I find the defendant… not guilty


Last Monday’s “think piece” made reference to the title of a book called “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria?” What followed in my post was a discussion of some of the sociological and psychological factors that can influence people in a minority group to seek each other out. If you clicked through to the customer reviews, you were treated to gems like this:

The author must have wrote this book for black people and liberals ONLY !!!!!! Only then could a positive review of this book be possible! More of that ‘blame whitey’ baloney that is just ‘not sticking’ anymore. It’s like something Jesse Jackson would write: PATHETIC.

Or this sharp insight:

I found Tatum’s book to be laughable at best. She deliberately shows her hatred towards whites with her over the top view of what racism is (a system of advantage based on race). I find her definition to be a joke. She provides no substantial evidence to support any of her claims about white people having this ultimate advantage in society and how everything has been essentially spoon fed to whites.

There is a tendency for white people to feel ‘blamed’ or ‘guilty’ for racism, which I suppose is a regrettable side-effect of being a member of a majority group. When the story casts your team as the bad guys, it’s hard not to feel personally attacked whenever someone talks about the team. As a man, it’s tough to deal with the reality of male privilege because it’s always “my fault” whenever we talk about women’s role in history. It’s certainly tempting for me to slip into feeling blamed, or feeling like the only weapon that feminists have in their arsenal is just to blame men for all of the problems of the world.

However, this kind of reaction is seated firmly in assuming it’s still about me. Framing the entire feminist movement as “just blaming men” keeps the spotlight on us and puts us (as men) back at the centre of attention. Feminism isn’t about “blaming” anybody, it’s about identifying real inequalities, and the factors and psychology that perpetuate those inequalities. As with any inequality, there will be a group (or groups) that occupies an exalted position and one that holds an inferior one. However, when the exalted group stubbornly ignores the reasons why they occupy that position and explain the inequality away by assuming that the differences are due to the work ethic or genetic makeup or some kind of factor intrinsic to that group, it’s often necessary to point out the flaws in that line of reasoning.

In exactly the same way, when anti-racists wish to point out the inequalities between racial groups, it becomes inevitable that they (we) identify who is on top and point out some of the reasons why. Otherwise, we slip back into the too-convenient “explanations” that put the blame on the victim and completely absolve anyone else of any responsibility. You might hear, for example, someone talk about how affirmative action programs simply make racism worse by making white people resent minorities, or saying that if people just took “personal responsibility” for their attitudes then the problems would disappear. The problem with those excuses is that they make solving race issues everyone else’s problem, removing any need for the speaker to speak up, participate, or sacrifice anything.

The idea that the goal of anti-racism is to make white people feel guilty for the sins of their ancestors is flawed for two reasons. The first is that these aren’t problems that are the domain of mythical ancestors – we still find them happening today. We may not have the same state support for them, but there is still a real economic, social and political gap between people of colour (PoCs) and whites in North America. Doing nothing will not make the problem go away – it will simply allow it to continue in perpetuity. Active steps must be taken to address and ameliorate the problem, which is a problem for all of us.

The second problem is that guilt is a useless emotion. You’ll notice (if you care to look through the archives of this site) that at no point do I suggest that white people should feel guilty, or even imply that guilt is a useful motivator for anything. The kinds of actions that are motivated by guilt tend to be short-term Band-Aid solutions to serious problems. After all, if you can make a lot of noise about how you love everyone, or about how bad you feel that your ancestors did X and Y, then your guilt goes away. Feeling bad doesn’t level the playing field; it simply makes you look for the fastest way to stop feeling guilty.

It is for this reason that you’ll inevitably see the “get over it, black people” or “that was in the past” or “you just hate white people” response whenever someone talks about an inequality, or seeks an apology for a historical injustice. The narrative goes something like this: “I am not responsible for the actions of others, those things happened long ago, therefore I have no responsibility to give up my privilege”. Well, it’s either that or it’s “I feel super-bad for what my ancestors did, but I didn’t do it personally, therefore it’s enough that I don’t specifically discriminate against PoCs”.

Neither of these attitudes are helpful – they are the equivalent of throwing up your arms in surrender and saying “oh well, what can you do?” Anti-racists and those who study issues of racial inequality are offering solutions, but as long as those solutions continue to be branded as “blaming whitey”, we’ll never move white people out of the spotlight, and never see any real progress.

If you do feel guilty about the past deeds of white people then I feel for you. I don’t know what to tell you other than the fact that your guilt is at best irrelevant, and at worst a detriment to making any advances toward closing the gaps. So cut it out :P

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Comments

  1. says

    I don’t feel particularly guilty for the actions of my Anglo-Irish ancestors, despite their doing terrible things to minorities (I’m an Australian). Guilt with regard to racism has never been a problem for me – I’m too firmly set against the racists to feel any identification with them.

    But you make an extremely good point about feminism – for whatever damned reason, I take such criticism personally despite identifying as a feminist myself (I’m also male). Reading the comments in Blag Hag’s recent feminism article, I had to fight against the offense I was feeling… with no good reason as to why I was feeling it.

    Is it because I’m such a godawful misogynistic patriachal “dood”? Is it because I got sick of the almost blanket portrayal of men as id-driven retards? Shades of both, undoubtedly.

