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May 24 2013

On Useful and Not-So-Useful Definitions of Racism

[Update 10/22/13: If you've found this post through a racist hate forum, don't bother commenting. Your comment's going straight to the trash and nobody will ever read it. :)]

Richard Dawkins, whose Twitter feed never fails to amuse, has lately been discussing racism–specifically, against white people:

[Here's the link in case you can't see this]

 

Dawkins sounds eerily like my high school self here–desperate to stick to his own definitions of things and reject the definitions of others, all while claiming that everyone needs to be using the same definition in order for a discussion to be productive. Dawkins assumes that a dictionary definition is by default more legitimate than a definition provided by people who actually study the subject in question and presumes that what is written in a dictionary is “true” in the same sense as, say, the periodic table or the speed of light. Consider that dictionaries have historically been written by those least likely to understand what racism actually is and how it actually works, because if you’re a white person, racism isn’t something you’re ever forced to give serious thought to.

It is true that if you define racism as “not liking someone based on their race,” then people of color can be just as racist as white people. If you define racism this way, then it is true that the person who dismissed Dawkins’ opinion at the beginning was being racist. If you define racism this way, then it is true that a white person who is treated rudely by a Black person is a victim of racism, and it is true that, strictly speaking, affirmative action is racist.

But the fact is that this isn’t a very useful definition. You might as well make up a word for “not liking someone based on the color of their hair” or “not liking someone based on whether they wear boxers or briefs.” I don’t deny that it’s hurtful when someone doesn’t like you based on something arbitrary like your skin color, but when you’re white, this doesn’t carry any cultural or institutional power. When you’re not white, it does. Because then it’s not just a random asshole who doesn’t like your skin color.

I have had a person of color express prejudice towards me because I’m white exactly once in my life. Once. (And for what it’s worth, it was a stranger on the train who apparently just felt like yelling at people that day.) I have never been denied a job because I’m white. I have never been followed around or stopped and frisked by the police because I’m white. I’ve never been told I’m ugly because I’m white. I have never been told I’m stupid because I’m white, and I’ve never been told that I’m unusually intelligent for a white person.

Disliking someone based on their skin color is not enough for it to be racism. In fact, it’s not even a necessary condition. You can like people of color a lot while still maintaining that they’re just different from white people or that they need protection or that they’re perhaps better suited by nature for servile roles (this was an attitude commonly expressed during slavery). Likewise, you can just loooooove women while still supporting patriarchal laws and cultural norms, which is why I have to laugh when someone’s all like “But how can I be sexist? I LOOOOVE women! ;)”

As a scientist, Dawkins must realize how difficult it is when people take technical terms and use them too generally. For instance, a “chemical” is any substance that has a constant composition and that is characterized by specific properties. Elements are chemicals. Compounds are chemicals. Basically, tons of substances are chemicals, including water. Yet most people use “chemical” to mean “awful scary synthetic substance put into our food/water/hygienic products.” You see products being advertised as “chemical-free,” a laughable concept, and people talking about how “chemicals” are bad for you.

So yes, it’s important to recognize that many people use the word “chemical” in a particular way that conflicts with the definition used by chemists. But that doesn’t suddenly mean that this lay definition becomes the “real” definition and the chemists are suddenly “wrong.” And if you want to rant about the dangers of chemicals with your friends (I’d advise you not to, but whatever), it doesn’t matter if you use the lay definition.

But the way the lay public uses the word “chemical” is essentially meaningless, because they basically use it to mean “substances that may or may not be dangerous but we don’t really know we just know that we can’t pronounce them.” It doesn’t even necessarily refer to synthetic substances, because most people would probably say that cyanide is a chemical, it’s naturally occurring (in fact, it’s produced in certain fruit seeds). So if you want to discuss chemicals with a chemist, you’d better use the actual definition, because the terms used by chemists are more precise and useful.

Of course, when it comes to race it’s not quite as benign as people taking chemistry terms and using them haphazardly. It’s important to remember that white people have a vested interest in ignoring the structural causes and effects of racism–the kind that are best encapsulated in the definition of racism preferred by sociologists and activists. It’s uncomfortable to talk about racism this way. It’s painful and guilt-inducing to acknowledge that you (as a white person) have benefited from unearned privileges at the expense of people of color. It’s awkward to admit that affirmative action is not “bias in favor of people of color”; it’s an attempt to correct for the fact that college admissions and hiring practices are actually prejudiced in favor of whites, and this has been shown by controlled studies over and over again.

What’s significantly more comfortable is claiming that “everyone can be racist” and “Blacks can be racist too” and “some Blacks are even more racist toward whites than whites are toward them.” That is a definition of racism that white folks can deal with. But that doesn’t make it useful for actually talking about the things that matter.

 

 

 

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  1. 1
    Leah Jane

    Spot-on! I audibly groaned when I saw that bit of a brain fart (It was retweeted by the satirical account, White Saviour, which is how I saw it.)
    The “dictionary” argument is such a basic “derailing 101″ tactic, I wish it would die a horrible, flaming death.

  2. 2
    kagekiri

    Richard Dawkins, whose Twitter feed never fails to amuse

    I assume you meant this sarcastically?

    It always fails to amuse me; it’s like a feed designed to make me facepalm myself into unconsciousness.

    On the other hand, it also provides constantly updating examples of what “doubling down” looks like, or “how to violate the rule of holes”, or “how to alienate every decent human being you speak to while pleasing racists and MRAs”.

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I was being half-sarcastic. I think his Twitter can actually be quite hilarious: http://dawkinsontwitter.tumblr.com/

      That doesn’t mean I agree with any of it, of course.

  3. 3
    LeftSidePositive

    Moreover, the twitterer above is not disliking Dawkins specifically because he is white–she dislikes him because his BEHAVIOR is marginalizing and racist…and happens to be so in the way that our society encourages economically-comfortable white people to be. It is vastly less likely that someone with firsthand experience of racial discrimination would make comments like Dawkins (although not impossible: see Thomas, Clarence…), and the social insulation that Dawkins has enjoyed due to his race and class IS relevant to the insensitive things he is saying.

    Furthermore, in my experience, no one has found it necessary to point out my race or class to me unless I have *already* said something ignorant about my presumption of their lived experience. Saying “you’re rich and white” (though not “male” for me, obvs) is not saying “I decided before you started talking that I don’t like you because you’re rich and white” but rather “what you’re saying is affected by the life experiences typical of the rich and white in our society.”

  4. 4
    Ross the Boss

    I was not following this Twitter exchange as it happened, and I have little context about it, so I found this entire string of tweets very hard to follow. …As well as everyone’s real point, meaning, and tone. I feel like so much of it was coded satire.

    He’s made a bunch of tweets since all this seemingly trying to clarify, though all the while undermining any sincerity with RTs of jerks.

    Was Dawkins actually making a false equivocation by identifying instances of racism against him (whether or not they occurred; I still don’t know what the fuck happened)? Was he actually denying the fact that minority races and women actually do suffer disproportionately because of their categories? I can get behind your semantics argument, but is there all this baggage behind his words?

    1. 4.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I think his snarking about how racism/sexism is only okay when it’s against white men makes it clear that he WAS making that equivocation. And when informed that racism and sexism require both prejudice AND power, he started going on about how that’s not what’s in the dictionary.

  5. 5
    michaeld

    Does anyone else want to start using the definition of evolution as seen by creationists or pokemon? By catterpillar just evolved into a cacoon! ;p

    1. 5.1
      Marcus Ranum

      catterpillar just evolved into a cacoon!

      Shades of George Galloway’s gibe at Hitchens: “You used to be a butterfly, but you’ve metamorphosed back into a slug.”

  6. 6
    SubMor

    Oh come on, LeftSidePositive, you can’t possibly expect a professional scientist and renowned critical thinker like Dawkins to accurately represent the side he’s arguing against, can you? I mean, come on! Taking all that extra time to make sure you understand what your proverbial opponent is saying must surely just be time wasted!

    1. 6.1
      SubMor

      I fail at reply. This is not a nested comment! What is happening! Oh noes!

      1. 6.1.1
        CaitieCat, getaway driver

        I think you mean, “ceci n’est pas un nested comment.”

  7. 7
    maudell

    @Michaeld
    I had the same thought about the definition of evolution. While the dictionary definition is correct, it would be ludicrous to ask Dawkins to never expand on it in any way.
    Then I thought of another comparison: the dictionary definition of atheism. It was corrected in the past few years, but it used to be similar to “someone who asserts that God does not exist.” It’s still the definition many use. I wonder if Dawkins embraces that definition (hint: I think he doesn’t. Maybe he’s a closet sociologist?).

  8. 8
    leftwingfox

    You know, even back as a clueless mushy-middle politically naif teenager with my head too far up my own ass, I could still figure out the difference in racism between the dominant group and the oppressed group.

    Slurs are used to put people in their place. I’m a honky? That just means I’m on top. The worst it can make me feel is guilt for being on top. I call some who has suffered through discrimination, harassment, violence and mockery because of their race? People who still get the short end of the stick? Then an ethnic slur means “Know your place: you are beneath me” and dredges up every injustice they’ve faced because of who they are.

    You see it with gender too. Calling someone a dick is a mild insult. It means being rude or a jerk. Calling someone a c**t is a far more serious insult, reserved for people who are deeply contemptible.

  9. 9
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Dawkins is an arse. I welcome his weekly Twitter!fail, because he’s making a continual point of showing people what an arse he is, and every time he does, more systems slip through his fingers…no, wait, that was Emperor Palpatine.

    I’ll start again. No. Well, you know what I meant. :D

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    I hope Dawkins reads this. I doubt that he will, but it would do him some good.

  11. 11
    Great American Satan

    Dawkins was a useful and eloquent guy on an important topic at an important time. After 9-11, the world needed proud atheists to make that case, from a position of privilege where they’d be heard. Now his privilege is stinking up the joint big time, and making atheists look like assholes – not a hard thing to do, given that the most outspoken atheists most people know are high school libertarian types.

    It’s time for a new voice of atheism to take over. Not sure what the best angle of attack is, but it’s time for dudes like that to take their fossilized thinking and pomposity, and fade into obscurity.

  12. 12
    rilian

    I don’t understand why Nadia Noui-Mehidi responded that way. What was objectionable about what richard dawkins was saying?

    1. 12.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’m a little confused myself, because his tweets are so disjointed. I think he was trying to comment on some racial/Islamic motivation behind the murder. It started here: https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/337321489881788417

    2. 12.2
      Ladders

      It’s exactly as Dawkins said; people fail to distinguish between racism/sexism and institutionalised racism/sexism. Racism and sexism are just prejudice based on race or sex respectively, no power dynamics required.

      Just because there is no institutional power behind it doesn’t making disliking white people because they’re white, or men because they are men, not racist/sexist.

  13. 13
    A. Noyd

    As a scientist, Dawkins must realize how difficult it is when people take technical terms and use them too generally.

    Maybe someone should remind him how in the first chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth he came up with the word “theorum” (an intentional misspelling of “theorem”) because “theory” has too much definitional baggage attached. By his current standards, creationists are justified in applying the “conjecture” meaning of theory to the theory of evolution.

    Also, how are the meanings of words not relative and socially constructed? Even the most iconic (least arbitrary) classes of words, such as onomatopoeia, still differ between languages and societies.

  14. 14
    queequack

    Ok, interesting post. Full disclosure, I’m not majoring in sociology, but I’m an ugly loser with nothing to do but read random shit, so I would consider myself an informed layman. Basically if I’m reading you right, you’re arguing for the exclusive validity of a particular set of connotations regarding the word “racism”… ie, an institutional component. After thinking about this for 5 minutes or so, I’m going to ahead and disagree, for a few reasons. Here they are.

    Facts. Given the reality of a super racist history and modern tensions that persist today, it’s not uncommon and not at all “irrational” or “random” to harbor low-level prejudice toward whites. The SPLC monitors multiple “black supremacist” hate groups (mostly the Nation of Islam and its derivations). People have been killed for being white, even in the US- see Turner, Nat (he didn’t only kill slaveholders). I’m not trying to equate racism against whites and blacks here, because that would be dumb. Obviously, on a macro scale white people hold the vast majority of the power in the Western world and so yes, I would agree that on the whole, the power structure favors white racists. But the point is that race is a charged topic in our society, and that tension does cut in all directions, if asymmetrically.

    So I would submit that hating white people is not, in fact, comparable to hating blondes, either in terms of frequency or the cultural baggage associated with that particular form of prejudice. One litmus test (I’m pulling this out of my ass, but it’s a blog comment) might be the fact that a black racist could certainly find support and validation for his/her views; the same probably couldn’t be said for that blonde-person-hater. IMO, it’s racism as a general phenomenon that’s a uniquely notable form of bigotry, not necessarily racism against a particular subset of people.

    This SJW stuff, as always, seems inchoate and not really thought through. I mean, there are more than two races in the world. Can Hispanics be racist against blacks? What about vice versa? How about a white person hating Hispanics? Presumably that’s still “racism” in the SJW sense, but is it “as racist” as whites hating blacks, since there’s not quite as much of a history there? Idk. What I’m saying is that this binary approach, while perhaps useful in certain contexts, doesn’t work so well in others.

    Though I admit I’m speaking as a layman, it seems to me that sociologists often use a particular connotation that implies an institutional element to racism, and that’s a connotation that is relevant and useful in that particular context. It doesn’t follow, however, that it’s the only valid connotation forever anywhere ever.

    There’s actually an interesting little irony here! By insisting on the exclusive validity of this particular connotation, you’re taking a prescriptivist stance, which is traditionally a conservative position; the only difference is that most prescriptivists argue for the primacy of standard written English, the dialect of the (mostly white) mainstream. I’m bored of typing.

    1. 14.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Queequack, I’m going to give this a proper response tomorrow when I’m better-rested, but for now, I’d like to ask you not to refer to yourself as an “ugly loser” while you’re here. We already devoted a thread on another post discussing your supposed unattractiveness, and I’d rather not have it devolve into that again. There are people here, myself included, who are struggling with body image issues, and this sort of stuff is just difficult to read and I don’t want to see it in my comments section anymore. Thanks.

      1. 14.1.1
        NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

        Also, I’m seconding Miri here.

      2. 14.1.2
        queequack

        Ok, I won’t. I wrote that comment really quickly and didn’t give it any thought.

    2. 14.2
      NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

      But racism is institutional.

      Yeah, sure, non-whites can have a bias against whites, and at times it can turn violent and even deadly.

      However

      For a couple centuries at least, now, white people have held the balance of power at least in the West. Racism was and is a mainly institutional paradigm in which white people set up laws and institutions that routinely and frequently favored white people over non-white people.

      That is racism. Just having a bias is not, inandof itself, racism. Bigotry and bias are not the same thing, and bias does not become bigotry until it becomes institutional. The balance of power is what matters, here, and us white people currently hold the balance of power.

      1. 14.2.1
        wtfwhatever

        So racism is institutional and now you tell us bigotry is institutional

        So I guess Archie Bunker was merely biased and not a bigot or a racist (or a sexist) since Archie, a blue collar worker had no institutional power in the system.

        1. 14.2.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          First of all, Archie was white. Second, Archie was fictional.

        2. 14.2.1.2
          NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

          Seriously?

          A person does not have to have institutional power in order for them to have institutional privilege. Just because the balance of power favors white people does not mean all white people have institutional power. You don’t have to own a collection of Aston Martin’s, Maserati, Ferraris, and Rolls Royces in order to have institutional privilege.

          So if Archie Bunker were a real person, then yes, he’d still be privileged, because he’s a white man. I think he was also Christian, giving him a third level of privilege. And he was middle class, making him privileged over the poor.

          Was shit hard for Archie? Yes. Was he white collar? No.

          Still privileged, though.

        3. 14.2.1.3
          LeftSidePositive

          Archie Bunker had lots of relative power in the system. He, as a white person, was more likely to get a job than a black person in the same situation. He was more likely to be approved for a loan, get a house, or hail a taxi because of his race. He, all his life, was told that he was better than “The Other” because he was white and male. He would have all his friends support him that he was right to be in charge of his wife and kids solely on account of his gender. Just because he wasn’t (very) privileged economically doesn’t mean that he didn’t have RELATIVE privilege based on his race and gender.

          Moreover, he didn’t come up with his ideas about race and gender independently. He got them from a culture–a system–that prioritizes the needs and wants of white people over black people, and of male people over female people. He himself didn’t necessarily parley his advantages into great wealth, but he is speaking for that system, contributing to that system, and belittling those below him in that system.

    3. 14.3
      LeftSidePositive

      I love how in queequack’s mad dash to false equivalence he has to bring up Nat Turner. Nat Fucking Turner!! Dude, that rebellion happened in 1831. Remind me again how long it’s been since Trayvon Martin was gunned down? Or Jordan Davis? If that’s how far you have to go to find examples of black-on-white violence, that’s a pretty good example of how imbalanced things are. Furthermore, your example is one of people acting out against a horrific and violent system of abuse against them, so calling fighting back (however violently or counterproductively) against injustice “racism” instead of an actual realization that yes these were the people who had the power to buy, sell, mutilate, and kill those who were fighting them is pretty fucking stupid.

      Also, you ought to remember that Nat Turner & co killed about 55-60 whites. The same number of blacks (including Nat Turner) were formally executed for their part in the rebellion. In addition, over TWO HUNDRED blacks were beaten and killed by vigilante mobs, regardless of whether they had any connection at all to the rebellion. So, yeah–I think this counts more as yet another example of institutional racism and the sociopolitical supremacy of whites over blacks being maintained by violence and oppression rather than a counterbalance to the racism score!

      But thanks for playing all the same.

      1. 14.3.1
        queequack

        false equivalence

        I’m not trying to equate racism against whites and blacks here, because that would be dumb.

        1. 14.3.1.1
          queequack

          I thought about this some more today and IMO, this (endlessly repeated) discussion semantic and unproductive. There’s really no right or wrong; it depends on your own personal priorities, how you prefer to approach the world, and all that. I do see the usefulness of the sociological term, and I do agree that white racists have an institutional backing that others don’t (although I think we have made some truly astonishing progress in the past 50 years). Anyway, I’ve spent too much time on a debate that I don’t think will ever go anywhere. Thanks for letting me post, Miri.

