common enemy. They would need to do so in a way that racism just wasn’t a useful script anymore. If people are going to draw lines around themselves, give them lines that are constructive instead of destructive.

But the democrats seem not to have focused on a broad labor strategy in my lifetime.