    Anyway, fantastic article yet again :) I always come away from here with a fresh perspective and food for thought. Thanks!

  2. says

    If you do feel guilty about the past deeds of white people then I feel for you. I don’t know what to tell you other than the fact that your guilt is at best irrelevant, and at worst a detriment to making any advances toward closing the gaps. So cut it out :P

    If only it were so easy! X) I 100% agree with the premise of the post, but putting aside feelings of guilt can be as difficult as putting aside feelings of racism, and just like racism, those feelings can be deeply ingrained in ways that we don’t even realize until they are pointed out to us.

    Observe this variation on the trolley problem, this time with different scenarios where either “Chip Ellsworth III” or “Tyrone Payton” can be thrown on a train track to save either the Harlem Jazz Orchestra or the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, respectively:

    Turned out the racial identities did indeed, ah, color peoples’ judgments, but it colored them differently depending on their political bent. Pizarro, who describes himself as a person who “would probably be graded a liberal on tests,” roughly expected that liberals would be more consistent. Yet liberals proved just as prejudiced here as conservatives were, but in reverse: While self-described conservatives more readily accepted the sacrifice of Tyrone than they did killing Chip, the liberals were easier about seeing Chip sacrificed than Tyrone.

    Interestingly, liberal people of privilege, in this case, seem ironically more likely to sacrifice their own in-group to assuage their consciences about said privilege.

  3. says

    If you’re talking about Jill, the referenced feminist in the blog (as opposed to Jen herself)–then I don’t blame you for being offended, because what she said was pretty offensive.

    Despite any in-group’s protestations of “it’s not about you!”, frankly, I find that those protestations often ring pretty hollow. I’m sorry, Feminist movement–you can say that “it’s not about you” when you say the word “men” all you want, but when you say the word “men”, you are making a blanket assumption about men against your in-group whether you want to admit it or not. It really bothers me when *any* movement, including the feminist movement, gets so surprised when someone is offended when they’re pinning a negative label on a wholesale group, like that group shouldn’t be upset when accusations are being leveled at them. When you say the word “man” you mean “man”, and if you don’t mean “all men”, you had better be prepared to qualify it somehow, at least when someone gets upset if not before.

    When you’re talking about “how men are privileged”, that’s different, because you’re talking about something which men are born into without having any control over. (I have white privilege whether I want to or not–it’s just part of my being born white.) But when you create imaginary scenarios where you think that research students have used strippers as part of their study just so they could have an excuse to see strippers, then yeah–what you’re doing is making a blanket assumption about the out-group, and a negative one. It’s natural and frankly understandable that the out-group is going to be kind of pissed by that.

  4. says

    Thanks for the kind words, G. Syme.

    Individual guilt certainly may vary, and I certainly don’t imagine that everyone feels guilty when talking about race. However, any time you read the comments following any news article or opinion piece where white folks have to wear the black hat, you’ll immediately see people jump to the “this is just to make white people feel guilty” canard.

    I find analogies to be very useful rhetorical tools when trying to discuss cognitive blindspots; sometimes you need to see the same issue from a different perspective.

  5. says

    That’s interesting stuff. I hadn’t heard of that one. Perhaps being made aware of race will move people to “over”-compensate. The question becomes which kind of prejudice is most destructive.

  6. says

    I know I’m in a hostile environment, but nevertheless I’m game to take this on.

    First, praise where praise is due. You’re spot-on about guilt, in that it is only useful to extract short-term penance from the morally aimless. But that’s about all that the “anti-racists” have been able to do – capitalize on guilt – because it’s proven to be the most profitable in the short-term. Long-term fixes to society’s problems don’t bring instant accolades to the architects.

    I take issue with two constructs that premise most of your arguments: “responsibility” and “privilege”. When you attribute the phrase, “I am not responsible for the actions of my ancestors”, you are 100% correct. It is inherently racist to suggest that members of a race are responsible for the actions of those who share the same race – kind of like saying that all amputees need to apologize for the wrongs of a single amputee. For example I do not hold blacks responsible for their ancestors’ forced enslavement of their fellow countrymen to sell to the American slave trade. Nor do I hold Arabs responsible for the Barbary slave trade, under which far more white Christians (my ancestors included) were forcibly enslaved than African blacks were ever sold to the US.

    Now if you said that every person is personally responsible to combat racism in their own lives, on the matters that they are at liberty to decide, I think we could come to some sort of agreement on “responsibility”. In that sense, it truly is “everyone else’s problem” in addition to being my own.

    We can also agree that “privilege” exists if you are referring to standing laws that authorize any state power to be applied contrary to the Rule of Law. Jim Crow laws and affirmative action policies are both examples of such privilege. However, it is plain that you don’t see it this way – you insist that someone in today’s society must “give up their privilege” in reparation for an arbitrary selection of historical wrongs. At the risk of sounding obtuse, I am at a loss to understand what exactly you mean by your construct of “privilege” and how it can be “given up”.

  7. says

    I completely disagree with your assertion that anti-racists have only been able to capitalize on guilt, and I think that comes from a fundamental difference in definition of what an anti-racist is. To operate from what I think is your definition, I would posit that even your restrictively-defined anti-racists have equipped people on the sidelines with language and a framework within which issues of race can be discussed openly and critically. The older paradigm of staunchly refusing to address it out of either fear, guilt or straight-up denial was not working. If that is their (our) only contribution, then it is still a worthwhile one.