          1. LeftSidePositive

            Translation: I can’t defend my position, so let’s just agree to disagree, ‘cuz that way I won’t have to challenge my comfortable assumptions.

            By the way, the difference between actual racism and what privilege-denying white people call “racism” is not a “semantic” difference for those in marginalized groups who are having their experience appropriated and trivialized. It’s only distant, academic, and inconsequential for you because of your privilege.

      2. 14.3.2
        Norma A

        I know this was a long time ago but If you could find time to reply that would be great.
        I think “It’s only distant, academic, and inconsequential for you because of your privilege” was an unnecessary assumption. Unless you actually know the details of his life. In which case, It wouldn’t be an unwarranted assumption but an assumption nonetheless. I understand exactly what he meant and I’m a homosexual, Hispanic, lower class female, so not so privileged-no. I understand the sociological context of the word “racism” but I believe Dawkings made a point that he was not using that definition. I guess It was “deduced” that It was the necessary definition, considering his false equivalence. However, the false equivalence basis is an assumption as well. What If he simply meant that black people CAN hate white people because of their presumptions about white people. The connection between how someone looks and what that someone’s persona must necessarily be like, according to generalization. What If that’s simply how he was defining racism and didn’t mean to Imply any other context. For, If that was the definition he meant then It *could* exist both ways, regardless and separate of institutional racism. If he simply meant something like that, what would the word be, simply bias (and not racism)? OR is the argument that two separate words would be needed for this type of bias, depending on who was being targeted, due to societal context?

  15. 15
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Dawkins was the straw that broke the camel’s back in yet another lesson I’ve been forced to learn: don’t have heroes.

    Only a couple months ago, he gave a speech down in Miami on the Science of Beauty and the Beauty of Science. It was a damn good talk, too. I got “God Delusion” and “Greatest Show on Earth” signed.

    Barely a week later, he utterly refuses to engage women on the science behind fetuses and pain on Twitter.

    At that point, he lost me. Now, I can only look at him in mild amusement mixed with sad disappointment. And I wish it wasn’t “The God Delusion” that helped me on my way to atheism… :(

  16. 16
    AshleyL

    If the person did indeed study sociology, that would just be even more of a reason to respect their expertise on the matter, rather than listen to the useless opinion of some ignoramus biologist.

  17. 17
    trazan

    Twitter is a good medium for slogans and oneliners. Maybe it’s not that useful for nuance, subtleties and dialog. In the first tweets here, Dawkins implicitly says this killing is religiously motivated. He doesn’t say it in so many words. In islam, the distinction between believers and unbelievers seems to be important. The latter seems to have a much lower status, explicitly. Muslims also seem to act on these values. Is wikiislam reliable? http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Persecution_of_Non-Muslims#United_Kingdom

    In the tweet of NadiaNouiMehidi, she explicitly states that whatever Dawkins says, it is worthless because of him being white and male and he shouldn’t speak on anything outside his own field. She calls him smug. Is that an argument? In her opinion, his choice in footwear further invalidates him. She’s trolling. Why is she taken seriously? There is much nonsense in her and morphinetoasts twitter feeds.

    1. 17.1
      LeftSidePositive

      In the tweet of NadiaNouiMehidi, she explicitly states that whatever Dawkins says, it is worthless because of him being white and male and he shouldn’t speak on anything outside his own field.

      I already addressed this blatant misrepresentation in comment #3, so you should probably re-read it before you make yourself sound even more foolish.

      And she’s not saying he (or anyone) should never speak outside zir own field, she’s pointing out that in this instance Dawkins is speaking outside of his field AND FAILING MISERABLY, all while believing he has the same qualifications that he does in biology.

      And the footwear is a humorous reference to one of many markers of social class. I can’t BELIEVE you don’t understand that, and to take such an obvious allusion seriously strongly indicates to me that YOU are the one who is trolling.

      1. 17.1.1
        trazan

        I read some twitter feeds and your first comment before I posted. Now I have read the rest of your comments. I’m skipping the tweets on racism and sociology. I’m focusing on the first four tweets and your first comment.

        I didn’t present this connection I made: NadiaNouiMehidi isn’t just complaining about Dawkins priviledge. The shoe comment was a reason I didn’t think she was being very serious. How am I misrepresenting?

        Could you clarify this? In Dawkins first three tweets here, what behaviour is white and male? Why is that bad? What behaviour is marginalizing and racist? Is Dawkins ignorant about his presumption of the killers lived experience? Where is he failing miserably? What qualifications are needed to establish that religion motivated the killing?

        I’m not British. I assume, in Britain, islam does have some support as well as opposition among non-muslims, some non-muslims really want to acommodate islam. Pointing out that islam can motivate bad deeds is often frowned upon.

        The killers are male. Does that matter?

  18. 18
    Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins)

    Here is the meat of what I wrote to a colleague this morning, a scientist of Bangladeshi origin, after which he apologised to me very fully and sincerely for his part in the Twitter exchange of yesterday.

    Richard Dawkins

    What upset me about yesterday’s Twitter feeding frenzy was:

    (1). The way people with a smattering of sociology assumed that the special technical sociologists’ meaning of racist was the ONLY permissible usage. Rather like a physicist frothing at the mouth because people sometimes use “energy” in a non-technical sense, as in “I feel full of energy today”. Jeremy Stangroom made the point well in a more recent series of tweets.

    (2). In any case, I thought the sociologists’ technical meaning was rather silly because it PRECLUDED the very POSSIBILITY of uttering a sentence like “White people never suffer from racist abuse.” For purposes of argument I was quite happy to concede that white people as a matter of fact DON’T suffer racist abuse. But I am a stickler for precision and I was frustrated that the sociologists’ definition couldn’t even allow you (other than as a tautology) to SAY “white people as a matter of fact don’t suffer racist abuse”, because they DEFINE racism as abuse against black (or anyway underprivileged) people.

    (3). Because, for brevity, I quoted a dictionary, simply to show that the sociological technical term was not universally agreed, I was annoyed that people gave vent to a sort of anti-dictionary prejudice, even calling dictionaries a tool of white, male oppression (reminiscent of a famous feminist who called Newton’s Principia a “rape manual”)! Actually my feeling is that whether or not we use the DICTIONARY definition of a word is less important than making sure we use the SAME definition as each other. If you say, “I wish to define prejudice against redheads as racist” I’d be happy to say,, “OK, it’s not a definition I’d normally use, but for the sake of argument I’ll follow your definition and argue that racism against redheads is wicked.” But I was accused of a kind of naive dictionary worship, which was grossly unfair.

    (4). Although I felt so strongly about the semantic point that I was prepared, for the sake of argument, to concede that white people never suffer racist abuse, the whole thing started when somebody called me something like a “smug white male in loafers”. I couldn’t help inverting it in my mind and imagining a phrase like “uppity brown female in a hijab”. What decent person would ever even want to say such a thing? Yet this person said the equivalent to me with impunity. There is an asymmetry there which is, at very least, worth noting.

    (5). I was annoyed at the implication that if you haven’t personally suffered from prejudice of a certain kind, that very fact disqualifies you from even TALKING about that form of prejudice. Sexism didn’t come up in the Twitter thread on racism, but haven’t we both encountered something like, “Since you are male, your views on sexism, even your condemnation of sexism, are irrelevant: just shut up and listen to the women”? Any scientist should revolt against that kind of thing, because it implies that personal feelings trump objective argument, and that would be the death of the science that you and I both love.

    (6). Where annoyance spilled over into outright pain was the implication that, because I felt strongly about (1), (2), (3) etc, this must make ME a racist. That pissed me off royally and actually hurt. Indeed I find it all but unforgivable.

    1. 18.1
      LeftSidePositive

      Richard:

      1) But wouldn’t it annoy you if someone spoke of “energy” improperly when trying to talk about physics? It is impossible to divorce “racism” from its context in sociology–because that’s what it MEANS. That’s ALL it means. There is no metaphorical or colloquial use of the term that doesn’t refer to how humans interact socially with each other.

      2) Yes, it IS impossible for white people to suffer from racist abuse. I’m sorry that you don’t like that fact, but please learn to deal with it. You may be the victim of individual prejudice, but there won’t be an entire cultural narrative of your racial inferiority. The person who doesn’t like you will have vastly fewer avenues to power than you do. Racism is systemic, not mere personal prejudice. If you want to talk about prejudice, then just use the word “prejudice.” It’s a perfectly good word–why don’t you learn from the fact that you’re being unclear and misleading when you use “racist” when you don’t have to, unless you’re actually trying to claim false equivalence here?

      3) Dictionaries are generally the most brief and simplistic ways to define things. Therefore it’s insulting to counter people who have advanced knowledge in a field by dragging the level down to the understanding of just a few sentences (written by people who generally don’t have specialized knowledge in every topic available, and, no, AREN’T a randomly-drawn sample from the entire population and this colors how these academics define and prioritize things!). Furthermore, there is extensive understanding in cognitive science that redefining a word on the fly doesn’t eliminate all the connotations the listener has of it (this is why politicians redefine things like “life,” “compassion,” “clean air and water,” etc.), so it’s actually highly irresponsible and dishonest to redefine a term so cavalierly, because you’re exploiting the connotations that your listener holds without having to logically defend how they apply. If someone were to try to define prejudice against redheads as racist, the responsible thing to do would be to challenge the inaccuracy of the definition, because words mean things and connotations are powerful.

      4) I strongly suggest you learn what privilege means (seriously–it’s been years. You’re sadly, embarrassingly overdue). When someone points out you’re behaving like a “smug, white male,” she is criticizing the PRIVILEGE our society has given you, and the way you are oblivious to it, not an inherent/biological state of your being white and/or male. In contrast, when someone uses slurs against a marginalized person, they are asserting that their social inferiority is justified. Also, what Alex Gabriel said below.

      5) This isn’t difficult. If my relative is dying of cancer, and you spout off about what you think it’s like to have a relative dying from cancer, and what you say is wrong, hurtful, or presumptuous, you would understand that the kind and reasonable thing to do is to step back and listen to the person actually going through the experience at hand. Maybe you could be saying something brilliant and touching about losing someone from cancer…in which case no one is going to stop you to remind you that you haven’t had that personal experience! Therefore, when someone points out that you that you haven’t had that experience, you should take that as an indication that you have ALREADY said something very stupid about the matter at hand. Moreover, I think the vast majority of human beings understand that when approaching someone whose family member is dying of cancer, the important thing is to be deferential and err on the side of caution and kindness. People intuitively grasp this. Why does your empathy center shut off when we’re dealing with people who are experiencing gender or race-based marginalization? By the way, I suggest you reconsider what exactly it means to be “objective” when discussing subjective experiences. How it feels to be harassed, how it feels to lose a loved one, how it feels to be denied justice because of race or sex are inherently subjective experiences. Moreover, when someone points out you haven’t been in a marginalized group, they are telling you that you lack information about what forms discrimination may take, and what effects it has. If you really wanted to denounce sexism, shouldn’t you first listen to women to understand what they’re going through? Is that really too much to ask? Wouldn’t you want to make sure you’re aware of the latest in critical theory and social understanding of these phenomena before you talk about them? Isn’t that just due diligence? Wouldn’t that make you most likely to be effective? Moreover, nobody criticizes Jay Smooth, PZ Myers, Rhys Morgan, Jason Thiebault, Adam Lee, and the ENTIRE group of men who actually contributed to a “Speaking Out Against Hate Directed At Women” series put on by the most prominent feminist skeptic group for the very PURPOSE of giving men a chance to speak up about sexism, simply for being men. Therefore, your naive, simplistic, and shockingly ignorant belief that you are being discounted simply because of your gender doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You are being criticized because you are getting basic facts astoundingly wrong, due to a lack of firsthand experience in these topics and your failure to realize that you lack basic information, largely because your culture has reflected to you that your experience is the default and the objective one–and, unlike other men that I have previously mentioned, you have neither the intellect nor the sense of ethics to realize your cultural biases. As such, you are reflecting a “male” cultural bias and are being criticized appropriately, but it is far from impossible to actually learn and move past the cultural biases that you enjoy as a male…you just haven’t done it yet.

      6) I strongly suggest you read everything Crommunist has ever written about how incredibly stupid it is to assume all criticisms of your racial politics or understanding automatically make you “A Racist.” People are not entirely racist or entirely not. People can generally mean well but still have certain ingrained biases or make assumptions, and it’s fair to educate them and it’s not writing them off as a person. Really, I can’t believe you don’t know this. It’s 2013. You are seriously (i.e., DECADES) behind the curve here.

      1. 18.1.1
        dionaea

        Yes, it IS impossible for white people to suffer from racist abuse. I’m sorry that you don’t like that fact, but please learn to deal with it.

        It is only a “fact” when you define racism in such a way that white people can’t suffer from racist abuse. Under that definition it is a tautology rather than a fact. Most people who are not crypto-marxist critical theorists define racism as prejudice based on race. You may not like that definition, because it probably doesn’t fit your ideology, but it is not objectively wrong. Dawkins has every right to use a definition that is commonly understood to mean that particular kind of prejudice.

        As for “privilege”, I’m sure Dawkins understands what it means. He will also understand that calling him a “smug, rich, white, old male” is not an application of the sociological concept of privilege, but a lazy ad hominem used by the interlocuter in the absence of proper arguments.

        Your condescension is almost surreal. But self awareness is a quality often wanting in social justice warriors like you.

        drosera (I can’t seem to log in under my normal user name.)

        1. 18.1.1.1
          LeftSidePositive

          All right, then…try to make an argument about white people suffering from racist abuse. Go ahead, try. And while you’re at it, try not to make it willfully insensitive to the centuries of oppression and continued marginalization that people of color face. If you can succeed at that, maybe we’ll all be convinced that your definition of racism is totally the best one…but I’m not holding out much hope!

          Learn what an ad hominem means. Dawkins is behaving like Ray Comfort in terms of willful ignorance here. No, not every time someone rebukes Ray Comfort are they going to go through all the arguments against him from square one. Sometimes they’re going to use a convenient shorthand. Same principle here.

          And are you SURE Dawkins understands what privilege means? Find me ANY evidence of ANYTHING he’s written where he has any grasp of the concept. And then I’ll put it up against all the times he’s failed so miserably at it.

          1. dionaea

            The nice thing about “my” definition is that it is easily modified by adjectives (e.g. “institutional racism”) and that it also applies to racism by “people of colour” towards other poc. It is beside the point that white people rarely suffer from racist abuse (for examples you might look in Zimbabwe or, in historical times, in China and Japan, when white people were considered to be barbarians).

            I know what ad hominem means. You’re an expert in applying this fallacy (comparing Dawkins with Ray Comfort, calling him willfully ignorant, etc., all to dismiss his position without having to address his arguments).

            Privilege makes sense as a theoretical concept (all other things being equal, person X is advantaged over person Y because of membership of a certain group). In real life all other things are not equal, and there are many privilege dimensions. You would have to be able to solve an extremely complicated system of equations (which nobody has even formulated) in order to state with confidence that person X is privileged over person Y. Sociology is not an exact science yet and maybe never will be. Scolding Dawkins for “not checking his cis white male rich able-bodied privilege” at this stage of our sociological ignorance is on a par with using arguments from astrology.

        2. 18.1.1.2
          Jadehawk

          Most people who are not crypto-marxist critical theorists define racism as prejudice based on race.

          and most people who aren’t crypto-atheist darwinists define evolution as development or “a process of change in a certain direction”.

          You may not like that definition, because it probably doesn’t fit your ideology

          i do love it when people accuse critical theory of being ideological. it tells me those people don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, given what critical theory is and how it approaches the concept of “ideology”.

          but it is not objectively wrong.

          nothing in language is ever objectively anything. language is arbitrary and inherently subjective, albeit fairly stable. words don’t have “objective” meanings, therefore nothing about any word can ever be objectively wrong or objectively right. What a deeply silly thing to say.

      2. 18.1.2
        NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

        Yes, it IS impossible for white people to suffer from racist abuse.

        Racism, and bigotry generally, relies on the balance of power. White people hold the balance of power largely in the West, so you’re right about this as it relates to countries like the US and such. But I’m not sure if it holds true throughout the whole world or throughout time.

      3. 18.1.3
        cpps

        Yeah, I think LSP pretty much covers it.

        tl;dr: Beware the Dunning–Kruger effect. If you are talking about feminism and are not sure why all those women and feminist activists are yelling at you, then you may be experiencing it.

      4. 18.1.4
        baal

        ” That’s ALL it means. ” (It is impossible to divorce “racism” from its context in sociology–because that’s what it MEANS. That’s ALL it means. There is no metaphorical or colloquial use of the term that doesn’t refer to how humans interact socially with each other.)

        Um. I disagree. Worse, folks educated to think like you do seem unable to conceive that there are otherwise decent folks who do not think like you do. Even more worse, since you don’t recognize the range of viewpoints and language usage, peeps in your camp often sound like they are using a double standard where initiates get to use bias or hate language but un-initiates don’t.

    2. 18.2
      seanthenonbeliever

      I’ve read that racism is a combination of privilege and power. So it is possible for white people to be on the receiving end of racism, as long as they are in a society where white people have neither privilege or power. Like some nations in Asia, for example.

    3. 18.3
      Robert Arnow, Freeze Peach Inspector

      I just want to focus on point 2 of your e-mail to your colleague, Prof. Dawkins: I hear you saying that people arguing in favor of a sociological definition of “racism” define it as “racially based prejudice by white people against anyone but white people”, and that this definition renders “you can’t be racist against white people” a tautology.
      What I have seen people arguing in tweets that you have responded to is that racism is “prejudice based on race from somebody with institutional power”. They did not say it in so many words, possibly because I am already well over 140 characters with this comment, but this is the definition which someone making a reasonable effort to understand the viewpoint of an opponent would have synthesized.
      What this definition means is that, as other people have already explained in these comments, you can be racist against, for instance, Arab Muslims who are British immigrants, because they do not have governmental and cultural support of their appearances or identities; somebody tweeting about you is not being racist, because you have governmental and cultural support of your appearances and identities. You are experiencing prejudice! You are not, however, experiencing racism.
      This has nothing to do with you being white! If we indulge in a thought experiment, we could probably imagine an alternate universe in which people with mahogany skin stretched a vast empire over the variously colored people of the world. “Look at the white man and his silly ethnic shoe which he calls ‘loafer’! Clearly this brand of human is lazy – and fragile of brain and health, as well, for why else would he need to slather himself so with sunscreen?”, they say. In this alternate reality, which we might call “Mearth”, white people experience racism! All the time! It is, as a matter of fact, impossible to be racist against mahogany people in Mearth! This is not, however, by definition. It is a conclusion arrived at by following the proper sociological definition.
      I have tried to present the best form of your argument, Professor Dawkins. Please do us the courtesy of framing the best form of your opponent’s argument before responding to them.
      I wish you a good morning, sir.