    I also find it amusing that you vilify affirmative action policies, but then say “Long-term fixes to society’s problems don’t bring instant accolades to the architects.” Affirmative action policies are an archetype of a long-term fix, since it is intended to work over generations, not within lifetimes. As I’ve said before, we are free to debate how well the policy is working vis a vis its stated intentions, but where you see a need to completely abolish the policy (and replace it with what existed before, I suppose), I see those as legitimate points of modification of an approach that works.

    Assuming we grant equal weight of cruelty to the American and Barbary slave trades, one must look to their contemporary consequences. If you can name a single country in the world where white Christians are systematically discriminated against and oppressed by laws that make them de facto second-class citizens while everyone else enjoys political and economic superiority as a result of Barbary slavery, I’d be interested to hear about it. Bonus points if it isn’t a theocracy.

    As to your amputee example, I’m really not sure what you’re attempting to demonstrate. If amputees are afforded opportunities and favourable status simply for the fact of being amputees, at the expense of non-amputees, then it would be a reasonable analogy. The analogy is similar only in ways that are completely unrelated to the argument.

    I don’t think I have stated that privilege is something that can or should be “given up”, although perhaps I didn’t phrase this post that way. I liken it to sexual harassment. I would absolutely love it if women came up to me in bars and offered to undress me with their teeth. However, that’s almost entirely because I don’t get that kind of attention all the time. Another part of it is that I am not under any kind of implied physical threat when a woman approaches me with an overtly sexual agenda. The vice, however, is not versa. Failing to recognize that turnabout is not fair play in this case is something I am able to do because I am male. This is an example of a kind of privilege afforded to me simply by virtue of having a Y chromosome in a society that implicitly values such a thing.

    To bring the analogy home, when a white person is not judged as an exemplar of her entire race, when she is not judged for being “not really white” because she has a high level of education and diction, when the cops don’t slow down and give her a second look while she’s walking down her own street, when she’s not profiled at airports, when her racial identity isn’t even evident to her as she walks into a boardroom or enters the political arena, then she enjoys a certain kind of privilege by virtue of her skin colour.

    I don’t know how she’d “give up” that privilege, but she can be aware of it. This becomes relevant when she considers how best to address the inequalities she sees around her. Absent the awareness of this privilege, she may simply assume that the reason her non-white neighbours are in the condition they are is because they are lazy, or indolent, or any other number of intrinsic evaluations that do not reflect all the forces at work.

    This article is a fair jumping-off point, if my explanation of what I mean by privilege is not clear.

    To sum all this up, I guess my intention here is to say that recognition of the forces at work on individuals and groups is important, because it affects our narrative of them. Are Native people lazy alcoholics because they’ve been brainwashed by liberals into expecting government handouts, or are they the victims of systematic historical oppression, the blind eye of a society, and the product of the destruction of an entire culture over many generations? The two narratives have profoundly different implications if we wish to ameliorate the problem, and a fuller understanding of history puts more evidence on the side of the latter rather than the former.

    Wait… was I supposed to be hostile? Um… uh… jerk! There we go.

  8. says

    Heh. By hostile I was not referring to manners, but rather that all of your guests are likely to be diametrically opposed to my position. Your manners are exemplary. Mostly. Asshole.

    There’s way too many points to dwell on here, so I’m being selective out of the interests of brevity and focus, not because I’m trying to dodge any issues.

    You’re correct – the “anti-racists” can certainly be credited with constructing theories and language by which they can understand each other, and label those who don’t agree as denialists. These constructs have no apparent process of validation besides the approval of like-minded peers. Kind of like religion, but already I digress.

    If we assume that the Barbary slavery was of equal cruelty, affected an equal number of people, and was perpetrated in the same period of history, why is it that the effects were so different on different people? In the same vein, how is it that the more recent persecution of Japanese in Canada did not result in a similar racial disadvantage? In fact, Japanese out-earn whites today in Canada and out-represent whites on university campuses. Can we say that Japanese have “privilege” over whites?

    Likewise, Chinese in immigrants routinely outperform indigenous populations throughout southeast Asia, despite discriminatory laws routinely erected against them. The lot of blacks under South African apartheid, while under deplorable discrimination that can never be justified, was better in many ways than in self-ruled African nations.

    In short, I dispute the correlations you make between select historical events and modern demographic phenomena, which is the basis for this construct of “privilege”. The causation is plausible in theory but easily disproven in reality.

    The vices you describe leading to “privilege” are actually part of the unfortunate reality of all humanity, regardless of race or period in history. The solution to it lies right beside the holy grail that will put an end to all war, i.e. it doesn’t exist. It can only be stemmed, I posit, by a culture in which every human being convicts themselves of their shortcomings and tendencies within; “guilt”, if you will. Passing that responsibility on to the state is not only ineffective and destroys the Rule of Law, it absolves individuals of this moral duty.

  9. says

    You’re correct – the “anti-racists” can certainly be credited with constructing theories and language by which they can understand each other, and label those who don’t agree as denialists.

    I have heard the same complaint from creationists and global warming “skeptics” when they talk about scientists. I am happy to dismiss such whinging as being typical of any opinions that lag behind the mainstream.

    If we assume that the Barbary slavery was of equal cruelty, affected an equal number of people, and was perpetrated in the same period of history, why is it that the effects were so different on different people?

    I am no historian, so this seems like it would be a very interesting question. There are a number of potential explanations: a) success of some marginalized groups is due to their genetic superiority, b) cultural superiority that is relevant to the nature of the oppression (collectivist economic power being pooled, rather than individualistically failing), c) any number of historical reasons that are unique to the particular form of oppression, d) liberals.

    We know from genetic testing that a) is not likely to be true. B) certainly plays a role (looking at Jewish or Chinese or Japanese or East Asian immigrant groups), so that should not be discounted. C) is the premise from which I operate, and d) is the premise from which some others operate (although I doubt you personally would chalk it all up to d).

    There’s also the advice of Ayn Rand to consider, which is that whenever you observe a contradiction you should check your premises. A cursory review of the topic of the Barbary slave trade reveals that while it was more widespread than originally believed, it was nowhere near the scale of African slavery. It was only during a particular period (1500 – 1650) that the two trades were comparable. Outside of that, (i.e. since before the beginning of the USA right up to the end of slavery) the trade was predominantly African. Furthermore, about 10 times as many Africans as Europeans were enslaved, so the scale is not at all comparable. Perhaps part of the answer to your question is that the premise upon which it is built is faulty.

    Can we say that Japanese have “privilege” over whites?

    Only if we completely redefine what I mean when I talk about privilege, which I am not willing to do. Privilege is not synonymous with economic superiority, although they do certainly appear together often. However, even poor members of a privileged group benefit from privilege. I don’t know that a “redneck” Japanese person is assumed to be more trustworthy and law-abiding than his equally poor white neighbour. I could be wrong about that though.

    There is quite another hypothesis that I think has some merit when trying to answer this question, which is the idea of immigrating vs. being taken. Black people in North America had their cultural roots destroyed, their language and history denied them, and were made subject to rules that they had no hand in making, or choice to follow. This differs from immigrant groups who made a conscious choice to move to a new place and adopt its customs. This is similarly true of Native people, which lends the idea some credibility. It at least partially explains why African immigrants tend to do much better (on average) than black people born in North America, and suggests that c) is a reasonable position rather than exclusively b) or d).

    I think our kernel of agreement is in this sentence: “It can only be stemmed, I posit, by a culture in which every human being convicts themselves of their shortcomings and tendencies within.” You would deny the existence of privilege, whereas I put it on the list of shortcomings and tendencies. Reading this post in context of my other writings on this topic will perhaps flesh that agreement out. I don’t think that the state has sole responsibility or even primary responsibility to “fix” racism, and I don’t think I’ve ever advocated any position to the contrary. However, state-level policies can facilitate such a cultural shift more quickly, and in uniquely placed to confront those tendencies of which we are not even aware.

  10. says

    After reading your linked article, I figure that I should clarify my last paragraph.

    I’m not suggesting that our society would benefit from people self-flagellating over the projections of the perpetually aggrieved as Mr. Chu-Carroll appears to have done. It is even more contemptible to label someone, even oneself, a racist because the particular vision of the “anti-racists” was not shared. That does indeed dilute the meaning of the word to near-nothingness.

    What I am saying is that society would be better served with a culture of personal responsibility over one’s own actions, in which one uses his own discretion to determine if those actions are a result of involuntary prejudice or sound reason. But just as important, one should refrain from throwing the first stone of condemnation at others unless he himself is without the same shortcomings…

  11. grassrute says

    Scary, not ALL of Crommunist’s guests are likely to be diametrically opposed to your position.

    Once you’ve accepted the idea of ‘white privilege’, there’s no limits. One example of this is in this essay http://www.megaessays.com/viewpaper/202997.html where you’ll find the following quote:

    “As an example, those looking for Hispanic or Asian culinary items are often relegated to a small section of one aisle in the local supermarket, or, if they are lucky, have to shop at a specialty market, featuring ethnic selections. It is often difficult and uncomfortable for Whites to consider the concept of white privilege.”

    Now if a white man moved to a foreign country and expected to find the food he traditionally ate in his home country, his unrealistic expectation would fall under the guise of ‘white privilege’. In short, if a white expects to find his hometown food out-of-town, it’s white privilege and if an Asian moves to a foreign country and doesn’t find his hometown food, it’s white privilege.

    If you’re white, you just can’t win.

  12. says

    I’m curious where you draw the line between “involuntary prejudice or sound reason” and “the projections of the perpetually aggrieved”. From my perspective, they’re the same thing. There are a number of heuristics and cognitive tricks that operate below our awareness, and Mark Chu-Carroll has listed some of those forces as a way of illustrating the larger point that a lot of racism operates outside our casual awareness. I’m not sure you mean to say that the only people who can talk about racism are those who are completely free of any kind of racist ideology – while I applaud your zeal against hypocrisy I think you might be taking it well outside the bounds of reasonable practicability.

  13. says

    If you’re white, you just can’t win.

    Unless it’s an election. Or a job application. Or a court case.

    But yeah, when it comes to ethnic foods, it’s super tough being white. You have my deepest sympathy :P

  14. says

    Interesting. So a request for empirical validation of a constructed theory can be dismissed as whinging?