  19. 19
    Alex Gabriel (@AlexGabriel)

    Richard: there is an asymmetry between reactions to you being called a ‘smug white male in loafers’ and someone being called an ‘uppity brown female in a hijab’ because your starting positions, and the acts themselves, are asymmetrical. That’s used to insult her because her gender, race and and religion are perceived to lessen her status or intelligence; you being white and male is being used to underline the fact that, as someone whose gender and race don’t subject them to racism or sexism, you may not be the most informed person on the subjects. (Unless, of course, we see ‘Being asked to speak more carefully about racism and sexism because you’re white and male’ as racist, sexist abuse.)

    1. 19.1
      Ladders

      Perhaps it’s a limitation inherent to twitter, but it read as though she was not using it to question how informed he was but to outright dismiss his opinion.

      1. 19.1.1
        LeftSidePositive

        Perhaps its a limitation in your understanding of how privilege works, and a very common tactic to derail discussions on how privileged people are insulated from understanding how the world works for those without those privileges.

        1. 19.1.1.1
          Ladders

          And? What does your assumption that I am ignorant of privilege have to do with my comment?

          Being less privileged is not an excuse to try and silence someone. Yes, I have made an assumption about her motives, but so has everyone else.

          1. LeftSidePositive

            Because you blatantly ignored the numerous times we explained how her comments fit into a discussion of privilege& how that is how theorists have been understanding privilege for decades, and yet you somehow conveniently managed to make the most privilege-upholding comment that has been made hundreds of times before to shut down her reminding Richard Dawkins of his privilege. It’s not exactly an assumption; it’s pattern recognition.

          2. Ladders

            Perhaps I have overlooked one the tweets in this post, but nowhere did I see her state, explicitly or implicitly, the purpose of her tweet. Her reminding Dawkins of his privilege is the assumption you have made as to her motives.

            You made an assumption about her motives, I would guess because it fits your world view. I presented another possibility which, based on what she actually tweeted, is equally, if not more, likely. You then made another assumption about how well informed I am, for most likely the same reasons.

          3. LeftSidePositive

            I’m sorry, so everyone has to back up and explain basic sociological concepts and all of their intentions just for you? That’s being willfully obtuse.

            By the way, you haven’t made an argument as to why your interpretation is more likely–you’ve just asserted it, and you’re operating out of profound ignorance of basic sociological concepts and how people from marginalized identities have experience dealing with those more privileged.

            You also haven’t given me any reason to doubt my assessment of how informed you are. If anything, you’ve given significant confirmatory evidence.

          4. Ladders

            “I’m sorry, so everyone has to back up and explain basic sociological concepts and all of their intentions just for you? That’s being willfully obtuse.”

            That’s not even close to what I said. I am saying that, since her motives were not given, explicitly or implicitly, that your assumption about her motives is exactly that: an assumption. You’re the one being wilfully obtuse here.

            “By the way, you haven’t made an argument as to why your interpretation is more likely–you’ve just asserted it, and you’re operating out of profound ignorance of basic sociological concepts and how people from marginalized identities have experience dealing with those more privileged.”

            Yet again you make an assumption about how well informed I am. My argument would be that when a person’s sex and/or race is the sole content of a reply, it is almost always an attempt to dismiss their opinion. Generally when a person is attempting to show someone how they may not be that knowledgeable about a subject, they say so.

            “You also haven’t given me any reason to doubt my assessment of how informed you are. If anything, you’ve given significant confirmatory evidence.”

            Your persistence in this assertion does not make it any less wrong. If your default stance is that anyone who disagrees with you must be ignorant, and therefore wrong, then that is not a discussion. I have seen you do nothing other then assert your opinion, with no reasoning or argument behind it. You seem to assume that your point of view to be self-evident; it is not.

          5. LeftSidePositive

            I am saying that, since her motives were not given, explicitly or implicitly, that your assumption about her motives is exactly that: an assumption. You’re the one being wilfully obtuse here.

            Not all assumptions are equal. You are failing to acknowledge the evidence for my assumptions, namely that she was responding to Dawkins being very obtuse about racial identity and affiliation.

            My argument would be that when a person’s sex and/or race is the sole content of a reply, it is almost always an attempt to dismiss their opinion.

            That’s not an argument. It’s an assertion. Moreover, you haven’t understood the context of WHY the person was replying and what they are replying TO. Which shows you’re pretty uninformed about these htings.

            Generally when a person is attempting to show someone how they may not be that knowledgeable about a subject, they say so.

            Even in 140 characters. Even when that person has ignored multiple attempts to be educated about the subject. Yeah.

            If your default stance is that anyone who disagrees with you must be ignorant, and therefore wrong, then that is not a discussion

            So prove me wrong. Say something brilliant and thoughtful about privilege. I’m waiting.

          6. Ladders

            “Not all assumptions are equal. You are failing to acknowledge the evidence for my assumptions, namely that she was responding to Dawkins being very obtuse about racial identity and affiliation.”

            How is Dawkins being obtuse evidence for your argument? That’s a pretty large leap in logic.

            “That’s not an argument. It’s an assertion. Moreover, you haven’t understood the context of WHY the person was replying and what they are replying TO. Which shows you’re pretty uninformed about these htings.”

            That’s rich coming from you. I made an argument based on my (admittedly limited) observations of human behaviour. You have merely repeated your assertion.

            Neither of us know why she responded. That’s my point exactly. And your continued insistence of my being uninformed is still wrong.

            “Even in 140 characters. Even when that person has ignored multiple attempts to be educated about the subject. Yeah.”

            Yes, the character limit is an issue, if anything that’s reason to communicate clearly and explicitly.

            Perhaps there’s some history to this I am missing, but so far I have seen an obtuse meant met with a dismissal based on privilege, not attempts at education.

            “So prove me wrong. Say something brilliant and thoughtful about privilege. I’m waiting.”

            No, I don’t have to prove you wrong. I have no obligation to bend to unexplained assertions. Especially when those assertions come from someone who employs ad hominem and strawman fallacies.

            Explain to me why you are right, and if you argument is sound I will happily change my mind.

          7. LeftSidePositive

            How is Dawkins being obtuse evidence for your argument?

            Because she made her remarks in response to his obtuseness. Context matters.

            Perhaps there’s some history to this I am missing, but so far I have seen an obtuse meant met with a dismissal based on privilege, not attempts at education.

            There’s a reason expecting marginalized people to educate you is one of the most classic derailing tactics. It is your responsibility to learn about how your privilege affects others. It is not theirs to drop everything and cater to your ignorance.

            No, I don’t have to prove you wrong.

            In other words, you can’t. Nice.

            Especially when those assertions come from someone who employs ad hominem and strawman fallacies.

            Oh, I love it when pseudoskeptics throw around “ad hominem” and “strawman” without actually making an argument for them!

            Explain to me why you are right, and if you argument is sound I will happily change my mind.

            Re-read my comment at #3. The whine of “but they’re just trying to dismiss me because I happen to be white and male!” is a classic whine from those who are uncomfortable with being reminded of their own privilege, who are used to seeing their perspective as default, and who are resistant to the idea that they may lack understanding of how race and class affects others without their privileges. Saying you think someone should go out of their way to educate you furthers that impression. Being willfully simplistic in “well, she didn’t SAY she was criticizing his privilege” ignores the vast amount of writing on the topic of privilege and how it operates for the privileged and why anyone would bring up privileged attributes in a discussion about the less-privileged by the more-privileged. Misusing “ad hominem” to derail a discussion of privilege is a classic sign of ignorance because it confuses “you are being insensitive and uninformed about the experiences of people of other races and heritages, and your personal background makes it very easy for you to be so uninformed” with “you could not possibly be right because you come from a certain background.” I’m sorry not everyone goes into as much detail every single time they encounter privilege-blindness. I guess they thought you might have caught on the last few thousand times we brought up why diversity is important and how assumptions made by rich white men can be damaging to others.

          8. Ladders

            “Because she made her remarks in response to his obtuseness. Context matters.”

            Yes, context matters. I asked how his obtuseness proves your assumption about her motives and you did not answer that question.

            “There’s a reason expecting marginalized people to educate you is one of the most classic derailing tactics. It is your responsibility to learn about how your privilege affects others. It is not theirs to drop everything and cater to your ignorance.”

            That doesn’t change the fact that there were no attempts to educate him, as you claimed.

            When you want someone to understand your views, you have to explain them. You cannot expect someone to agree with you if you are unwilling to do that.

            “In other words, you can’t. Nice.”

            No, it means the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim.

            “Oh, I love it when pseudoskeptics throw around “ad hominem” and “strawman” without actually making an argument for them!”

            You misrepresented my arguments; responding to questions I did not ask and misinterpreting my statements. That’s a strawman.

            You kept insisting that I am ignorant instead of arguing against my points. That’s an ad hominem. As is calling me a ‘pseudoskeptic’.

            “Re-read my comment at #3. The whine of “but they’re just trying to dismiss me because I happen to be white and male!” is a classic whine from those who are uncomfortable with being reminded of their own privilege, who are used to seeing their perspective as default, and who are resistant to the idea that they may lack understanding of how race and class affects others without their privileges.”

            Yes, that does happen a lot. That does not make the argument universally invalid. Context matters, after all.

            “Saying you think someone should go out of their way to educate you furthers that impression.”

            I’ve never said that anyone should go out of their way to educate me. I’ve only asked that people explain their points. You cannot expect someone to agree with you when you refuse to explain the logic you have used.

            “Being willfully simplistic in “well, she didn’t SAY she was criticizing his privilege” ignores the vast amount of writing on the topic of privilege and how it operates for the privileged and why anyone would bring up privileged attributes in a discussion about the less-privileged by the more-privileged.”

            It’s not simplistic, it’s merely accepting the lack of evidence. She did not say, explicitly or implicitly, that she was criticising his privilege, therefore if you argue that position you must explain it.

            “Misusing “ad hominem” to derail a discussion of privilege is a classic sign of ignorance because it confuses “you are being insensitive and uninformed about the experiences of people of other races and heritages, and your personal background makes it very easy for you to be so uninformed” with “you could not possibly be right because you come from a certain background.””

            It’s not misuse, you did use an ad hominem, several times. You cannot assume someone to be ignorant because they disagree. I was not attempting to derail the discussion, I’m trying to have a discussion. You have not explained the logic behind the conclusion you drew.

            “I’m sorry not everyone goes into as much detail every single time they encounter privilege-blindness. I guess they thought you might have caught on the last few thousand times we brought up why diversity is important and how assumptions made by rich white men can be damaging to others.”

            I know privilege exists, I try to be careful about what privilege I have. You have yet again made the assumption, the ad hominem, that I am ignorant.

            I do not see how you drew the conclusion that she was attempting to illustrate his privilege, because it is not self-evident and you have not explained it, you have merely repeated the assertion.

          9. LeftSidePositive

            Yes, context matters. I asked how his obtuseness proves your assumption about her motives and you did not answer that question.

            Holy shit, you’re being willfully disingenuous. When someone responds to what someone just said, that which they’re responding to is usually pretty important context. It’s not like he said something like “RNA polymerase is cool” and she said “you’re a rich white dude!” Since he JUST SAID some insensitive things about marginalized groups, pointing out that he has very little experience being in a marginalized group is like THE MOST OBVIOUS THING TO SAY.

            That doesn’t change the fact that there were no attempts to educate him, as you claimed.

            Where did I claim she was attempting to educate him? I did a Ctrl-F for my name and found no such thing. One could say she was encouraging to educate himself, or simply pushing back on his ignorance. Pushing back on someone’s ignorance doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and hold their hand (especially if they’ve had ample time and recommendations to fix this area of ignorance before!).

            When you want someone to understand your views, you have to explain them. You cannot expect someone to agree with you if you are unwilling to do that.

            You are incorrect to assume she necessarily wants Dawkins to understand her views. Dawkins has pretty abundantly shown he’s not interested in learning from people with marginalized identities, ESPECIALLY not when it impinges on his privilege. The role of this type of admonishment is not to explain all of privilege from square one to someone who has never been exposed to the idea before–it’s to tell the person “what you’re doing is not okay, and stuff like this won’t go unanswered.”

            No, it means the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim.

            I DID. I told you that what you said was VASTLY more likely to come from people ignorant of the concept of privilege. I did that when I first pointed out your likely ignorance. So, my Bayesian priors here go like this: 1) saying “she’s just trying to dismiss his opinion because he’s white!” is a statement heard, in my experience 1000x more often by people who do not understand privilege than by people who do. 2) a privileged person saying “How come you just ASSUME I’m ignorant?” when privilege is brought up is about 100x more likely in those who don’t understand what it means for their experience not to be the default, than in people who actually understand a privilege based argument. 3) Someone who has something intelligent to say about privilege would be 100x less likely to play distracting games than just say what they know about privilege and get some credibility. Therefore, the likelihood that you’re an ignorant blowhard, given my prior probabilities and your subsequent behavior is (1000/1001)*(100/101)*(100/101)=97.93%.

            You misrepresented my arguments; responding to questions I did not ask and misinterpreting my statements. That’s a strawman.

            No, it’s not. A strawman is when someone changes an argument to be weaker and tries to pass it off as their opponent’s. Pointing out unexamined weaknesses in your argument is not a strawman. Pointing out aspects of this issue you didn’t think to consider is not a strawman.

            You kept insisting that I am ignorant instead of arguing against my points. That’s an ad hominem. As is calling me a ‘pseudoskeptic’.

            Nope, those are assessments based on your behavior. I also argued against your points. I concluded that your points were as misguided as they were because of your ignorance. I pointed out red flags for ignorance. In contrast, an ad hominem means “You cheated on your wife therefore you’re wrong!” NOT “because you said X, Y, and Z which have problems A, B, and C, and demonstrate no understanding of D, E, and F, I conclude that your assessment is flawed.”

            And then you proceed to clinch my assessment of “pseudoskeptic” by failing to define BOTH “strawman” and “ad hominem” correctly!

            Yes, that does happen a lot. That does not make the argument universally invalid. Context matters, after all.

            And again, what is more likely? That a person who has a long, documented history of being dismissive of people less privileged than he actually has a valid point, or that he’s being huffy yet again that someone pointed out that his experience isn’t universal? If you say context matters, provide an argument for why there is any extenuating context in this case.

            I’ve never said that anyone should go out of their way to educate me.

            Yes, you did. You are acting like unless she dropped everything and patiently explained privilege to Dawkins YET AGAIN, and explicitly stated her motives for correcting his racial/cultural insensitivity, she must have just been dismissing him based on his race.

            I’ve only asked that people explain their points.

            If that were true, you could have just gotten on Twitter and asked her about it. But you didn’t. You are here trying to assert that bringing up someone’s privileged status is just a way to dismiss them. You even said this happens more often than not. When I explained how his race functions in his perceptions and what people are generally referring to when they object to privileged people saying obtuse things, you tried to rules lawyer and pretend that couldn’t apply to this case. Your behavior is entirely consistent with someone who is uncomfortable with having privilege critically examined and entirely INconsistent with someone who wants to understand the point of view of marginalized people.

            It’s not simplistic, it’s merely accepting the lack of evidence. She did not say, explicitly or implicitly, that she was criticising his privilege, therefore if you argue that position you must explain it.

            Yes, I did. You just keep trying to distract from context. By the way, does Dawkins explain his motives every time he criticizes religion? Does Tim Minchin review all the evidence against the Catholic church before every performance of The Pope Song? If she weren’t criticizing his privilege, wouldn’t she be equally likely to bring up his sex or race in a discussion about transposons as a discussion about racial/cultural minorities? Why is it only the latter context that people find it necessary?

          10. Ladders

            “Holy shit, you’re being willfully disingenuous. When someone responds to what someone just said, that which they’re responding to is usually pretty important context. It’s not like he said something like “RNA polymerase is cool” and she said “you’re a rich white dude!” Since he JUST SAID some insensitive things about marginalized groups, pointing out that he has very little experience being in a marginalized group is like THE MOST OBVIOUS THING TO SAY.”

            You keep making that assertion as though it is self-evident. It is not. Explain how you drew the conclusion, don’t just restate the conclusion.

            “Where did I claim she was attempting to educate him? I did a Ctrl-F for my name and found no such thing.”

            Here:

            “Even in 140 characters. Even when that person has ignored multiple attempts to be educated about the subject. Yeah.”

            That’s where you made the claim.

            “One could say she was encouraging to educate himself, or simply pushing back on his ignorance. Pushing back on someone’s ignorance doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and hold their hand (especially if they’ve had ample time and recommendations to fix this area of ignorance before!).”

            I keep having to say this: You have drawn this conclusion about her motives without providing an explanation.

            “You are incorrect to assume she necessarily wants Dawkins to understand her views.”

            I’m not talking about her, I’m talking about you. You expect me to agree with you and refuse to explain.

            “The role of this type of admonishment is not to explain all of privilege from square one to someone who has never been exposed to the idea before–it’s to tell the person “what you’re doing is not okay, and stuff like this won’t go unanswered.””

            Yet again you make that assumption about her motives and fail to explain why.

            “I DID. I told you that what you said was VASTLY more likely to come from people ignorant of the concept of privilege. I did that when I first pointed out your likely ignorance.”

            No, that’s not proof, it’s assertion and ad hominem.

            “3) Someone who has something intelligent to say about privilege would be 100x less likely to play distracting games than just say what they know about privilege and get some credibility.”

            I’m not playing distracting games, I’m asking how you came to that conclusion. You have only repeated the conclusion, not once have you offered an explanation.

            “No, it’s not. A strawman is when someone changes an argument to be weaker and tries to pass it off as their opponent’s. Pointing out unexamined weaknesses in your argument is not a strawman. Pointing out aspects of this issue you didn’t think to consider is not a strawman.”