    In response to your arguments about the Barbary Slave Trade, you’re right that I don’t put any credence in (a) to explain the difference. However, genetic differences cannot be completely dismissed in all cases. Look at the racial makeup of any professional basketball team, or the preponderance of some diseases and disorders in certain racial groups…

    You are also correct that I would agree mostly with (b) though I wouldn’t subjectively call it “superiority”. The difference was in the social cohesion and values of the victim group. Many churches and monasteries raised funds to buy back their family members or countrymen from the Barbary slavers. In Africa, a fragmented and autocratic social structure meant that larger tribes could profit off of subjugating and selling smaller tribes. As a result, Barbary slaves had dreams of a home and a society to return to, while African slaves did not. As you said, it’s about whether their culture was preserved or destroyed.

    Though I don’t profess to be an expert in history, I would suggest that in addition to the remnants of segregationalist sentiment among whites in the south, the development of an anti-establishment subculture among freed slaves is somewhat responsible for persistent inequality among that racial group. Blacks who moved to white communities in northern states (i.e. left the subculture) in the early part of the 20th century quickly caught up to whites in terms of income and opportunities, without the civil rights act. But in the south, the clash between cultures keep both of them entrenched, and the inequalities persistent, to this day.

    Certainly (c) and (d) cannot be dismissed, (c) being nothing more than an admission of the complexity of the issue, and (d) being the litany of misguided public policies that enabled and perpetuated the problems of self-victimization and dependency.

    You are still dodging the Japanese conundrum I presented. Why cannot the same explanation for the inequalities between Japanese and whites hold true for the inequalities between whites and blacks?

  15. says

    Hey, I feel the need to speak out on behalf of my ethnic foods as a white person! All of my favorite ethnic foods are white people foods. Not that I’m biased toward my own cultural culinary tradition or anything. Chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie… anything ending in “pie”, really… beef stew, chicken soup, fish n’ chips, chowders, crab cakes, french fries, pasties… er, I guess that’s another kind of pie… american-style goulash, pan loaves and sourdough bread, sandwiches…

    did I mention pies? pies are delicious.

    And that’s just my personal cultural heritage as a white person. You get even more tasty food if you start adding in French, Italian and Greek cuisine. So :P! White people have plenty of good food, despite the bad reputation.

    Remember, Crommunist: organ meat is rich in vitamins and minerals.

  16. says

    I’d say that the line should be drawn independently by each person. Certainly all of us can talk about racism, with the object being to sharpen each other on what might be involuntary prejudice and what might be sound reason. But we certainly shouldn’t condemn others for not accepting a particular perspective on racism.

    It’s not dissimilar from other social/ethical questions; take, for example, alcohol. Both teetotalers and social drinkers are out of line when they criticize others for not being the same. Both have valid claims to the benefits of their choice, and likewise valid arguments against the opposite. Neither has the right to use state power to force the other to behave a different way. But both can help the other see the dangers of binge drinking and asphyxiating from the knot in their knickers…

    btw, the Communists were also operating just on the periphery of our consciousness, just as those little green men and their flying saucers are always just out of sight, behind the horizon. It’s about as possible to prove or disprove an unconscious tendency as it is to prove or disprove the existence of God.

  17. says

    @Scary Fundamentalist

    To be sure, part of the humor relied on taking grassrute’s quote totally out of context. Although grassrute often resembles a privilege denying dude, that particular phrase was especially… unfortunately phrased.

  18. says

    This comment got buried in the flood of cartoons.

    No, casting yourself as the victim of a close-minded liberal ideology when your ideas, having been found lacking merit, are discounted can be dismissed as whinging. There is no vast conspiracy of groupthink at play here – your approach is stuck in antiquity and has been shown to a) have no explanatory or predictive power, and b) be based on a number of logical fallacies.

    Option b) certainly has some merit, but it does not stand on its own. European slavery did not decimate the European population and culture to the level that African slavery did, but yes the fact that there was a Europe to “return to” was definitely a factor. We know that African slaves were severely punished for attempting to preserve their culture, and the separate “back to Africa” campaigns were poorly organized, with most people not even knowing where their ancestors came from. Throw in a denial of the existence of black history for generations and being told that they were sub-human, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

    Freed slaves in the northern states prospered, eh? Well, unless they lived in Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, or any of the other major urban centres. The black middle class didn’t really emerge until the 1960s, during the civil rights movement. The provisions that outlawed racial discrimination played a major role in that. Those darn liberals and their busybody regulation, eh? :P I guess we should have just passed out a bunch of bootstraps and told the children of emancipated slaves to hurry up and start pulling.

    I’m not dodging the Japanese question, I just thought it was stupid. Japanese internment happened over a period of 3 years, and it was bad enough. Take that, extrapolate over 400 years (give or take). How many Japanese CEOs, members of Parliament, industry leaders, etc. do you see in Canada? I’m not sure what the specific inequalities you’re citing are, but I’d strongly suspect that most immigrants, if given a fair shot, will do better on average. Immigration skims the cream.

  19. says

    I don’t know who is being condemned. I might dismiss your opinions as being simplistic and lacking in context, but I don’t condemn you for having them. Anti-racists certainly express exasperation, but nobody gets condemned, unless you’re reading far different literature than I am.