            No, those are strawmen, because they are changing the argument to be weaker. By responding to questions and statements I did not make, you present my argument as weaker than it was. That’s a strawman.

            “Nope, those are assessments based on your behavior. I also argued against your points. I concluded that your points were as misguided as they were because of your ignorance. I pointed out red flags for ignorance. In contrast, an ad hominem means “You cheated on your wife therefore you’re wrong!” NOT “because you said X, Y, and Z which have problems A, B, and C, and demonstrate no understanding of D, E, and F, I conclude that your assessment is flawed.””

            That is ad hominem. You are arguing that my points stem from ignorance and are therefore wrong, as opposed to actually addressing my points. If my arguments are show, then show how they are wrong. Don’t just assume me ignorant.

            “And again, what is more likely? That a person who has a long, documented history of being dismissive of people less privileged than he actually has a valid point, or that he’s being huffy yet again that someone pointed out that his experience isn’t universal? If you say context matters, provide an argument for why there is any extenuating context in this case.”

            How about this; I asked how the conclusion was drawn, providing an alternative I found more likely. When asked for my reasoning I gave it, yet the person stating the opposing view has not once explained it. Only repeated it. Ad nauseum.

            “Yes, you did. You are acting like unless she dropped everything and patiently explained privilege to Dawkins YET AGAIN, and explicitly stated her motives for correcting his racial/cultural insensitivity, she must have just been dismissing him based on his race.”

            No. I’m asking you to explain a conclusion you have repeated many times, because you seem to expect me to agree but have not explained it. You, not her.

            “If that were true, you could have just gotten on Twitter and asked her about it. But you didn’t. You are here trying to assert that bringing up someone’s privileged status is just a way to dismiss them.”

            No, this is about you. Not her. I am asking you to explain your conclusion, not just repeat it. Changing my argument like this is a strawman, by the way.

            “You even said this happens more often than not. When I explained how his race functions in his perceptions and what people are generally referring to when they object to privileged people saying obtuse things, you tried to rules lawyer and pretend that couldn’t apply to this case.”

            No, you didn’t explain, you just kept restating it. I’m not trying to be a rules lawyer, I am trying to get you to explain how you drew your conclusion. That’s all.

            “Your behavior is entirely consistent with someone who is uncomfortable with having privilege critically examined and entirely INconsistent with someone who wants to understand the point of view of marginalized people.”

            Okay, I can only assume you’re just seeing what you want to see. That’s entirely the opoosite of the truth. You cannot make such assumptions about a person’s motives.

            “Yes, I did. You just keep trying to distract from context.”

            No, you didn’t. You haven’t explained how you drew your conclusion, not once. You just keep repeating it. Claiming it is self-evident from the context. It is not.

            “By the way, does Dawkins explain his motives every time he criticizes religion? Does Tim Minchin review all the evidence against the Catholic church before every performance of The Pope Song? If she weren’t criticizing his privilege, wouldn’t she be equally likely to bring up his sex or race in a discussion about transposons as a discussion about racial/cultural minorities? Why is it only the latter context that people find it necessary?”

            No, that would not be equally likely. Yes, she responded because his tweet concerned her race and/or religion. This does not automatically make her response a critique of his privilege.

            All I want, is for you to explain how you drew that conclusion. Please don’t just repeat. Don’t claim it is self-evident from context; it is not. Show me you’re right. Show me the logic behind your assumption.

  20. 20
    rilian

    If racism is ONLY systemic, then it would never make sense to say a PERSON is racist.
    But people do say that people are racist. Obviously it’s a different meaning of the word.

    1. 20.1
      LeftSidePositive

      They mean that the individual person actively holding up the system of racism. Systems have components, and actors within them. This isn’t hard.

      1. 20.1.1
        rilian

        I don’t think they *always* mean that. Or even usually.

        1. 20.1.1.1
          LeftSidePositive

          They mean that intuitively even if they haven’t had explicit education in the sociological definitions of race. They mean that the person is embodying the characteristics typical of racist behavior. They mean that the person has bought into the ideas about race in our culture They know intuitively that their mental picture of someone acting in a racist manner is that of a person who believes whites are better than other races. An academic can then formulate that assessment in terms of actors within a system, but the average user of the term is using a rough subconscious proto-version of that (unless, of course, they’re racism-denialists trying to peg things as “reverse-racism,” in which case any definition they use or connotations they try to convey are inherently suspect).

          1. rilian

            Kay. I’m disagreeing with the claim that the word “racist” can’t just mean “hating or pre-judging people based on race.”. I DID read the post and the comments. I just don’t see why there can’t be those two different, related meanings.

          2. LeftSidePositive

            Because your preferred definition actively allows for false equivalence, it obscures understandings of the sociopolitical causes and effects of racism, and it minimizes the far-reaching effects of those who suffer systemically from racism.

          3. rilian

            You have no reason to suppose that it’s my preferred definition.
            It is a way that people use that word.
            And. If someone is only talking about the hatred or prejudice coming from an individual, then it is equivalent.

          4. LeftSidePositive

            And if they use it that way, they’re WRONG. Don’t try to make an argument from common usage when the entire discussion is about the harms that this common usage does, and the trivialization it perpetuates.

            Moreover, racism DOES NOT just come from the individual who utters the slur. Even if they are an unarguably terrible individual. It comes from all the cultural messages that told them those attitudes were okay. It comes from all the advantages that person receives on account of his race (or, in the cases of people of color like Clarence Thomas, that they get for being treated like an “honorary white” by otherwise racist people). It comes from the fact that the person injured by that one person’s racism has fewer avenues to turn to in employment, housing, etc., etc. It comes from the fact that the person who utters the racist slur has a whole party of politicians pandering to him to close schools in minority districts, restrict minority voting rights, and enforce drug laws that disproportionately send minorities to prison (and plenty of the other party that’s willing to help too!).

            By the way, you are just about the embodiment of why “shut up and listen” needs to be a thing. Your willfully obtuse clinging to the status quo is fucking tiresome.

          5. rilian

            The racism (prejudice) expressed by individuals is something that people can talk about.
            Using a word in multiple ways does not mean (all) people thinking all the meanings are equivalent.
            The harm comes from (some) people thinking the meanings are equivalent. Instead of telling them, “You are speaking your own language wrong,” tell them how there are different meanings of that word, and how the systemic racism is a bigger (much bigger) problem.
            But then again, if I’d been a victim of racially motivated violence and I was a member of a privileged race, and the attackers were members of an oppressed race, I wouldn’t like my experience to be labeled as less important.

    2. 20.2
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Actually, many people, myself included, don’t find it very useful to refer to PEOPLE as racist; only actions, policies, jokes, etc. Jay Smooth says basically the same thing, as does Crommunist.

  21. 21
    jamesworrad

    The funny thing is right in the middle of all this someone tweeted Dawkins that his wife Lalla Ward was ugly. An act of misogyny that floated at the top of the tweets for ages and no one–not one of the hundreds of social justice progressives who MUST have seen it–gave a shit.

    1. 21.1
      NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

      Wait… what? I certainly didn’t see this tweet. I’m willing to bet that Miri didn’t see it, either. You are absolutely right that this was an act of misogyny and if the tweet is there, it should be highlighted as an act of misogyny and denounced.

      Can you link to it?

      1. 21.1.1
        jamesworrad

        For what it’s worth, here’s my rundown: http://jamesworrad.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/yep-another-day-another-twitter-drive-by.html Apologies for the shameless blog link.

    2. 21.2
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I definitely didn’t see it, and I’ll echo what Nate said above. Also, I’m not sure why you’re jumping to the conclusion that “social justice progressives” don’t care about this act of misogyny. I call out misogyny against conservative/religious women when I see it, and I would’ve done the same had I seen this tweet.

      1. 21.2.1
        jamesworrad

        I wouldn’t, of course, assign blame to any individual SJP (or whatever term is the used and acceptable one, I dunno). But when a tweet like that floats amid the debate for a number of hours you do have to scrutinize everyone as a gestalt. Surely someone saw it and would it really have been a great effort to throw a lightly-chiding tweet at the fool, attention-seeking troll or not?

        I haven’t got either the brain or skill set to be noticeably active in this particular game, but I do like to think I’m cheering from the sidelines. My team didn’t play as well as I’d like and I think it’s something that needs highlighting, small detail though it is. Unlike the other side, standards have to be maintained.

        BTW, the silver lining to all this is I’ve discovered this blog. For whatever my opinion’s worth I really it.

    3. 21.3
      Stacy

      Didn’t see it.

      not one of the hundreds of social justice progressives who MUST have seen it–gave a shit.

      Question begging. You’re assuming a great deal that isn’t in evidence (people actually saw it; those who saw it “didn’t give a shit” as opposed to they assumed it was an idiotic one-off attempt at trolling not worth responding to, etc.)

      Also this is a red herring. In addition to everything else, you anti-social justice progressives are bad at this skepticism thing.

      1. 21.3.1
        jamesworrad

        I don’t perceive myself as anti-social justice progressives, I just want competent social justice progressives. Don’t we all?

    4. 21.4
      Sassafras

      Looking over Dawkins’ twitter page I don’t see the tweet in question either retweeted or replied to by Dawkins, so I don’t get why you think so many people MUST have seen it. I may be overlooking it in the flood of Dawkins retweeting people who are praising his racism argument and calling the people that disagree with him stupid.

  22. 22
    A. Noyd

    The way people with a smattering of sociology assumed that the special technical sociologists’ meaning of racist was the ONLY permissible usage.

    Maybe they were assuming that definition because it’s the one most descriptive of reality.

    But I am a stickler for precision and I was frustrated that the sociologists’ definition couldn’t even allow you (other than as a tautology) to SAY “white people as a matter of fact don’t suffer racist abuse”, because they DEFINE racism as abuse against black (or anyway underprivileged) people.

    Tautologies have their place. Explanations of the sociological definition have to take into account other usages of the word in order to make clear how they differ. Words are messy, and all the more so given ideological barriers to the widespread acceptance of definitions used in science. You should damn well know that given your struggles to get laymen to accept the definition of “theory” as used in the theory of evolution.

    Actually my feeling is that whether or not we use the DICTIONARY definition of a word is less important than making sure we use the SAME definition as each other.

    You expressed the opposite on Twitter, and were quite aggressive about it! For example, “Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.” Then you got all sneery about sociology as if it’s nothing but the worst sort of postmodernism and therefore you’re jusified in refusing to accept its definitions of racism and sexism.

    What decent person would ever even want to say such a thing? Yet this person said the equivalent to me with impunity. There is an asymmetry there which is, at very least, worth noting.

    Yeah, THAT ASYMMETRY IS WHY THE SOCIOLOGICAL DEFINITION IS IMPORTANT.

    I was annoyed at the implication that if you haven’t personally suffered from prejudice of a certain kind, that very fact disqualifies you from even TALKING about that form of prejudice.

    Who said that? People were informing you that, not having suffered from certain kinds of prejudice, you have to be very careful in what you say, especially when you’re disagreeing with people who have suffered from it. You fancy you’re taking a more “rational” approach, yet you’re tripped up by biases you’re unaware of—biases that would, for instance, affect your willingness to take sociology seriously. That’s why, as a general rule, you’re asked to defer to people who, thanks to their experiences, are far less likely to exhibit those same biases.

    Any scientist should revolt against that kind of thing, because it implies that personal feelings trump objective argument, and that would be the death of the science that you and I both love.

    See, you’re already arguing from a place of personal feelings—you just incorrectly label your perspective as more objective because you’re socialized to think that way. Furthermore, things like racism or sexism don’t play out in the realm of “objective argument.” Objective arguments can be made about them, but those “isms” are relevant to people because of how they’re experienced. And those experiencing them know better than those who don’t how they’re experienced.

    For example, if I, as a woman, compare my experience with street harassment to that of my male cousin, I can justifiably reject his assertion, which he’s basing on his experience and in ignorance of mine, that men have it just as bad as women.

    Note that even things like evolution have an experiential dimension to them. You might be able to talk about how cruel evolution is, but someone living every day at the mercy of predators and parasites and diseases understands the cruelty of evolution more surely than you ever could.

    Sexism didn’t come up in the Twitter thread on racism, but haven’t we both encountered something like, “Since you are male, your views on sexism, even your condemnation of sexism, are irrelevant: just shut up and listen to the women”?

    Only on the most extreme fringes of feminism, but let’s not equivocate here. Maybe you could point to an actual example of that coming from a mainstream feminist (who are the vast majority of those arguing with you) instead of giving dubious paraphrases.

    Where annoyance spilled over into outright pain was the implication that, because I felt strongly about (1), (2), (3) etc, this must make ME a racist.

    You don’t need to have overt hatred for people of other races to do racist things. You call yourself a “stickler for precision,” but if you really cared about precision, you’d accept the definition that’s most relevant to reality and not go on and on about tautologies. Your preferential attention for the most minor of points, while ignoring the meat of the argument, is dismissive. (It’s also typical of white male academics.) Dismissiveness from privileged people on the topic of racism reinforces racism. It’s the institution of institutional racism at work. Don’t get offended because people are calling you on that. Learn from it and change.

    1. 22.1
      A. Noyd

      #21 was aimed at Dawkins, obviously. For some reason, I can’t reply within a thread.

  23. 23
    Pen

    I found it interesting at the start of that Twitter exchange that Dawkins started by emphasising an identification based on nationality as if he couldn’t understand that the Woolwich murderers were operating with an identification based on religion. That smacked of faux-naivety to me. He is totally ignoring an identification based on race and it appears the murderers did too, so fair enough.

    That’s why I’m a little surprised to see this:

    Moreover, the twitterer above is not disliking Dawkins specifically because he is white–she dislikes him because his BEHAVIOR is marginalizing and racist

    I think the ‘smug white male’ argument was special here because Dawkins was not displaying any characteristics specifically related to being white and male in his comments (as reported here, I haven’t seen them elsewhere). They’re rather related to his status as an atheist who refuses to take religious identification seriously.

  24. 24
    whatever

    morphinetoast
    @RichardDawkins how do you feel about feminism?

    Richard Dawkins
    @morphinetoast Obviously I’m in favour of it. Aren’t you?

    Reporter:
    @gandhi
    What do you think about western civilization?

    Gandhi
    @Reporter I think it would be a good idea

  25. 25
    left0ver1under

    Christopher Hitchens was a great and prolific writer and a good public speaker on his own. But he was an utter boor when it came to debating. In the same way, Dawkins is a brilliant scientist and great writer and explainer, but he is embarrassing himself on social media.

    Disliking someone based on their skin color is not enough for it to be racism.

    Bigotry can just as easily be white-on-white, as if people were looking for an excuse to subdivide and find someone to hate. In decades past, “frog” and “chicken Swede” were common insults on the ice and within teams’ own locker rooms around the NHL. “Commie” came into usage in the late 1980s after Russian, Czech and Slovak players came over, despite the fact that most risked going to gulags for asking permission to leave.

    I have had a person of color express prejudice towards me because I’m white exactly once in my life. Once. (And for what it’s worth, it was a stranger on the train who apparently just felt like yelling at people that day.) I have never been denied a job because I’m white.

    I have lived in Asia for a decade and have encountered some anti-white intolerance (never any violence), but nowhere near what I’ve seen directed at non-whites within Canada. And people in the countries I’ve lived are more deferential to foreigners (read: kind toward foreigners who act civilly) who endured bigotry or crimes than how foreigners would be treated at home. Is it genuine politeness, or bending over backwards to keep the tourists coming? I don’t know.

    During my years teaching English, the only bigotry I’ve seen is agism, while non-white native speakers will have and have had difficulty. There’s an expectation that English speaking equates to being white, even though some whites had thick-as-mud accents that *I* couldn’t comprehend, while black Americans who spoke like I do couldn’t get jobs.

    1. 25.1
      Justina

      Disclaimer: I am a Singaporean Chinese. My opinions below are based on my personal life experiences.

      For some, genuine politeness — it’s easier to “Queen’s English” rather than use your own local English accent+slang because white foreigners find it hard to understand your accent+slang. Plus uncertainty of cultural norms — I notice people end to address white foreigners as “Sir/Ma’am” rather than the usual “Uncle/Auntie,Xiao Jie,Xian Shen” that everyone else gets — we don’t know what’s accepted in your culture.

      For others, a bit of internalized racial inferiority “white is better.” (Singapore is a former British colony)

      Some is bending over backwards because some people have the perception that white foreigners can be aggressive and don’t want to cause potential fuss.

  26. 26
    Kade FUCKING Azkyroth

    You make a strong case for accepting a working definition of “racism” which differs from what the vast majority of people have grown up with, always heard, and use habitually themselves.

    It’s good to see someone making this case, rather than petulantly assuming both the alternative usage and the reasons for it should be obvious.

    GOD DAMN IT YOU DUMB SHIT FORM EITHER ACCEPT MY FUCKING LOGIN OR MY FUCKING NAME AND FUCKING EMAIL

  27. 27
    Jadehawk

    All meaning is “relative”, even scientific truth is “socially constructed”. Ugh

    here, let a not-a-sociologist explain this to you:

    “[Model-dependent realism] is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth.”
    “There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we will adopt a view that we will call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations. This provides a framework with which to interpret modern science.”
    “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation. If there are two models that both agree with observation … then one cannot say that one is more real than another. One can use whichever model is more convenient in the situation under consideration.”
    “It might be that to describe the universe, we have to employ different theories in different situations. Each theory may have its own version of reality, but according to model-dependent realism, that is acceptable so long as the theories agree in their predictions whenever they overlap, that is, whenever they can both be applied.”
    “According to the idea of model-dependent realism …, our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the outside world. We form mental concepts of our home, trees, other people, the electricity that flows from wall sockets, atoms, molecules, and other universes. These mental concepts are the only reality we can know. There is no model-independent test of reality. It follows that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own.”

    - – - – - –

    The way people with a smattering of sociology assumed that the special technical sociologists’ meaning of racist was the ONLY permissible usage. Rather like a physicist frothing at the mouth because people sometimes use “energy” in a non-technical sense, as in “I feel full of energy today”.

    incorrect comparison. when racism is talked about in the context of society, it’s a sociological discussion; consequently, an accurate analogy would be the incorrect use of “evolution” (e.g. to mean “development”) when talking about biology, or misusing “energy” when talking about physics.