    Once again, you’ve provided me with an analogy that is similar to the topic of discussion in all ways except any that are relevant. My preference not to drink doesn’t affect you at all if you want to drink. However, if my attitude toward race is one that blames the victim, then the decisions I make absolutely do affect you. I know conservatives put a lot of stock in individualism, but people’s decisions do affect others, no matter how hard we pretend otherwise. It’s also possible to have two narratives on the same topic and for one to just be wrong.

    By the way, I’m chuckling on the inside at how very (dare I say it?) liberal of you it is to say “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

    And there is an entire branch of psychology that observes and measures unconscious tendencies, so you might want to walk that last bit back a tad.

  20. says

    If you noticed on my site, I actually call myself a “liberal”, the same as Milton Friedman. I would suggest that AA policies are fundamentally illiberal, because they don’t respect personal autonomy.

    It is probably due to our disagreement over the relative impact of racism in today’s society that we disagree with the suitability of the analogy. (My “Denier” credentials are still burnished from the climate change debate) Every decision, including how much to drink, affects those around us. Some people feel uncomfortable around those who have had a couple drinks. Others don’t want to associate with someone who won’t sit down for a pint. Decisions on how much to drink affect the livelihood of those who own and staff the liquor stores. I can even point to studies that show an optimal amount of drinking helps executives move up the coporate ladder. None of this is “blaming the victim”. It simply recognizes personal autonomy and tastes despite the minor effects on those around us.

    When you’re talking about personal autonomy from government interference, there’s no wrong or right; there’s only personal tastes. The only line that can be drawn is if someone else’s rights (life, liberty, property) were demonstrably compromised by the actions arising from those tastes. As we discussed before, we don’t even have a right to stop someone who is fully convinced that drinking cyanide won’t kill him.

    This might be throwing bullets into the fire, but consider interracial marriages. I would join you in thinking less of those who categorically disapprove of other peoples’ IMs. However, can you fault those who prefer a spouse from their own race? Is that not racism, conscious or unconscious? You can’t deny that the decision has a huge effect on others. Maybe we should step in and start reducing the number of intraracial marriages…

  21. says

    Among other tragedies, groupthink led to the demise of DDT and the death of millions of Africans from malaria. If we had listened to the “consensus” of “experts” in the 1930s regarding pacifism and appeasement, we would all be speaking German right now.

    According to the US Bureau of Census, the black middle class began to emerge in the 1950s. Black participation in private businesses skyrocketed in the northern states (Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, etc.) at that time. There was no such increase in private employment of blacks in the south. Don’t get me wrong – I fully credit the rise of the black middle class to the elimination of segregation and government-sponsored discrimination by many northern states in the 1950s. But this increase occurred without affirmative action or stringent anti-discrimination laws on private business. Likewise, the level of education for blacks nearly caught up with whites in the period of 1940-1960. Poverty in black families dropped from 87% in 1940 to 47% in 1960 – before the civil rights act. Funny how it only fell 1 percentage point during the 1970’s.

    Scholars have even pointed out that the biggest hit to black employment in the 1960’s was the introduction of minimum wage laws – a “liberal” policy.

    Re: Japanese: “Immigration skims the cream”. Then why is there such concern with poverty among immigrants in Canada? Are you also ignoring the fact that the discrimination against Asians was just as bad – or worse – than against blacks on the western seaboard in the early 20th century?

    Basically, what I am saying is that the reasons for the Japanese out-earning whites in both Canada and the US is primarily due to cultural factors; genetic factors may play a secondary role. You see the same thing in south Asian nations, where the Chinese immigrants routinely out-earn the native populations despite government-sponsored discrimination against them. Why aren’t there Chinese members of parliament (look around the boardroom tables and you’ll see a lot of Chinese)? Once again, cultural and possibly genetic predispositions towards certain forms of employment – whites are often attracted to more social occupations, while Asians excel at numeracy and the hard sciences. Take a drive through Surrey at election time and you’ll see that East Indian immigrants have excelled in the political arena.

    Why do these same concepts not apply to blacks?

  22. says

    I’ll reply to both comments in this one, just to keep things from spiraling out of control.

    The source of our disagreement is, I think, that whereas you look to the individual to explain her/his actions, I look to the situation. The scientific literature is pretty clear that the environment is a greater predictor of individual behaviour than the person’s intrinsic characteristics. What you call “personal autonomy”, psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error. As such, where you appear ready to throw up your hands and say “it must be something to do with those darn blacks”, I’m more interested in looking at the differences in social climate (which you’ve shown little tolerance for as an explanation in the past – apparently if it’s not enforced by law then it has no effect). To be sure, there is perhaps a dearth of focus on “personal responsibility” in the liberal narrative on race, but that is primarily a reaction to generations of the dominant class ignoring their repeated and deeply-rooted racism, whilst simultaneously telling black people to pull themselves up.

    We’ve gone back and forth on this poverty issue before. I’m not sure why your inclusion of history includes only a) poverty and b) a period ending at the 1970s, but I suspect that it is because those statistics support your conclusion that it was leftist policies that held back the rising tide of racial equality. So let’s not look at university enrollment, home ownership, private business ownership, unemployment, political representation, or any number of other metrics that have steadily improved since the civil rights struggle. That would disrupt the conservative (you can call yourself whatever you want, but I’m not interested in getting into semantic games) narrative about how affirmative action punishes white people and keeps black people dependent on the dole.

    Your analogy about interracial marriages is an interesting one. I would obviously not support a government program that dictates who you must marry, and can’t really come up with a decent reason why I’m for affirmative action but against the marriage thing. The only recourse I have is to point to the fact that the state does not regulate marriage in the same way it regulates employment, and that the reasons for marrying someone are deeply personal in a way that hiring employees is not. However, this could be argued to be simply a matter of personal taste rather than a solid factual argument, so I will have to puzzle over my own hypocrisy here.

    While I am doing that, I invite you to puzzle over your own hypocrisy about stating that the solution to racial problems is for individuals to confront their own race biases, but then stating on the other hand that the definition of what constitutes a race bias is entirely subjective. That seems to be what is already happening – people have decided that the only kind of racism they’re not okay with is the kind that involves nooses and burning crosses… and even then they’re not that bothered about it. It’s a sort of laissez faire approach to social change that necessarily results in absolutely no change. The status quo might be just peachy for you – for millions of people who experience the consequences of racism (and notice them as such) on a daily basis, we are not content to wait around until people figure stuff out on their own.

    Also, I find your hostility towards experts to be mystifying. Who would you rather we listen to? And please don’t say “common sense” or I will have to put you on time out.

  23. says

    To prevent endless replies, I’ll start a new comment.

    I am a firm believer in the notion that “all men are created equal”. When John Locke (yes, a white male slaver) coined the phrase, he was quick to make it clear that all men do not remain equal. That is, both intrinsic and environmental factors begin to skew that equality. Locke was trying to say that every person is born with the same rights – life, liberty, and property – that all other men must recognize and respect. I’m not denying or minimizing the situational factors. Rather, I’m trying to say that the use of force (infringing upon another’s right to life, liberty, and/or property) is not justified to rectify those situational factors.

    To take an Aesopic analogy, the lazy grasshopper (behavioral) is obviously not justified in assaulting the ant to get his food stores. Say that the grasshopper had built up his own food stores in good faith but they were destroyed by an unexpected calamity (situational). The grasshopper would still not be justified in assaulting the ant to get the food.

    I am only using poverty and employment as metrics because this represents the general standard of living of the wide swath of the populace, i.e. the most benefit to the most people. It is also more representative of the situational circumstances. Many of the more specific metrics you suggest are only indicative of how the already advantaged members of that group are faring. They also measure situations that can be more heavily influenced by intrinsic cultural or genetic differences. For example, aren’t the home ownership levels for Asians in Canada lower than whites, despite their higher earning power? It’s a cultural difference. Finally, many of your metrics are directly skewed by AA programs (university enrolment, for one) and therefore cannot measure the positive (or negative) effects of the program.

    I don’t doubt that almost all metrics for blacks have improved since the civil rights act. But I argue that the trends evident before the civil rights act proves that those improvements are independent of AA programs enacted in the late ’60s (which is why I focused on the 70’s, where you might expect the greatest benefit).

    Marriage is definitely regulated by the government, who has the power to prevent people from marrying. I also would argue that the main reason that the government regulates employment is for tax purposes – not to decide or even influence who works for whom. But this analogy brings up this little quiz. Which of these personal actions, when performed with a clear bias to race, justify the imposition of government to enforce racial equality:

    – Marriage (you’ve already said no)
    – Making friends
    – Saying hi on the street
    – Giving money to a panhandler
    – Giving money to a squeegie kid to wash your window
    – Giving money to a neighborhood kid to mow your lawn
    – Giving money to someone to pick fruit for a day
    – Giving money to someone to clean your house every week
    – Giving money to someone to do your accounting
    – Employing someone as an accountant

    The suggestion that individuals should confront their own shortcomings within their own subjective perspective is the very definition of personal morality and is consistent with freedom of conscience. Enforcing someone else’s subjective perspective (even one that the majority agrees with) to confront perceived shortcomings in others is an affront to freedom of conscience, and is the bedrock fallacy of theocracies, dictatorships, and socialist democracies.

    I would challenge you to identify those epochs in which society has changed the most – it is precisely when the laissez faire approach is present that society has changed the most. The enlightenment, perhaps?

    A hesitation to use state force to stop a problem does not equate to my denial of said problem. As I have said, I will stand elbow-to-elbow with you in combatting racism through voluntary means. Should some white landlord kick out black tenants for no other reason, I will gladly take them in and join you in protesting/boycotting the bastard. Likewise, I hope you will join me in opposing the eviction of white tenants in favor of aboriginals, something that is becoming all-too-common in our country.

    “Hostility towards experts” = wary of the “appeal to authority” fallacy. I’m quite willing to hear arguments from experts, but care little for their endorsements.

  24. says

    I was in Kingston visiting friends for a couple of days, or I would have responded in a more timely manner.