    In any case, I thought the sociologists’ technical meaning was rather silly because it PRECLUDED the very POSSIBILITY of uttering a sentence like “White people never suffer from racist abuse.”

    complete nonsense. Of course it’s possible, and it’s not even tautologous since whiteness is not inherently placed at the dominant end of that axis of oppression. “White people never suffer from racist abuse” is a perfectly sensible sentence with the sociological definition: “White people never suffer from [institutionalized] abuse [along the racial axis of oppression]“. Hell, you can even say the opposite, as in: “Japan, never having been colonized and having a strongly nationalist, xenophobic culture, is one of the few places in the world where whites experience a degree of racist abuse”. No idea why you think this doesn’t work.

    I was annoyed that people gave vent to a sort of anti-dictionary prejudice, even calling dictionaries a tool of white, male oppression (reminiscent of a famous feminist who called Newton’s Principia a “rape manual”)!

    1)really; you don’t think that dictionaries reflect the dominant narrative? How do you explain M-W defining “pagan” as “irreligious person” then? because it’s certainly not actually true, is it now.
    2)I don’t know about “reminiscent”; maybe arguments about how language and social dominance work together remind you of each other, regardless of merit, content, or form. From here however, it just looks like pointless guilt-by-association smear though.

    Actually my feeling is that whether or not we use the DICTIONARY definition of a word is less important than making sure we use the SAME definition as each other.

    for future reference, I would suggest you actually express such feelings if they exist, rather than saying “Learn to think clearly and use language precisely. You may JUSTIFY racism & sexism towards white males. But it’s still racist & sexist.” which expresses an entirely different sentiment.

    Although I felt so strongly about the semantic point that I was prepared, for the sake of argument, to concede that white people never suffer racist abuse, the whole thing started when somebody called me something like a “smug white male in loafers”. I couldn’t help inverting it in my mind and imagining a phrase like “uppity brown female in a hijab”.

    yes, I have noticed that people can’t seem to help inverting power structures and then pretend any comparisons between the scenarios are in any sense meaningful. it’s quite tedious.

    I was annoyed at the implication that if you haven’t personally suffered from prejudice of a certain kind, that very fact disqualifies you from even TALKING about that form of prejudice

    actually, the implication was that you’re talking while clueless, and that this is a phenomenon very common to privileged demographics. The @WhiteFeminist twitter account parodies that tendency beautifully, and you don’t see me throwing a shitfit over that just because I’m a white feminist.

    haven’t we both encountered something like, “Since you are male, your views on sexism, even your condemnation of sexism, are irrelevant: just shut up and listen to the women”?

    no we haven’t, since that’s a strawman. “likely to be incorrect because missing salient information” and “well-meaning but ignorant” and “more likely to get it wrong, but more likely to be heard, therefore completely drowning out more experienced voices”, yes. That’s in fact what the “shut up and listen” thing means, too: stop sending long enough to receive and process salient information you lack before you even start thinking about what to say in response.

    it implies that personal feelings trump objective argument, and that would be the death of the science that you and I both love.

    beautiful hyperbole. do you complain at doctors who ask their patients about the level of pain they’re experiencing instead of “objectively argue” with their patients over how much pain they experience? or is this particular contempt for subjective experience only reserved for social experiences?
    Besides, this is silly anyway, since it’s not like critics of personal experience as expertise listen to the academic experts on oppression, either (unless they already agree with you). Instead, you poo poo the entire discipline. Which leaves what? the personal experiences of those lacking any experience with an axis of oppression. How is that objective?

    Where annoyance spilled over into outright pain was the implication that, because I felt strongly about (1), (2), (3) etc, this must make ME a racist. That pissed me off royally and actually hurt. Indeed I find it all but unforgivable.

    well actually, your strong feelings about (1), (2), and (3) just make you look clueless about race-issues. The reason you and everyone else who grew up and lives in a racist society is racist is simply because not even you are so fantastically brilliant as to be able to extract all the racist BS from your brain that lifelong enculturation/socialization in a racist culture placed there. If being confronted with that unfortunate reality is something you find “unforgivable”, that’s just sad. Being pissed off at reality is sad.

  28. 28
    Jadehawk

    bah; there were supposed to be scarequotes around all instances of “racist” in the last segment, but I forgot because it’s 4am. this is why words with too large meaning-clusters are worthless for communication.

  29. 29
    dionaea

    nothing in language is ever objectively anything. language is arbitrary and inherently subjective, albeit fairly stable. words don’t have “objective” meanings, therefore nothing about any word can ever be objectively wrong or objectively right. What a deeply silly thing to say.

    What a deeply silly thing to say. Consider the word “bird”. If we want this word to denote a certain class of animals, which includes ducks and robins, then defining “bird” as “a metal cage” is objectively wrong.

    As for critical theory not being an ideology: in my book any set of ideas the aim of which is to change society in a particular way is an ideology. In that sense critical theory is clearly an ideology. YDMD (Your definition may differ).

    drosera

    1. 29.1
      dionaea

      This was in reply to 18.1.1.2. I don’t know why it ended up here.

    2. 29.2
      Jadehawk

      Consider the word “bird”. If we want this word to denote a certain class of animals, which includes ducks and robins, then defining “bird” as “a metal cage” is objectively wrong.

      I wonder: what exactly do you think the word “objectively” means? Meanings of words don’t have external, “mind-independent” existence; they exist only by social consensus, are entirely arbitrary, and get altered all the time. Or what do you imagine happened to the word “gay” for example?
      Claiming objective existence for the meaning of words is some extreme prescriptivism.

      in my book any set of ideas the aim of which is to change society in a particular way is an ideology.y

      and the sets of ideas that aim to change nothing aren’t? The set of ideas that makes up the society as it currently is isn’t? ROTFLMAO.

      what I actually tried to refer to in my comment and (i notice now) failed to do is specifically the use of ideology in a pejorative sense of a (self-)deceptive belief-set that reality needs to be molded to (“You may not like that definition, because it probably doesn’t fit your ideology”); in the context of Critical Theory, that use is hilarious in its missing-the-point-ness.

      1. 29.2.1
        CaitieCat, getaway driver

        Indeed: to add a linguist’s perspective, here, words are as arbitrary as money is. There’s no inherent value to a piece of paper with a picture of a dead guy on it. It has value only in so far as we agree to its having value. If we don’t agree, I won’t take it from you as having value, and then it no longer has value (since if it can’t be exchanged for something else, it by definittion has no value, is literally worthless).

        Words, similarly, have meaning which is accorded to them only by our belief in it. That belief can change over time (check out the word “nice” sometime), or by place, as noted below.

        If I say the four sounds “s” “k” “o” “t” in that order, the context will define the meaning of that sequence fo noises. If I’m speaking English, it’s a person from a place north of England, or a person’s name.

        If I say the same four sounds in the same order, in a Russian context, I’m talking about domesticated animals. Same sounds, different (subjective!) context, different meaning.

        Ergo and Quod E Thingummy, words do not and cannot have “objective” meaning.

        At best, we get the mushy ‘commonly agreed’ standard, which leads to one thing having different names in different places, despite their nominally speaking the same language: “pavement” is the stuff roads are made from in North America, and the place people walk alongside roads in the UK. Neither is wrong; each is correct, in their context. A dictionary cannot define one version or the other being correct without specifying the context.

        What Mr. Dawkins, and our other visitors, fail to notice is that the dictionary they’re using has a big, but obviously invisible to some, context-specification on the front. But because of markedness and confirmation bias, again, they are unable to see that this is so: that their “objective” dictionary is nothing more than a collection of “agreed values” that is very specific to a time, place, and audience. Insisting that we all must agree on the definition imposed by the group of specific people who composed the dictionary makes no more sense than Americans going to England and telling them they’re wrong to call it a “pavement”, it’s a “sidewalk”. It’s asinine and overbearing.

      2. 29.2.2
        dionaea

        I think you have it backwards regarding the meaning of words. Evidently, the words themselves are, in a way, arbitrary. They exist by consensus. What we call “bird” is called “oiseau” or “Vogel” in other languages. But you will find that the definitions of those words are essentially identical in the respective languages. The concept denoted clearly came before the word. In that sense, meanings have external, mind-independent existence. When someone points to a chair and says, “that’s a bird,” wouldn’t you say that person is objectively wrong?

        and the sets of ideas that aim to change nothing aren’t? The set of ideas that makes up the society as it currently is isn’t? ROTFLMAO.

        what I actually tried to refer to in my comment and (i notice now) failed to do is specifically the use of ideology in a pejorative sense of a (self-)deceptive belief-set that reality needs to be molded to (“You may not like that definition, because it probably doesn’t fit your ideology”); in the context of Critical Theory, that use is hilarious in its missing-the-point-ness.

        I was not using ideology in a pejorative sense. I was using the word merely to contrast Critical Theory with real science. Real science is not an ideology. Therefore it is misleading to claim that the revised, sociological/CT definition of racism is somehow more “scientific” than the colloquial one that Dawkins and most dictionaries are using. The revised definition is informed by ideology; it is supposedly one that does more justice to marginalised groups than the colloquial one.That may be true, but it makes the reasoning in favour of the revised definition close to an argument from consequences. The supposed analogy with scientific versus non-scientific definitions of energy or evolution on the one hand and the colloquial versus the revised definition of racism on the other does not hold, because there is no scientific definition of racism that is substantially different from the colloquial one.

        1. 29.2.2.1
          dionaea

          This was a response to Jadehawk, not to CaitieCat.

        2. 29.2.2.2
          Jadehawk

          But you will find that the definitions of those words are essentially identical in the respective languages.

          I assure you, that’s not actually true. Most words have a different “meaning-set” (the set of literal and metaphoric meanings, plus all connotations and associations)in different languages even when they supposedly mean the same thing according you your english-german (or whatever) dictionary.

          In that sense, meanings have external, mind-independent existence.

          O.o
          no. let’s take “bird” for example. what is the concept of “bird”? does “Bird” exist in nature? no, it doesn’t. it’s a category created to include certain actual (and fictional) animals; it used to include bats in at least one instance (probably when it just meant things with wings), now that it’s more bio-sciency it doesn’t anymore. It’s even worse with “fish”, and let’s not even get into actual abstract concepts.
          The signifier is arbitrary and never “objective”; the signified is usually a human-constructed classification, so still not mind-independent, still not objective.

          Real science is not an ideology.

          lol. yes it is. it’s a worldview, after all. That’s what I meant with pejorative use. There’s real reality, and there’s ideology; no, sorry, doesn’t work that way.

          because there is no scientific definition of racism that is substantially different from the colloquial one.

          only if you insist on the petty silliness that social science must be excluded from the category of science.

          herefore it is misleading to claim that the revised, sociological/CT definition of racism is somehow more “scientific” than the colloquial one that Dawkins and most dictionaries are using. The revised definition is informed by ideology

          this is what i mean by using it in a pejorative manner. “scientific definitions” are informed by an ideology as well; the same one that informs the sociological definition of racism: creation of terms that allow for more precise and accurate description of realities within the field you’re studying. Denying that the scientific worldview is a worldview (and therefore an ideology) is pointless exceptionalism. Human perception of reality is all model based; the models are the bases of ideology. You can’t be human and not have an ideology. (you can only deny it and posit your own ideology as the objective state of things)

          1. dionaea

            There’s real reality, and there’s ideology; no, sorry, doesn’t work that way.

            Yes, it does. Where is the ideology in quantum mechanics? Where is the ideology in describing the way termite societies are organised? Where is the ideology in studying cancer?

            You love making apodictic statements, just like the Critical Theorists who wrap their Teutonic pipe dreams in impenetrable, wilfully obscure prose that lends their dubious pronouncements an undeserved air of authority. Real scientists are not fooled by this. Real scientists try to be as clear as possible. I see the opposite in Critical Theorists and postmodern “scholars”.

          2. Jadehawk

            Yes, it does. Where is the ideology in quantum mechanics? Where is the ideology in describing the way termite societies are organised? Where is the ideology in studying cancer?

            all of that falls under the ideology of empiricism AKA a scientific weltanschauung.
            Don’t like that definition of ideology? Don’t use the word in connection with Critical Theory, because that’s what the word means in that context: an overarching worldview that colors your behavior, language, assumptions, axioms, etc.

          3. Jadehawk

            Real scientists try to be as clear as possible.

            to each other, not to people outside the discipline; and that is also true for Critical Theorists (trying to make general statements about postmodernists is silly, given what postmodernism is). Also, someone’s clearly never tried reading anything written by Niels Bohr :-p

            The people who try to communicate clearly with a lay public are science communicators, not scientists in general. Scientists in general communicate in a language that’s rather impenetrable to non-scientists, especially when talking to each other.

          4. Steersman

            Jadehawk said (#29.2.2.2.2):

            … because that’s what the word [ideology] means in that context: an overarching worldview that colors your behavior, language, assumptions, axioms, etc.

            Colours, maybe, to some extent. But most things in the world have a great deal more substance than that. And, as a matter of fact, colour is only a consequence of the frequency of light that is reflected from the object, and which can be used to understand the nature and properties of those objectives.

            And likewise, I think, with more abstract “objects” such as behaviour, language, and ideas.

        3. 29.2.2.3
          Jadehawk

          forgot to say: the combination of signified and signifier can never be objective, so saying “it’s not objectively wrong” is meaningless. of course it’s not, that’s not the point. the point is whether one symbol creates a more useful model of reality than another; and in that case, the power+prejudice version is simply more useful in discussions of how society works.

          which was what i meant to say with that bit of topic-drift, anyway.

    3. 29.3
      Great American Satan

      Bats are birds in the bible. *flips drosera the bird, by which I mean robin or duck*

      1. 29.3.1
        dionaea

        If you define a bird as “a winged animal with two legs”, then, yes, you could include bats. Other people noted that some “winged bipeds” lay eggs and others don’t, and that there are other substantial differences between what we now call “bats” and “birds”. So those people recognised two classes of animals. That doesn’t make the meanings of the words arbitrary. On the other hand, I don’t see why you would make a word for objects that include birds and chairs and nothing else.

        1. 29.3.1.1
          A. Noyd

          That doesn’t make the meanings of the words arbitrary.

          Yes, that’s exactly what it does. The only way it even makes sense to say “if you define X as Y” is if meanings of words are arbitrary categories. We happen to value the differences between “bats” and “birds” in English enough to have separate terms, but it’s not inherently wrong to group them together any more than it’s wrong of the Japanese to use a single word for what we refer to in English as either “blue” or “green.”

          1. CaitieCat, getaway driver

            Yeah, colour terms were going to be my example too – most languages have their own colour systems, and only rarely and/or by chance do they overlap completely between any pair. There are Polynesian languages in which colour has only three values: dark, light, and blue.

            How, then, do those values map onto English exactly? Well, as a linguist, I’d have a very simple and scientifically pretty rigourous way to test that: I’d ask the people who hold those values. I’d point at various things of various (English-defined) colours, and ask them into which category each falls, in this way, we’d slowly map out the semantic outlines of dark, light, and blue. There’s no objective value to ANY of it. Not one phenomenon of language, by the way we’re put together, can be seen outside of the frame of reference of the viewer. There is no “objective” observer to appeal to.

            That’s what scientific word-study looks like, not “I looked it up in my nearest dictionary so therefore I know all”. Using dictionary definitions as argument premises is a very, very weak approach to logic and critical thinking, because of the inherent and inevitable subjectivity of any language phenomenon (be that morphemes, phonemes, semantic units, whatever).

        2. 29.3.1.2
          dionaea

          I think we are talking past each other. We all agree that “bird” is an arbitrary string of characters. We also agree that “bird” may or may not include bats. All I’m trying to convey is that since there is an underlying classification it is still possible to say that it is objectively wrong to point to a chair and say that that’s a bird.

          Or take the word “red”. Once it is agreed that only the colour of light between certain wavelengths can be called red, then calling green light “red” is objectively wrong. We can measure the wavelength and point out that the wavelength lies outside the required range.

          In this sense, not everything in language is subjective.

          1. CaitieCat, getaway driver

            Yes, it is. It really is.

            You’re begging the question. You’re taking as assumed that there’s an objective standard at which we can objectively say, “x nanometre-wavelength radiation will be reflected from objects which are red”. But what about x+1? x+50? Where does red become orange, or infrared?

            And more to the point, what’s the wavelength of racism, since you’re so sure we can all define things with that level of objectivity? What specific range of behaviours comprise “racism” as a definition, and what authority do you, or Dawkins, or the OED, have to say that this has to be the definition we all must use? And doesn’t that insistence on having the authority make one sound an awful lot like a certain hooka-smoking caterpillar?

            One thing I’ve learned in nearly 50 years on this lovely wee ball of rock, is that nothing, nothing, is objective, because there is no default point of view. And since everything I’ve ever encountered has a range of possibilities associated with it, I have a hard time believing that this, and only this, issue has a single, completely common semantic set associated with it, nor that Dawkins is the arbiter thereof.

            Me, as a rationalist? I’m going to go with the experts on this one. And despite Dawkins’ sneering contempt, sociologists? This is their expertise. I know a fucktonne about linguistics, and a bunch about some other stuff, but I wouldn’t be interested in insisting I know more about physics than a physicist or more about skeletal anatomy than an orthopedist.

            Dawkins’ insistence that he, and only he, gets to define what racism is, and that despite decades of hard academic work in laying out what the boundaries of that term is, he knows better than the experts on it, is just a baffling level of hubris. But then, it’s easy to be full of hubris when one is playing on the easy setting: it feels like everything you want goes your way, so why wouldn’t you believe that you are more able than some mushy-minded sociologist?

            As noted above, to avoid hubris, it’s a good idea every now and then to stop and listen to the people criticizing; it’s a good way to find out that your fabulous new suit of clothes is somewhat short on matter in the material plane. That’s what people are trying to say to Mr. Dawkins. Whether he’ll listen…well, if I were holding the book, I’d be offering pretty long odds to get someone to bet with him instead of against.

          2. dionaea

            You’re begging the question. You’re taking as assumed that there’s an objective standard at which we can objectively say, “x nanometre-wavelength radiation will be reflected from objects which are red”. But what about x+1? x+50? Where does red become orange, or infrared?

            I was not taking as assumed that every word can be held to an objective standard. That is clearly not the case. Meanings will often have fuzzy boundaries, so to speak. All I was claiming was that there are cases where we can state objectively that a word is wrongly applied.

            And more to the point, what’s the wavelength of racism, since you’re so sure we can all define things with that level of objectivity?

            Again, I never said that I was sure of that. I am even sure that it is not the case that we can define all things with that level of objectivity.

            What specific range of behaviours comprise “racism” as a definition, and what authority do you, or Dawkins, or the OED, have to say that this has to be the definition we all must use?

            Behaviour following from race-based prejudice is what’s normally called racism. Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable definition to me. I don’t know where authority comes into this; a dictionary reflects common usage, so you could claim that this is a democratic definition. In that sense, this is not a definition that people must use, but one that many people do use.

            One thing I’ve learned in nearly 50 years on this lovely wee ball of rock, is that nothing, nothing, is objective, because there is no default point of view.

            If hundreds or thousands of people perform a certain measurement and always come up with the same value (within error margins), then I’d say that this measurement is an objective result.

            And since everything I’ve ever encountered has a range of possibilities associated with it, I have a hard time believing that this, and only this, issue has a single, completely common semantic set associated with it, nor that Dawkins is the arbiter thereof.

            Evidently not.

            Me, as a rationalist? I’m going to go with the experts on this one. And despite Dawkins’ sneering contempt, sociologists? This is their expertise.

            Did you ever try to read the stuff some sociologists/Critical & pomo Theorists write? They are not real scientists; they are experts in the same way that astrologers are experts in astrology. You could say, “But it is peer reviewed.” To which I would reply: “Exactly, that is the whole problem.”

  30. 30
    Great American Satan

    LSP- HOLY HELL, that’s an impressive tower of reason and fury. You got them all in check.

    Past a certain point, I was just looking for people’s responses to RD’s last point about the unforgivable affront to his feelings. Jade, you rocked that one.

    To RD, I keep seeing people falling in this trap of getting all emotional and defensive. Like others, you’ve been given an out. You can pick any number of well-reasoned and even gentle attempts to educate you about the subject, read them with an open mind, and apologize for fucking up when it becomes obvious that’s what you did.

    I remember getting defensive and emotional the first time I heard about mansplaining. I felt like, hey that sounds like condescension, and I’ve been condescended to, and how would you know if it was based on gender, and you really think I could have done that…? Anyhow, instead of firing off ill-informed comments, I needed to read a little further on the subject.

    I was a social justice noob back then. As someone who is an activist against religionists, it is essential for you to learn the basics of sociology – especially as it pertains to axes of oppression and privilege. Without that, you’re crippling your own efficacy.

    I somehow doubt that’s going to change, but if you proved me wrong, I’d sing it from the comment sections. Hark, we can be unabashedly proud of this guy once again! Rally!

    1. 30.1
      Jadehawk

      thanks. I kinda fucked it up a bit because I was thinking of the way RD was using “racist”, and of the way both institutionalized racial prejudice and institutionalized racist structure make racists out of all of us both in terms of biases and action, and it all got mixed into one thing where it’s unclear what kind of “racist” I’m even talking about :-p

  31. 31
    Jadehawk

    oh, i missed this one the first time ’round:

    Have you figured out whos more dogmatic and irrational yet? Fundamental Christians or Postmodernists?

    irrational postmodernism is at least a logically possible thing. Dogmatic post-modernism? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

    1. 31.1
      CaitieCat, getaway driver

      Really liked your comments on this thread, btw. :)

  32. 32
    Great American Satan

    I don’t know… If a statement like “all I know is that I know nothing” can stand without negating itself (does it? I’m so confused anymore!), then maybe I can dogmatically state that “All truth claims are equally valid, including the claim that this claim is invalid!”

  33. 33
    dutchandblonde

    Why don’t we use the term ‘racism’ for dislike based on physical characteristics and the term ‘institutionalised racism’ for the thing with power structures and privileges? That’d solve the issue.

    1. 33.1
      CaitieCat, getaway driver

      Except that it suggests that the people who behave in racist ways are external to “institutionalized”. It would tend to excuse people for their acts of racism, because “Well, I’m not an institution, so I can’t be affecting anyone on that level.” But the “institution” in “institutionalized”? That’s us. We create and maintain the institutions by our actions and our inactions..

      So it’s not an ideal choice. I grant that in good faith, you didn’t mean it this way, but it serves to make it easier for people to mentally excuse not acting when they witness someone doing something racist, and we don’t need to do anything to make it easier to act out of race privilege.

    2. 33.2
      cpps

      It does not solve the issue at all. Allowing ‘racism’ to be used to denote any sort of racial biases would be a little like allowing the word ‘murder’ to be used in the context of killing animals. Now there are some people who do feel that killing animals is just as morally reprehensible as killing a human being. They therefore have good reason to argue that the word ‘murder’ should apply in both cases. However, if one doesn’t believe this then one should not be willing to say both acts are murder. Not even with the proviso that only the killing of humans counts as ‘immoral murder’. The word ‘murder’ carries intense moral connotations such that if you call someone a murderer for eating steak it does not make it any less a serious accusation if you point out that you were not talking about the immoral sort of murder. Likewise ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’ carry intense moral connotations that are not going away any time soon and those connotations are only appropriate in the context of oppressive, institutional bigotry.

    3. 33.3
      smhll

      Why don’t we use the term ‘racism’ for dislike based on physical characteristics and the term ‘institutionalised racism’ for the thing with power structures and privileges? That’d solve the issue.

      I kind of like to use little ‘r’ racism for racial dislike and big ‘R’ Racism for racial oppression. Racial oppression is the big important ‘ism’. If multiple meanings are contending for first place in the dictionary, then racial oppression should be the #1 meaning because of it’s importance.

      We could also call racist dislike “teeny tiny racism” and racism yoked with power “big ass racism”.

  34. 34
    Steersman

    LeftSidePositive said (#18.1):

    2) Yes, it IS impossible for white people to suffer from racist abuse. I’m sorry that you don’t like that fact, but please learn to deal with it.

    Let’s take a look a one set of definitions (1):

    rac•ism (rszm)
    n.
    1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
    2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

    You see anything in there that explicitly states that it is only one race that winds up on the short end of that stick? Don’t you think that it is rather bloody arrogant of you to insist on one definition, actually one interpretation, of the word when there are others that make it manifestly clear that it is a universal failing? [Seems rather racist to suggest that only whites can be guilty of that crime.] How about the many cases (2,3,4) of racism in Africa directed against both whites and other ethnic minorities?

    Looks like a rather large pile of self-serving special pleading – being charitable – to me.

    —-
    1) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/racist”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_Africa”;
    3) “_http://frontpagemag.com/2013/arnold-ahlert/the-gruesome-reality-of-racist-south-africa/”;
    4) “_http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/53690”;

    1. 34.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      Hey, I know somebody who obviously didn’t read the OP but who still thinks he should be taken totes serious

  35. 35
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    PLeeeeeeease, stop talking about linguistics because really, you don’t know the first thing about it.
    I expect that you are monolingual and have therefore no experience of the utter difficulty to translate things from one language to another where you’re suddenly left with either three different words that translate the concept you have in mind but all three of them with different connotations that might not even exist in your language, or no word at all that catptures the meaning you’re trying to convey.
    People have shown you the limits of your understanding even with the rather simplistic example of “bird”.

    1. 35.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      Ahhh, the joy of nested comments.
      That was for dionaea

    2. 35.2
      dionaea

      And another one who misses my point completely.

      For the record: I speak three languages and can read a few more.

      1. 35.2.1
        Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

        That makes your ignorance in linguistics even more astounding.

  36. 36
    Steersman

    Giliell said (#34.1):

    Hey, I know somebody who obviously didn’t read the OP but who still thinks he should be taken totes serious

    How “obvious” since I was explicitly referring to something that LSP said? Or maybe you didn’t notice that in your “rush to judgement”? Or maybe it was a case of reading comprehension fail?

    Seems to me that you might have a better case of “obviously didn’t read the OP” against LSP as the OP explicitly said:

    It is true that if you define racism as “not liking someone based on their race,” then people of color can be just as racist as white people.

    Considering that the dictionary definition is rather more objective in asserting that racism is, in fact, “discrimination or prejudice based on race” – which looks rather much like “not liking someone based on their race” – I would say that LSP either didn’t read the OP or is very unclear on the concept “impossible”.

    However from a broader perspective, it seems to me that the OP – and many commenters here – are conflating the concepts of “quality” and “quantity”. There may well be more racism by whites disfavouring “people-of-colour” in North America – the issue of quantity in one narrow locale. But that hardly precludes the presence and problematic consequences of that same “discrimination or prejudice based on race” – the issue of quality in many locales – and the disfavouring of both whites and “people-of-colour” by “people-of-colour” in various ghettos and communities in North America, as well as in countries outside of North America.

    While the following might be considered rather idiosyncratic “anecdata”, you might want to take a look at these posts (1,2,3,4) in “The Pit”, as well as the previously noted examples, for some evidence of the existence of the latter type of racism outside the apparently pristine – not to say, narrow-minded – confines of various academic Ivory Towers.

    —-
    1) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=93539#p93539”;
    2) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=92735#p92735”;
    3) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=92722#p92722”;
    4) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=85027#p85027”;

  37. 37
    Notung

    I saw this post via Chana Messinger’s blog – thank you for trying to express your position clearly and reasonably.

    My question is this: what word should I use to describe (in the abstract, so I’m not making a point about whether or not this happens frequently, or even at all) the discrimination or hatred based solely on one’s racial characteristics, whatever those racial characteristics may be?

    So if, hypothetically, I accept your view and I want to talk about such discrimination when applied to black and white people (again, in the abstract), what word should I use if ‘racism’ isn’t appropriate?

    1. 37.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Thanks for reading, Notung!

      Based on everything I’ve read on the subject, both from psychological and sociological perspectives, the word you’re looking for is prejudice–specifically, racial prejudice. Prejudice can also be based on other stuff, such as gender: men can be prejudiced against women, women can be prejudiced against men, men can be prejudiced against men, women can be prejudiced against women, etc. When that prejudice spills over from hate/dislike/fear into action, then it’s discrimination. Prejudice and discrimination can be based on any discernable characteristic of a person, including race.

      Unlike societal structures like racism, prejudice and discrimination can occur on an individual basis. That is, while it doesn’t make much sense to call a person a racist (only their actions or their beliefs, because they may prop up a racist system), it does make sense to call a person prejudiced or discriminatory. If I refuse to date Black men as a matter of principle, then I’m discriminating against them. If I hate gay people, then I’m prejudiced against them.

      Prejudice and discrimination can be learned behaviors, caused by an individual’s life experiences. For instance, if most of my experiences with men have been abusive (they haven’t, but say they have), I may fear or even hate men. This wouldn’t be fair to men, but it would make sense given my experiences. This fear or hatred may cause me to avoid interacting with men, which would be discriminatory.

      Of course, most of the time, prejudice and discrimination are not learned that way. Rather, they are learned as a product of growing up in a racist/sexist/[fill-in-the-blank-ist] society. For instance, as a child I passively absorbed the stereotype of Black men as dangerous and violent, and it wasn’t until late adolescence that I realized that I was prejudiced against Black men even though I had no evidence for these beliefs. Similarly, I believed that women are catty and jealous, because that’s what my family told me and that’s what I saw in the media–not because the women in my life were any more catty and jealous than the men.

      Likewise, a person of color can learn to be prejudiced and discriminatory toward whites. For instance, they may hear frequent negative remarks about whites in their home, and/or they may have very negative experiences with whites (definitely not out of the question given the society we live in). Research (I can point you to some studies if you’d like) shows that anti-white prejudice does exist among people of color, but prejudice against people of color among whites is significantly more prevalent. People of color are also more likely to be willing to interact with and associate with whites than vice versa; this measure is known as “social distance” in psychology and includes things like willingness to marry someone of another social group, number of friends you have in that social group, etc.

      Anyway, this is my current understanding of the definitions and interactions of prejudice, discrimination, and racism/sexism/other forms of institutionalized oppression, and it’s very liable to evolve as I learn more. There are probably plenty of social scientists who disagree with me (although there are clearly many who agree, as I didn’t just come up with this stuff myself; I read it in books and papers :P). This set of terms is precise and, in my opinion, works better than just referring to any racially-biased thought or action as “racism.” But there are certainly limitations to this language and ways to improve it.

      Sorry for the novel!

      1. 37.1.1
        Notung

        Thanks for the comprehensive reply! I pretty much agree with all of that, even the end bit (which would seem to go against my position, but I don’t think it does necessarily).

        The meaning of words is always tricky to sort out, and I don’t agree we should defer to the sociologists for what ‘racism’ means unless we’re in the process of doing sociology at the time. Another example is ‘skepticism’. When I studied epistemology ‘skepticism’ meant the position that you couldn’t know anything, or that you couldn’t know the external world. I’m happy to accept that outside of this academic discipline, people use the term in other ways, and those ways are perfectly legitimate.

        Anyway, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of disagreement – just a minor word quibble.

        1. 37.1.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          The meaning of words is always tricky to sort out, and I don’t agree we should defer to the sociologists for what ‘racism’ means unless we’re in the process of doing sociology at the time.

          This is true. I hope I made it clear that I’m not simply making an argument from authority; I’m trying to actually show that in this case, the definitions preferred by sociologists are actually more useful, because they allow us to discern the power differentials between two situations that might otherwise seem identical: for instance, a Black person calling a white person “you ugly white piece of shit” and a white person calling a Black person “you ugly black piece of shit.” Both are hurtful, both are rude, both are prejudiced–but only one is likely to stem from pervasive societal devaluation of certain races.

          I think the difference between this and your example of skepticism is that calling all racial bias “racism” serves a particular agenda–the color-blind agenda, to be specific–and therefore it’s not as benign as taking the term “skepticism” to refer to a movement promoting rational inquiry (or, as per my earlier example, taking the term “chemicals” to mean “nasty shit I don’t want in my body”). Dominant ideologies are allowed to remain unchallenged when we call all racial bias “racism” no matter which direction it goes.

          But yeah, these are minor differences and I don’t think we disagree very much. :)

        2. 37.1.1.2
          A. Noyd

          I don’t agree we should defer to the sociologists for what ‘racism’ means unless we’re in the process of doing sociology at the time.

          So long as we live in a society, we’re always “in the process of doing sociology.”

      2. 37.1.2
        queequack

        IMO, you should have incorporated this comment into your post, because it makes much more sense. I’d be inclined to agree, for the most part, re. the distinctions you’ve drawn.

        However, I still think this is all pretty arbitrary, and comes across as needlessly complicated outside of sociology, which requires very precise language. So is the sociological term “more useful”? I think it probably is; precision is always a good thing. However, I also think you need to balance that with clarity, and I’m not sure I really find these semantic distinctions to be all that important in a more general context.

        Although of course I don’t mind if you do find those distinctions useful. So, I guess I really don’t know what I’m arguing. Mostly, I don’t think we need to be sneering/mocking/holier-than-thou-ing Dawkins for using “racist” in a more general sense. It’s an entirely valid use of the term, even if it’s not yours. (Not saying you personally are doing this, but I’m seeing a lot of that on Twitter, etc.)

        Also:

        So long as we live in a society, we’re always “in the process of doing sociology.”

        No, not really. For the most part sociology studies general trends in a society; it’s not actually always an appropriate lens to adopt when dealing with individuals. This is also where “privilege” sometimes breaks down- it can’t account for every individual contingency, but rather makes sweeping statements that generally hold true. As I keep saying, this is something the SJWs should keep in mind.

        So, you’re wrong. We live a natural world, but we’re not always “doing science”.

        1. 37.1.2.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          IMO, you should have incorporated this comment into your post, because it makes much more sense. I’d be inclined to agree, for the most part, re. the distinctions you’ve drawn.

          Come on now, if I get any more verbose nobody’s gonna read the whole damn thing! :P

          But maybe I’ll write a follow-up, now that you’ve mentioned it.

          However, I still think this is all pretty arbitrary, and comes across as needlessly complicated outside of sociology, which requires very precise language. So is the sociological term “more useful”? I think it probably is; precision is always a good thing. However, I also think you need to balance that with clarity, and I’m not sure I really find these semantic distinctions to be all that important in a more general context.

          I think they’re very important if you’re fighting racism–which, in a small way, is exactly what I’m doing. All those claims of “but Black people are just as racist as white people” and “I don’t see race” prevent us from achieving anti-racist goals because they serve to hide actual explanations for racism and replace them with false explanations that are more comforting.

          It’s important to acknowledge that if, say, you experience what Dawkins did in that exchange, or what I did the one time in my life a person of color made it clear that they hate me because I’m white, that is hurtful. You’re allowed to feel hurt or angry about that. You’re allowed to be upset at the person who did it. You just shouldn’t call them racist, because that’s inaccurate.

          Mostly, I don’t think we need to be sneering/mocking/holier-than-thou-ing Dawkins for using “racist” in a more general sense. It’s an entirely valid use of the term, even if it’s not yours. (Not saying you personally are doing this, but I’m seeing a lot of that on Twitter, etc.)

          Agreed that sneering/mocking isn’t generally useful as an argumentative strategy, but my personal beef with him was not so much that he was using it in a general sense (after all, that is what most people learn about racism) but that he was refusing to accept sociology as a legitimate discipline, and sociologists’ definitions of the terms that they study to be legitimate. What if a sociologist started telling him that his precise biological terms are stupid and that we should ignore them because “lol biology”?

          1. queequack

            OK! I think we basically agree, I guess I’m just less convinced re. the importance of those sociological distinctions in everyday language. I don’t think it necessarily follows that the lay definition of racism implies that all races are equally affected, but I’ll agree that it makes it easier for certain groups to hijack the language of civil rights for their own purposes.

            So I do see where you’re coming from (and I myself probably wouldn’t consider anti-white prejudice “racism”), but I mean, the fact is that a considerable chunk of US citizens don’t even think racism exists at all anymore, so, yeah. To me, it’s almost like a case of picking your battles.

            But maybe I’ll write a follow-up, now that you’ve mentioned it.