    We have done this dance before, so maybe we are entering into a period of talking past each other. I recognize your opinion that liberty is important. I share that general view. However, as I’ve said in comments on your site, by existing within a society, we agree to suspend a portion of our liberty in order to gain other things. I am not at liberty to walk the streets naked, nor am I at liberty to defecate on the sidewalk or do any number of other things that I could do if I did not live in society. You are correct in your statement that the lines are drawn somewhat arbitrarily as to where we will allow the state to infringe upon our liberties. I draw the line at those points where a) a clear problem can be identified, and b) a clear solution can be put in place that is not greater than the problem it solves. Affirmative action is such a solution to the identified problem of systemic racism. It is most certainly not a perfect solution, and there are certainly some people whose lives are made more difficult by it, but the benefits to society as a whole outweigh the costs. Furthermore, the alternative approach of doing nothing (or your approach which is tantamount to doing nothing but calling it doing something) is not acceptable to me. Perhaps that makes me a socialist. That label doesn’t really sting much for me personally.

    A more broad study of the impact of affirmative action is perhaps needed than either one of us is prepared to debate, as I flat-out reject the implication that either a) black people are somehow genetically unable to succeed or b) programs designed to reduce inequalities and the impact of systemic racism are the real problem, not the racist attitudes that linger in our collective psyche. There is a book by Tim Wise about the topic, and it is becoming increasingly evident to me that if I want to resolve anything in this debate with you, I will have to do some studying.

    As far as the Enlightenment being a result of laissez faire policies, that is one specific example in which the complete vice-like grip of state power was superceded. The enlightenment was immediately followed by the industrial revolution, in which industry leaders were free to run roughshod over the rights of their workers, and it took a great deal of state power and regulation to reduce that systemic counter-swing. All subsequent human rights moves (suffrage, the commonwealth, decolonialization, black civil rights in the USA, enfranchisement in South Africa, aboriginal rights in North America and Australia…) have come from a concerted effort to change government, not from simply waiting around until people magically give up their privileged positions in favour of helping out the downtrodden.

    How common is all too common? Is it when any white person faces the kind of discrimination that has been the hallmark of being a person of colour in North America for centuries? Or is it only when it has legal backing, rather than the fuzzy non-legal way in which the deck has been stacked against PoCs?

    We are now veering away from the original topic of this thread, which was that discussions of race, or apologies for past injustices, or affirmative action-type policies are not simply to make white people feel guilty for being white or for the misdeeds of their ancestors. While guilt is an understandable reaction, I don’t find it to be a particularly constructive emotion, and it certainly is not the stated goals of such discussions, apologies or policies. Hopefully I’ve been able to make that clear.

  25. says

    Re: Liberty – Yes, citizens give up some of their personal liberties in exchange for some civil rights, but governments cannot not take their citizens’ personal liberties, even to give them the civil rights that the government believes are best for them. That is why the most successful government is, and always has been, a constitutional republic, in which the government is strictly bound by a negative constitution which defines the only parameters in which it can operate. Then there will not be any arbitrary lines, save for an activist Supreme Court that circumvents the constitution…

    Your assumption that you can quantify both the problem and the effects of the solution is intellectually arrogant, to say the least. By insisting on the power to intervene only on the basis of perceived net benefit, you are creating endless trolley-track dilemmas by which those in power can dismiss personal liberties in favour of collectivist goals. Anywhere that’s been tried on a large scale, it’s led to the same logical conclusion – mass murder, economic collapse, and widespread suffering. But, as you say, I am veering…

    Re: Doing nothing – if I may repeat myself, I insist that the state does nothing beyond maintaining the Rule of Law. Individual citizens are morally bound to do something about the problems in society. In virtually all of your examples, it was private persons, acting out of moral conviction, that forced the government’s hand. One characteristic of an active government is the manipulation, or even the suppression, of private persons acting on their moral beliefs, while a laissez faire government does not get in the way. In addition, your examples demonstrate that an active government is the means by which the winners can force their terms on the losers, whether for good or for bad. Yes, active governments have in this way aided in overcoming societal problems, but they have also proven to be able (and I would argue more likely) to introduce or entrench injustices much faster and more effectively than a laissez faire government.

    (Since you brought up the living conditions during the Industrial Revolution, that’s another bit of revisionist history similar to the supposed “success” of AA in America. The fact is, all metrics for British citizens steadily improved during the IR after remaining stagnant or falling in the centuries before. But that’s definitely veering.)

    Honestly, when it is continually stated that systemic discrimination against PoC runs “under the surface”, and cannot be directly proven, it begins to look more and more like a conspiracy theory. The notion that we members of one particular pseudo-race are doomed by our subconscious programming to participate in a continent-wide campaign of oppression only adds fuel to that fire. Maybe you can recommend a good book that provides the evidence that I believe is sorely lacking.

  26. says

    I forgot to respond to your third comment. Wrt genetic differences making some races “not able to succeed”, please note that I never suggested that. I would say that genetic differences are a factor in the manner in which any individual succeeds. To completely dismiss the factor of genetics when talking about differences between groups is willful ignorance. That being said, I fully understand the danger inherent in widely recognizing such a fact.

    I have also not said that AA programs are the real problem; I only posit that they are doing more harm than good. I have maintained all along that the real “problem” of statistical differences between races is a combination of involuntary factors (some genetic, but mostly cultural), and voluntary ones (race-biased actions committed by every member of society, not just the “group” in “power”). Just as we can’t legislate teens to stop having sex, the voluntary component must be fought with a moral campaign, not a legislative one.

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