            I mean, if you want. I do think you phrased it well, but my e-pet peeve is people who DEMAND time and attention from a blogger. When I make a comment I really don’t expect a response; I just want to get my view out there. If it inspires discussion, that’s cool.

            Agreed that sneering/mocking isn’t generally useful as an argumentative strategy, but my personal beef with him was not so much that he was using it in a general sense (after all, that is what most people learn about racism) but that he was refusing to accept sociology as a legitimate discipline, and sociologists’ definitions of the terms that they study to be legitimate.

            Fair enough, although I’m not sure that’s what he meant. Anyway, he definitely needs to take remedial social media or something.

        2. 37.1.2.2
          A. Noyd

          Mostly, I don’t think we need to be sneering/mocking/holier-than-thou-ing Dawkins for using “racist” in a more general sense. It’s an entirely valid use of the term…

          He was using it to draw a false equivalency between treatment of PoC and treatment of whites. His (sneery, mocking, holier-than-thou, hypocritical, entitled, oblivious) insistence on a definition that enables such a fallacy does deserve to be called out.

          So, you’re wrong. We live a natural world, but we’re not always “doing science”.

          I’m not talking about the study itself, but the fact that we’re all constantly generating the very thing being studied. We can’t honestly pretend sociology (along with the usefulness of its definitions) is something apart from our daily reality when it is our daily reality. That’s the reason for calling the sociological definition of racism “more useful”—it best approximates how race relations work in the real world.

          This is also where “privilege” sometimes breaks down- it can’t account for every individual contingency…

          *facepalm* The term/concept is not intended to account for every individual contingency. Don’t criticize things for not doing what they’re not meant to do. (I’m pointing your error out for the sake of others, but I’m not interested in hashing out the real meaning of terms like “privilege” with someone hostile to social justice. There are no shortage of sites where you could educate yourself if you truly wished to.)

          1. queequack

            I’m not really hostile to social justice. Maybe a little bit. At this point I’ve made a fair few comments on this blog, I guess you can judge for yourself.

            Anyway, I’ve educated myself just fine, and I’m aware that’s not what the term means. I wasn’t criticizing “privilege”, but rather certain communities that abuse it. But that’s a little beside the point.

            All I was saying was that sociology has its limits, because it analyzes society on a macro level, draws generalized conclusions, and thus is not necessarily adequate when it comes to individual interactions (or even individual lives). For example, “privilege”, being a sociological term, sometimes breaks down at the micro level. This doesn’t make it a bad thing, just limited. Which was my point.

  38. 38
    Steersman

    Miri:

    You said in the OP:

    It is true that if you define racism as “not liking someone based on their race,” then people of color can be just as racist as white people. …. But the fact is that this isn’t a very useful definition.

    So, are you then arguing that there are no cases where the power imbalance is not in favour of “people of colour” who could then use that imbalance to discriminate against “people of whiteness” (pow)? That there are no situations anywhere in the world where poc are guilty of racism against pow?

    Looks to me like you’re dancing around the issue in refusing to concede that poc can be and are guilty of racism. Which I think qualifies as a form of racism in itself. Which looks to be part of the problem.

    =====

    In passing and somewhat parenthetically, I’ve noticed several times now that I’ve tried responding to a nested comment, but my post still goes at the end of the thread. Something with my browser (IE8/XP) or something with the blog options? Also, I’ve noticed that you haven’t enabled the Preview function as many other FT blogs have which is quite useful – not to mention that it seems to provide a larger viewing space.

    1. 38.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’m not familiar with the state of race relations in every corner of the globe. If there are places where POC truly hold the upper hand over whites, then they could certainly be guilty of perpetrating institutional racism. This definition is not based on skin color, but on structural oppression. However, Richard Dawkins and I both live in countries where whites have been dominant ever since they settled those countries, and this whole post was spawned by Dawkins claiming to be the victim of racism. Were Dawkins living in a culture where whites were enslaved for hundreds of years, then subject to 100 years of Jim Crow laws, and then to 40+ years of institutionalized racism via the criminal justice system, discriminatory hiring practices, etc., then my reaction would likely have been quite different. You are attempting to derail the conversation from that reality in order to try to catch me (and other commenters) in some sort of hypocrisy, and it’s obvious.

      Which I think qualifies as a form of racism in itself. Which looks to be part of the problem.

      Tu quoque is not an effective argument. Please don’t try to use it here.

      In passing and somewhat parenthetically, I’ve noticed several times now that I’ve tried responding to a nested comment, but my post still goes at the end of the thread. Something with my browser (IE8/XP) or something with the blog options?

      Yeah, this clearly happens with other commenters too, but I’ve never had it happen (and I’ve posted comments here using Chrome, Firefox, and Safari on OS, and using Firefox and Chrome in Windows 7). So unfortunately I can’t really test and see what’s going on unless everyone else were to give me their OS info, too.

      Also, I’ve noticed that you haven’t enabled the Preview function as many other FT blogs have which is quite useful – not to mention that it seems to provide a larger viewing space.

      I don’t seem to have that option in my settings, which is perhaps because of some other option that I’ve set (perhaps nested comments). Damn technology.

  39. 39
    Steersman

    Miri said (#38.1):

    If there are places where POC truly hold the upper hand over whites, then they could certainly be guilty of perpetrating institutional racism.

    Well, I’m glad you concede that much. While I’m not all that familiar with the state of race-relations in other parts of the world either, several of the citations I provided earlier suggest that many of the whites in South Africa wind up with the short end of the stick simply because of their race. Rather consistent with the demographics (1) there which put blacks at 79.2% and whites at 8.9% – and which, by the same argument that you apparently use to justify your assertion as to the prevalence of anti-poc racism in North America, probably justifies the assertion that “institutional racism” is just about as prevalent there as it is supposedly here.

    And the number of cases of genocide (2) – not all of which were perpetrated by whites against poc, and which might reasonably be construed as cases of “institutional racism” – gives further evidence that it is rather a stretch to argue that only whites can be, have been, and are guilty of that particular crime.

    This definition is not based on skin color, but on structural oppression.

    A definition which not everybody shares. And one which seems to bring along with it any number of problematic consequences. Not least of which is entailed in determining the nature, scope, and extent of that “structural oppression”. For instance, are you prepared to argue that a group of blacks beating up some white guy in some black ghetto in some inner American city because the guy was white weren’t guilty of “institutional racism” or, simply, of racism? Maybe there are more white cops in the city than black ones, but that is likely to be cold comfort to the white guy as he’s getting the crap kicked out of him by some black guys. And, if I’m not mistaken, Crommunist recently gave an example of precisely that scenario.

    The structure required to manifest or give weight to prejudice – to instantiate “structural racism” – is entirely dependent on the environment, on the context. To make a priori determinations of when that crime is or can be committed – to, in effect, sweep one manifestation of it under the carpet while asserting that another manifestation of it is the only game in town – is, apart from being egregious hypocrisy, not likely to be terribly conducive to rectifying the problem.

    Which I think qualifies as a form of racism in itself. Which looks to be part of the problem.

    Tu quoque is not an effective argument. Please don’t try to use it here.

    Not everyone agrees with that position either. For instance (3):

    Doug Walton, Canadian academic and author, has argued that ad hominem reasoning [which tu quoque is a case of] is not always fallacious, and that in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue, as when it directly involves hypocrisy, or actions contradicting the subject’s words.

    While I will readily concede that there is a substantial amount of systemic “institutional racism” directed at blacks in America as a result of slavery, it seems to me that you and many others are using that brush to tar all whites in all situations: “four legs good; two legs bad”. Which looks like inadvertent inconsistency at best, questionable hypocrisy at worst, but in either case something that is likely to be rather problematic.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Africa#Demographics”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history”;
    3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem#Questions_about_the_notion_of_an_ad_hominem_fallacy”;

    1. 39.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Rather consistent with the demographics (1) there which put blacks at 79.2% and whites at 8.9% – and which, by the same argument that you apparently use to justify your assertion as to the prevalence of anti-poc racism in North America, probably justifies the assertion that “institutional racism” is just about as prevalent there as it is supposedly here.

      By which argument? That Blacks were enslaved for hundreds of years, subject to Jim Crow for the next century, and discriminated against by the criminal justice system and discriminatory hiring practices ever since? (Not that those are the only ways in which they’re still discriminated against, of course, and POC other than Blacks face different significant challenges.)

      For instance, are you prepared to argue that a group of blacks beating up some white guy in some black ghetto in some inner American city because the guy was white weren’t guilty of “institutional racism” or, simply, of racism?

      I don’t believe that can be institutional racism given that American culture and institutions do not generally support black-on-white hate and violence. This hypothetical group of blacks would be guilty of (besides assault) anti-white prejudice, which motivated their violence. That doesn’t mean this is okay! That doesn’t mean we have to “brush off” this act of violence or treat it as acceptable or tell the white victim that, sorry bro, we’re not gonna do anything about this legally. All it means is that American culture has not historically supported or condoned violence by blacks against whites. It has, on the contrary, supported and condoned violence by whites against blacks.

      The structure required to manifest or give weight to prejudice – to instantiate “structural racism” – is entirely dependent on the environment, on the context. To make a priori determinations of when that crime is or can be committed – to, in effect, sweep one manifestation of it under the carpet while asserting that another manifestation of it is the only game in town – is, apart from being egregious hypocrisy, not likely to be terribly conducive to rectifying the problem.

      How did I do that? We’ve already determined that Dawkins lives in a society where whites are dominant, and that he was claiming to be a victim of racism. I’ve already said that if Dawkins lived in a society where whites were discriminated against in a comparable way to how POC are discriminated against in Western nations, then his claim of being the victim of racism may very well be accurate. Unless you’re prepared to argue that he does live in such a society, then I don’t see what we’re arguing about here.

      Not everyone agrees with that position either.

      I’m sure there is no position in the world that everyone agrees with. That’s completely irrelevant. I’m telling you that “Nuh uh you’re the racist” is a common derailing tactic in discussions of racism, and I’m not going to let you get away with it.

      it seems to me that you and many others are using that brush to tar all whites in all situations: “four legs good; two legs bad”.

      Please provide evidence to support this claim, given that I’ve just told you that I believe racism is defined based on institutional power, not skin color. POC cannot “be racist” against whites in Western society not because they have darker skin, but because there is no structural racist system that is anti-white in these societies.

    2. 39.2
      Jadehawk

      suggest that many of the whites in South Africa wind up with the short end of the stick simply because of their race

      oh yeah; these poor oppressed whites of South Africa. Because it’s totes possible to reverse massive institutionalized oppression in just 20 years without violent revolution; because that’s totally how reality works. o.O

      (also, really, linking to Arnold Ahlert as a citation? Why not the WND while you’re at it?)

    3. 39.3
      Steersman

      Miri said (#39.1):

      Rather consistent with the demographics there … which, by the same argument that you apparently use to justify your assertion as to the prevalence of anti-poc racism in North America … probably justifies the assertion that “institutional racism” is just about as prevalent there ….

      By which argument? That Blacks were enslaved for hundreds of years …?

      No. That the institutions are predominately populated by, designed for, or turn out to be for the primary benefit of the dominant or “majority” race: whites in North America, and blacks in South Africa. Ergo, “institutional racism”.

      I don’t believe that [group of blacks beating up on some white guy] can be institutional racism given that American culture and institutions do not generally support black-on-white hate and violence.

      Apart from wondering what sort of evidence you have for institutions in America that “generally support white-on-black hate and violence”, it seems you have a rather selective and self-serving definition of “institution”. You might try this one on for size (1):

      in•sti•tu•tion (nst-tshn, -ty-)
      n.
      2.a. A custom, practice, relationship, or behavioral pattern of importance in the life of a community or society

      Again, as mentioned and argued earlier – which I note you didn’t really address, if there is a sufficiently large power imbalance between two subgroups – for example, a gang of 10 blacks, and a single white victim – then that “behavioral pattern of importance in the community” – is sufficient to manifest discrimination by race, the combination of which is sufficient to qualify as “institutional racism” by the associated definitions. It wouldn’t make an iota of difference to that white victim that the population distribution of the entire country (2) is about 6 to 1 in favour of whites if he’s had his teeth kicked because he happened to be white, i.e., because of black racists.

      ….To make a priori determinations of when that crime is or can be committed – to, in effect, sweep one manifestation of it under the carpet while asserting that another manifestation of it is the only game in town – is … not likely to be terribly conducive to rectifying the problem.

      How did I do that? We’ve already determined that Dawkins lives in a society where whites are dominant, and that he was claiming to be a victim of racism. I’ve already said that if Dawkins lived in a society where whites were discriminated against in a comparable way to how POC are discriminated against in Western nations, then his claim of being the victim of racism may very well be accurate. Unless you’re prepared to argue that he does live in such a society, then I don’t see what we’re arguing about here.

      Don’t you think that it is rather bloody arrogant of you and others to be, in effect, dictating to Dawkins what meaning of a word he should think is applicable to the situations – personal and social – that he is describing and experiencing? As far as I know the Sociology Departments of America haven’t yet started and finished the revolution, and are not now the Ministry of Truth (3). There is a perfectly serviceable definition of the word – i.e., “discrimination or prejudice based on race” (4) – that seems to fit that statement of Nadia Noui Mehidi’s to a T, and it was the one Dawkins quite credibly used. And it is likewise applicable by extrapolation to the sets of social interactions that he, I, and several others here have been describing. You’re not trying to “appropriate or ignore the lived experiences of whites”, are you?

      I’m telling you that “Nuh uh you’re the racist” is a common derailing tactic in discussions of racism, and I’m not going to let you get away with it.

      Maybe because it is commonly or frequently true? Maybe as a consequence of Ivory Tower ideologies – and ideologues – running smack dab into a rather unforgiving brick wall, the “grim meat-hook” reality that everyone else has to deal with?

      But you reject that charge because, apparently, it is inconsistent with the sociological, “institutional” definition of racism, but refuse to provide evidence to justify that claim or to consider the evidence that calls that rather self-serving claim into question. Which looks rather dogmatic to me at best, and egregiously racist at worst. Somewhat apropos of which is this comment on sociology by an apparently well-regarded sociologist (5):

      Irving Louis Horowitz, in his The Decomposition of Sociology (1994), has argued that the discipline, whilst arriving from a “distinguished lineage and tradition”, is in decline due to deeply ideological theory and a lack of relevance to policy making: “The decomposition of sociology began when this great tradition became subject to ideological thinking, and an inferior tradition surfaced in the wake of totalitarian triumphs.”

      The frequent consequence when speculations and political ideologies outrun empirical corroborations: pseudoscience at best, “philosophick romances” and Lysenkoism at worst.

      it seems to me that you and many others are using that brush to tar all whites in all situations: “four legs good; two legs bad”.

      Please provide evidence to support this claim, given that I’ve just told you that I believe racism is defined based on institutional power, not skin color. POC cannot “be racist” against whites in Western society not because they have darker skin, but because there is no structural racist system that is anti-white in these societies.

      Yes, and your definition is, as you suggested, virtually an article of faith, an “analytic statement” (6) – “all bachelors are unmarried”, for example – at best, with a very limited correspondence to reality. As mentioned or described, it is also apparently based on rather narrow definitions of “structural” and “institutional” that sweeps under the carpet real manifestations of racism by members of minority groups against members of majority groups, or of other minorities. Which doesn’t look particularly egalitarian, and which actually looks rather racist.

      But, as evidence, I would say that that denial of the essence of racism – the prejudice and the discrimination – constitutes painting POC in a better light than they deserve, and whites in a worse light than they deserve: i.e., “four legs good, two legs bad”.

      —-
      1) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/institution”;
      2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_demographics#Race_and_ethnicity”;
      3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Truth”;
      4) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/racism”;
      5) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology#Sociology_and_the_other_academic_disciplines”;
      6) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_and_synthetic_statements#Conceptual_containment”;

      1. 39.3.1
        shockna

        at best, with a very limited correspondence to reality.

        So, there’s “very limited” amounts of any sort of institutional prejudice against non-whites? Take a look at incarceration rates; hell, the entire US criminal justice system is pretty goddamn racist right now.

        As mentioned or described, it is also apparently based on rather narrow definitions of “structural” and “institutional” that sweeps under the carpet real manifestations of racism by members of minority groups against members of majority groups, or of other minorities. Which doesn’t look particularly egalitarian, and which actually looks rather racist.

        Quoted segment seems to assert that the sociological definition of racism is de facto invalid, and thus, by the “true” definition, itself racist. Those “real manifestations” aren’t swept under the carpet using the sociological definition; they’re simply referred to by another term (one that isn’t toothless by comparison, at that).

        But, as evidence, I would say that that denial of the essence of racism – the prejudice and the discrimination – constitutes painting POC in a better light than they deserve, and whites in a worse light than they deserve: i.e., “four legs good, two legs bad”.

        Discrimination? What the hell kind of proper discrimination exists (in the US, at a minimum) against white people anywhere? Unless you’re going to equivocate powerless, individual discriminatory beliefs among non-whites (e.g. “I hate white people, and tip white waiters less at restaurants”) with the potent, life altering institutional and systemic discrimination against non-whites (e.g. “black” names getting fewer job offers, worse sentences for identical crimes compared to whites [http://time.dufe.edu.cn/jingjiwencong/waiwenziliao1/004109.web.pdf], and so on).

        I especially love the “painting POC in a better light than they deserve”; it’s nice to see when someone, ostensibly attempting to sound reasonable, descends into open victim blaming (i.e. “the oppressed aren’t really so innocent…” *wink wink*).

      2. 39.3.2
        Steersman

        shockna said (#39.3.1):

        at best, with a very limited correspondence to reality.

        So, there’s “very limited” amounts of any sort of institutional prejudice against non-whites? Take a look at incarceration rates; hell, the entire US criminal justice system is pretty goddamn racist right now.

        Really? Then you might be sympathetic to the argument that that system is also rather sexist against men: there’s about a 10:1 ratio between the incarceration rates for men and women (1). Or would you maybe think that “[criminality], it’s more of a guy thing”?

        But I’ll concede that there might be some bias against blacks that contributes to some of that disparity. However I wonder what evidence you have to suggest much less prove that there isn’t, for example, simply a higher degree or incidence of criminality in those populations – for one reason or another.

        Quoted segment seems to assert that the sociological definition of racism is de facto invalid, and thus, by the “true” definition, itself racist.

        As Dawkins suggested in that tweet (above), that comment by Mehidi was certainly well within the definition of racism and sexism, and that’s what he described it as. That sociology ideologues want to redefine it as “institutional racism” or “institutional sexism”, and then conveniently – and hypocritically, and self-servingly – elide the adjective hardly detracts in the slightest from the fact that there are versions of racism and sexism other than that rather narrow-minded sociological ones – “non-institutional” for example. Adjectives: how do they work?

        Discrimination? What the hell kind of proper discrimination exists (in the US, at a minimum) against white people anywhere?

        I’ll concede that, as your link source suggests about disparities in sentencing, there is probably some degree of racism and sexism in society. Although one might reasonably wonder whether the per-capita incidence of white-against-poc racism is that much different from that for poc-against-white racism. But, of course, your “proper discrimination” would sweep cases of the latter under the carpet by targeting them with less opprobrium than what is done to the former. Kind of racist, actually.

        e.g. “black” names getting fewer job offers ….

        Bit of a sticky wicket, that “racial” or gender profiling. But I wonder what you would think if you were in the business of providing medical insurance to people, some percentage of whom were smokers – with a higher incidence of medical demands and needs – and some larger percentage of whom were not? Charge them all the same premium, or higher ones for the smokers even though some smokers wouldn’t ever need the medical services that their premiums had paid for?

        Similarly with the statistical frequency of other attributes in various populations, whether it is the likelihood of committing rape [shades of Schrodinger’s Rapist] or some other crime, or of withdrawing from the workforce to have children, or of being able to perform certain types of jobs. There are similarities between members of subgroups which society should or must use to respond to those individuals even if not all groups are entirely homogenous.

        … it’s nice to see when someone, ostensibly attempting to sound reasonable, descends into open victim blaming (i.e. “the oppressed aren’t really so innocent ….)

        Curious, and more than a little problematic, that so many people are apparently unable, or unwilling, to comprehend that there are in fact some differences in the frequencies of various environmental and genetic inheritances in various subpopulations. And that those frequencies are statistical in nature and that they are not anything to judge those entire populations by or specific individuals within them. For instance, Pinker notes (2) that:

        … men on average are taller than women, and the discrepancy is greater for more extreme values. At a height of five foot ten, men outnumber women by a ratio of thirty to one; at a height of six feet, men outnumber women by a ratio of two thousand to one.

        Similarly, while one can reasonably accept that many of the “oppressed” are in fact actually oppressed, it is a serious stretch and not particularly wise to allow that fact to cloud one’s judgement and perception that there might actually be a higher percentage in that population who are in fact not all that “innocent”.


        1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States#Race”;
        2) “_http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/txcave_18360.pdf”;

  40. 40
    great1american1satan

    …questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue, as when it directly involves hypocrisy, or actions contradicting the subject’s words…

    If that’s true, then I’d dismiss anything anyone from the Slyme has to say about feminism, as they have already staked out an exceedingly hostile position on the subject. Y’all aren’t hypocritical in that you’re very consistent in that position, but it is intellectually dishonest when you’re a hyper-partisan to pretend reason alone informs your stance. You’re moved by passion to oppose social justice (or more specifically, to try vehemently to separate it from the atheist and skeptic communities) as much as I am driven by passion to support it.

  41. 41
    nanocephalic

    (I don’t know if this has been posted yet, but there are tons of comments ahead of mine and I’m coming in too late to read all of them in reasonable time.)

    Talking about how easy it is to be white and having an overwhelming cultural majority that makes racism ignorable because of power imbalances, and blah blah blah… is such a smug attitude. Try living somewhere where whites are NOT the overwhelming majority, and then observe how reality shifts.

    If you think there can be no cultural racism against whites, LEMME TELL YA. I am from a Canadian city that used to be full of white people but now has a much wider rainbow of fruit flavours. I think whites are possibly still the majority overall in the greater area but definitely not in certain suburbs. One is overwhelmingly filled with people from Hong Kong and China (either immigrants or children/grandchildren of immigrants), and another has the largest concentration of Sikhs outside of the Punjab. All of the local cities and towns are full of people from all over the world, and that’s one of the things that makes it such a great place to live.

    But racism? I’ve gone with Sikh friends to buy furniture from Sikh shops because white people either don’t get served or get worse prices in certain neighborhoods. As a privileged white male, this was a fascinating thing to learn and has probably made me a better person. Same thing with going to Chinese-language areas – if you aren’t identifiable as Chinese or Hong Kongese, expect bad prices and poor service. Not to mention entire shopping malls where all signs are in hanzi.

    As for jobs? The way whites are prevented from getting jobs with certain companies is by requiring Cantonese or Punjabi language skills as a requirement of employment. This is very common.

    Overall, it’s a great place to live – but there is real racism with real effects FROM all races, and AGAINST all races, in my experience.

    1. 41.1
      CaitieCat, getaway driver

      As for jobs? The way whites are prevented from getting jobs with certain companies is by requiring Cantonese or Punjabi language skills as a requirement of employment. This is very common.

      Yes. Because white people can’t learn those silly languages, can we? It’s not like they’d be useful or anything, or as thought there might be a market for native speakers of English who’ve learned a couple of the world’s most widely-spoken languages…

      Obviously, the only conceivable reason someone hiring for a mall that serves the local residents would want staff who can speak Punjabi or Cantonese, is that they want to keep out the poor oppressed majority, who have to suffer the awfulness of having a government, popular media, and police force that are by-far majority white, and the grievous restriction of being unable to work some subset of retail jobs unless they learn how to serve the customers of the store.

      Yep, that there’s some weighty oppression indeed. How do you hold up under the strain?

      (for the record, I grew up in Toronto, and went to a high school where the announcements were given in English and Cantonese, and I think that made sense at the time – a large portion of our students were newly-arrived from Hong Kong, and this helped them to acclimate while still getting all the information needed to take part in school life)

      1. 41.1.1
        nanocephalic

        I know one white person who speaks Cantonese well, and a few who do it poorly. It’s a very uncommon skill, and I don’t really know why. I know none who speak Punjabi.

        As for your comment – I didn’t say that all racism of every type was absolutely identical in every way, cultural, institutional, personal, etc. I said that racism DOES exist “against whites” and that I’ve experienced it myself, in a small way.

        I expect that if I went to a country where whites were a tiny minority, I’d have it much worse – much like POC do in dull, whitebread cities worldwide.

        These days I live in a pretty white area far from home, and I can see the casual racism much more than I used to. While I can’t easily separate my privileged status from my observation of those around me, I can see that where I live now, the darker your skin, the less valued you are.

        In my previous career I spent a lot of time at a lot of different companies around the region, and I definitely saw racist hiring practices. I also can’t recall a single male receptionist. Both bother me but as I’m typing this I have to admit that they didn’t bother me much back then. That’s not a very nice thing to realise, but it’s true.

        Oh, as for the snark of “holding up under the strain” I’ll answer it directly: I really didn’t mind the racism I received for some important reasons.

        First, I have friends who can insulate me from the effects that I described in my comment.
        Second, I am not an idiot – I know that I am privileged by being a white cis male.
        Third, I don’t think I’ve ever been “racistly” obstructed from anything particularly important to me.

        (I’m high on cold meds. Please excuse the rambling comment. Please pretend I write better than this.)

        1. 41.1.1.1
          cpps

          “The way whites are prevented from getting jobs with certain companies is by requiring Cantonese or Punjabi language skills as a requirement of employment.”

          Requiring that new employees be able to speak the language(s) of the clientelle is perfectly, 100% reasonable. It is not racist. No, not even a little bit. Not by any definition. Not if we consider racism to be institutionalized bigotry, not if we take it to include personal prejudices. It is not racist in a box, it is not racist with a fox. Citing this as an example of racism is like waving a big neon banner that says “I don’t understand racism!”.

          1. nanocephalic

            You are correct in almost but not quite *no way whatsoever*.

            In context – which is always important – my comments are specifically aimed at situations where 100% of staff are hired with a specific language requirement, regardless of whether those staff will work with the public. Obviously you need to hire people who speak Cantonese if they deal with Cantonese speaking customers. Duh. But if you only want to hire fellow Sikhs, one great way to do that is to require that all applicants speak Punjabi.

            (I’ve only noticed this kind of hiring practice with Sikh and Chinese companies, most likely because there are large populations of SIkh and Chinese people back home. Oh, and whitey, too. Sure do see it happening there as well.)

            The person answering the phone should ideally speak every expected language they’d encounter, and that’s great. When the warehouse guys, drivers, accountants, sales guys, IT guys, and the employees from the contracted cleaners, caretakers, etc ALL speak the same first language, it’s reasonable to say “hmm”. When it happens on a regular basis, you might be thinking that racism is often involved.

            Quick demographics: 37% south, east and southeast Asian population. Most of the rest would probably be considered “white”, more or less.

            In the city I’m from, when you see a company with 40 employees, all white people who only speak English, there may be a problem. When you see a company with 40 Chinese people and nobody else, or 40 Punjabis, the problem is similar.

            Perhaps there’s a big chunk of ethnocentrism happening as well, and that’s quite understandable.

            I spent my whole life (until recently at least) living there and seeing it happen. I’ll go this far: my inability to explain the situation to you reflects poorly on my ability to explain myself, but not the truth of my point. Saying that I don’t understand racism is not correct. I’m just too high on cold meds to be clear. I apologise for that.

          2. A. Noyd

            Furthermore, it’s a matter of racism that so few whites take the time to gain fluency in Cantonese or Punjabi in the first place. Legacy of colonialism and all that. Pretending like it’s somehow anti-white to not accommodate white people’s self-imposed handicaps is ridiculous.

          3. nanocephalic

            @ A. Noyd… I don’t think it’s necessarily racist to not learn major immigrant languages. Frankly I’m more interested in learning Latin and Welsh. Just a personal preference. And the rest of your comment is stupid. Yes, stupid.

            My point is that racism isn’t solely from white people to everyone else. If you can’t understand that, then you need to live in a multi-ethnic society for a few years and see it for yourself.

          4. cpps

            “The person answering the phone should ideally speak every expected language they’d encounter, and that’s great. When the warehouse guys, drivers, accountants, sales guys, IT guys, and the employees from the contracted cleaners, caretakers, etc ALL speak the same first language, it’s reasonable to say “hmm”.”

            No it isn’t. Everybody needs to be able to communicate in a business. If you work in the warehouse, you will need to communicate with other workers in the warehouse. This can either be achieved by hiring people to translate for the workers who do not share a common language or by requiring that all employees be fluent in at least one common language. Note that in Canada this is usually accomplished by required that everyone be able to speak English and/or French (usually English if you are outside Quebec). It is such a common and ‘obvious’ requirement that we rarely notice that wherever we apply for jobs it just so happens to be our language that is the one required. That is a pretty big privilege that English speaking Canadians enjoy. However some businesses that are run by and for immigrant populations may prefer to do their business in their native language. They therefore may make their language the mandatory one. You are confusing not enjoying your usual privilege with being discriminated against.

          5. cpps

            Sorry for the double post but I also need to point out:

            “My point is that racism isn’t solely from white people to everyone else. If you can’t understand that, then you need to live in a multi-ethnic society for a few years and see it for yourself.”

            We live in the same city dude. You cannot explain away disagreements by assuming that other people are just not getting were you are coming from.

          6. A. Noyd

            @nanocephalic
            Man, you really don’t get the whole concept of “institutional” do you? Here you are essentially going, “I don’t understand how the world works because I base everything on my personal experiences and my (in)ability to accurately interpret them within a social context.” And you call my comment stupid. Honestly, I’ll take that as a compliment.

            P.S. Preferences ain’t shaped in a vacuum.

  42. 42
    kayden

    After reading the comments, I am amused at those who claim that Whites are somehow the victims of institutionalized racism in South Africa. Really? Apartheid ended in the 1990s and the current government does not promote Black superiority. There is no way that Whites in South Africa are treated anywhere as horribly as Blacks were under the centuries of apartheid. It’s laughable to argue otherwise and I assume that those who do so have ulterior motives.

    Dawkins disappoints me with his “poor me, I’m a White male” stance. But I guess no one is perfect. I don’t understand how he got racism out of the Woolwich murder since the murderers were very open in the fact that it was religion that motivated their crime.

    1. 42.1
      Steersman

      kayden said (#42.0):

      After reading the comments, I am amused at those who claim that Whites are somehow the victims of institutionalized racism in South Africa. Really? Apartheid ended in the 1990s and the current government does not promote Black superiority.

      Really? Maybe you would care to provide evidence of where the American federal and State governments actually “promote White superiority”. A Constitutional Amendment that I wasn’t aware of, perhaps?

      But because murder is a more heinous crime than robbery you would give the latter a pass? The issue isn’t entirely one of magnitude – of quantity – but one also of quality, i.e. whether actions are reasonably construable as racism, “institutional” or otherwise.

      I don’t understand how he got racism out of the Woolwich murder since the murderers were very open in the fact that it was religion that motivated their crime.

      You might take a closer look at the OP, the tweet story in particular. Nadia Noui Mehidi tweeted:

      @RichardDawkins you do the insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers thing well, but maybe stick to biology.

      Which looks rather much to me to be a case of stereotyping by race and sex – i.e., condemning or “pre-judging” (exhibiting prejudice against) one individual based on the attributes of some segment (“smug white male”) of the entire population – which are basically the definitions of racism, and of sexism. Hence Dawkins’ subsequent calling a spade a shovel:

      @NadiaNouiMehidi Why is it permissible to be racist & sexist, just so long as you attack white males?

      1. 42.1.1
        kayden

        Again, let me repeat. The current South African government does not support anti-White policies, does not pass laws legislating where Whites can and cannot live, who they can and cannot marry. The current South African government does not condone anti-White violence or promote anti-White violence. The current South African government does not prevent Whites from voting or otherwise participating in politics, i.e., stop them from engaging in political rallies, forming political organizations, etc. The current South African government does not imprison Whites for breaking race-based laws which are designed to denigrate them because of their race.

        Any claims to the contrary are nonsense.Under Apartheid, the White minority oppressed the Black majority for hundreds of years. No tears from me about alleged White oppression in South Africa. By the way, Black women are victimized and raped in South Africa all the time.

        As to Mr. Dawkins, I am surprised that he brought up race when discussing the Woolwich murder when the murderers made it very clear that it was their religion which motivated the murder. Race has nothing to do with the Woolwich murder to my knowledge.

        1. 42.1.1.1
          Steersman

          Kayden said (#42.1.1):

          Again, let me repeat. The current South African government does not support anti-White policies, does not pass laws legislating where Whites can and cannot live, who they can and cannot marry.

          And again, let me repeat: show me where it is the policy of American State and Federal goverments to actively “pass legislation dictating where Blacks can and cannot live”. Given that neither government does that, that blacks are the majority in South Africa as are whites in America, and that Miri is apparently asserting the existence of “institutional racism” in America, one might reasonably ask whether there is, analogously, similar racism in South Africa directed against whites. And if you argue that there isn’t then one might also reasonably ask, “[institutional racism], it’s more of a white person thing”?

          No tears from me about alleged [oppression of Whites] in South Africa.

          Charming.

          By the way, Black women are victimized and raped in South Africa all the time.

          Considering that the population demographics of South Africa is 72% blacks and 12% whites, who do you think is likely to be doing most of that raping?

          As to Mr. Dawkins, I am surprised that he brought up race when discussing the Woolwich murder ….

          You really should re-read the OP and my post a little more closely. Dawkins didn’t bring up race – it was the tweet by Nadia Noui Mehidi which was implicitly guilty of racism and of sexism, and which Dawkins quite reasonably called out.

  43. 43
    sonofrojblake

    I don’t deny that it’s hurtful when someone doesn’t like you based on something arbitrary like your skin color, but when you’re white, this doesn’t carry any cultural or institutional power.

    I have had a person of color express prejudice towards me because I’m white exactly once in my life. Once.

    I’ll see your anecdote and raise you these:

    I’ve been beaten up by people of colour who were hurling racist insults before and during the attack twice. I’ve been stabbed by a person of colour who used a racist insult just the once, but it was “hurtful”. I’ve been shot at from a moving car by a group of people of colour just the once also. I was the only white face on the street at the time.

    How much “cultural and institutional power” was there in those fists? That knife? That gun?

    I am the “You people” the scum in the video referred to, and he’s right, we’ll never be safe. But we can be safer than them, which I can live with.

    1. 43.1
      shockna

      How much “cultural and institutional power” was there in those fists? That knife? That gun?

      Practically zero. I say this as a white person who grew up in really bad minority neighborhoods up until age 10 (my parents up to then were addicts who made really, really bad decisions), and had the first and third events happen while I was growing up, the former twice (I’m lucky enough to have never actually been stabbed).

      It is an instance of blatant anti-white racial prejudice (the exact same phenomenon the common definition of racism describes), and those attitudes are prevalent in such neighborhoods, as you and I both know. Just because we don’t call it “racism” specifically doesn’t mean it isn’t reprehensible.

  44. 44
    cpps

    Saying that these experiences are not experiences of racism is not saying that they are not horrible. It isn’t even saying that they are less horrible than experiences of racism. It is just that the whole set of underlying social causes that brought about the violence against yourself and the violence of, say, the KKK against people of colour are completely different. We are talking about two completely different phenomena. Think of it this way, if Bob and Fred get in a fight and Fred burns down Bob’s house then Bob has been a victim of arson. This would be awful, obviously. But if Bob says he has been the victim of terrorism he would be wrong, not because what he has experienced wasn’t all that bad and not because it wasn’t terrifying, it is just that the name for what happened to Bob is ‘arson’ and not ‘terrorism’. Being the victim of terrible violence as the result of racial prejuduce is horrible, but it is not necessarily the same as being a victim of racism.

  45. 45
    PicardFacepalm

    This is so perfect. Thank you.

  46. 46
    FireKat

    Okay, I’m more than a bit confused about what it is you’re saying with this.

    So, you believe that dismissing someone’s abilities, or their intelligence, or their opinion out of hand – solely on the basis of their skin color – is NOT racist? And that discussing the harm that this sort of behavior does is NOT relevant to a discussion of racism?

    Because that’s what you have implied here.

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