Secret Identities
At Last

Melanin Revisited

In a recent post on the neglected fallout of affirmative action, I wrote:

The justifications for PC racial discrimination have never been entirely convincing or morally palatable. Treating people not as individuals but as generic representatives of some designated victim group is condescending and unfair, and seems likely to perpetuate racial hang-ups and give license to opportunist role-play.

Stephen Hicks outlines some common arguments on the subject and notes their essential distinctions:

The argument for racial affirmative action usually begins by observing that blacks as a group suffered severe oppression at the hands of whites as a group. Since that was unjust, obviously, and since it is a principle of justice that whenever one party harms another, the harmed party is owed compensation by the harming party, we can make the argument that whites as a group owe compensation to blacks as a group. Those opposed to affirmative action will respond by arguing that the proposed “compensation” is unjust to the current generation. Affirmative action would make an individual of the current generation, a white who never owned slaves, compensate a black who never was a slave.

And so what we have here, on both sides of the arguments, are two pairs of competing principles. One pair is highlighted by the following question: Should we treat individuals as members of a group or should we treat them as individuals? Do we talk about blacks as a group versus whites as a group? Or do we look at the individuals who are involved? Advocates of affirmative action argue that individual blacks and whites should be treated as members of the racial groups to which they belong, while opponents of affirmative action argue that we should treat individuals, whether black or white, as individuals regardless of the colour of their skin. In short, we have the conflict between collectivism and individualism. […]

This seems a good point to ask which of the above sounds less bigoted and insulting. Less racist, if you will.

Advocates of affirmative action rely upon a principle of social determinism that says, “This generation’s status is a result of what occurred in the previous generation; its members are constructed by that previous generation’s circumstances.” The other side of the argument emphasizes individual volition: individuals have the power to choose which social influences they will accept. The second pair of competing principles follows: Do individuals most need to be made equal in assets and opportunities, or do they most need liberty to make of their lives what they will?

Some peddlers of grievance, among them Shakti Butler, Joseph Harker and Peggy McIntosh, have redefined racism as “prejudice + power” and argue that racism is something only members of the “dominant group” can indulge in. The “dominant group” is, of course, understood to be Caucasian, though one might wonder how this addresses overtly racist assaults committed by people with dark skin or the realities of power in other parts of the world – Zimbabwe, for instance. The formulation of “prejudice + power” is, it seems to me, disingenuous and absurd, and wilfully so. Consider, for instance, the following personal experience:

A few years ago, while visiting what was then my local newsagent, I found the owner being harassed and robbed by a teenager. The youth was obnoxious and threatening, shouting racist epithets at the owner, who was Indian, and smashing displays, throwing stock, etc. Two female customers looked on, saying nothing. Fearless hero that I am, I grabbed the youth by the collar, hoisted him outside and threw him to the pavement. Suitably deflated, the youth ran away, though not before shouting a colourful threat or two. The owner thanked me for intervening and explained that, despite onlookers, no-one had offered to help his wife when she faced a similar situation a few days previously. As I turned to leave, the two female customers looked at me in disgust and one accused me of being racist, presumably on the basis that the threatening youth happened to be black. I said nothing to the women (both of whom were white, since you ask), but I did pause to register the paper clutched by one of them. It was, of course, the Guardian.

Now I don’t mean to imply that this reaction is in any way typical of Guardian readers, but it does seem possible that reading the Guardian is a good way to internalise the views of the paper’s deputy comment editor, Joseph Harker, who deploys the term “racist” as a kind of rhetorical kryptonite and insists that,

All white people are racist… As a black man… I cannot be racist… because in the global order I do not belong to the dominant group.

But consider the events above. Who there had the “power”? Who embodied the “dominant group”? And what alternative course of action would comply with the collectivist model of grievance and payback?

Comments

newbie

"This seems a good point to ask which of the above sounds less bigoted and insulting. Less racist, if you will."

Heh. Spot on.

Anna

We had no idea you were so aggressive, you patriarchal racist you. :)

David

Anna,

I doubt anyone who knows me well would think of me as burly or inclined to fisticuffs, and at risk of ruining my new image of strapping heroism I should point out the youth was fairly easy to turf out onto the street. (I suspect it helps if you’re not the one being targeted and have the advantage of surprise. In fact, the sense of unexpectedness was kind of pertinent.) But I was struck by how the ladies were silent and utterly inert during the teenager’s aggression, yet they somehow found the courage to berate me, no doubt guessing I wouldn’t start throwing Mars bars at them.

georges

I agree. We should treat people as individuals, not as generic representatives of some designated group - victim or not. Have you seen this?

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2008/07/israeli-pm-jews-threatened-by-russian.html

Brian H

Excellent post.

David

Georges,

Thanks for that; I hadn’t seen it. I suppose it illustrates where you can end up if you start from the kind of collective identity premise mentioned above. In fact, if you start with the premise I mentioned it soon becomes difficult to see how one might avoid sounding like an idiot. See, for instance, the unhinged convolutions of Amanda Marcotte and her readers as they try to make it clear they aren’t at all racist on in any way insensitive:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/04/tales-of-woe.html

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/04/borrowed-shame.html

It’s the dance of Victimhood Hierarchy and it involves a great deal of calculation and self-inflicted stress. Similar dances are quite popular at Feministe and other doctrinaire leftist sites. Maybe that’s what the ladies in the newsagent were doing – frantically calculating which group had been aggrieved.

dicentra

In the 1930s, for example, a motivated, intelligent black man could not get into college only — ONLY — because of his ancestry, which happened to include more pigmentation than a European's.

Ergo, the solution to this bigotry is to lower the academic standards for people with that same ancestry. Not work to ensure that entrance boards could not take race into account, but to lower the academic standards.

Please explain why that is the appropriate remedy to the problem.

David

Dicentra,

“Please explain why that is the appropriate remedy to the problem.”

I suspect it’s a remedy to a different problem altogether, i.e. of what the grievance industry would face once all practical, defensible measures have been completed – i.e. unemployment and loss of funding, status, etc. The idea, I think, is to defer redundancy indefinitely by making sure as many people as possible are fixated by race, “diversity,” language, etc., and by redefining racism in such a way that the ostensible problem can never be resolved.

Nancy

Good on you! That was incredibly brave - I wouldn't have been able to do something like that myself.

And those two ladies can only be described as - if I may borrow the term, and at fear of misusing it - having a lot of chutzpah.

(Apologies to any Jewish people reading this, if I've misused the term!)

...They didn't even take into account that you were defending an Indian man?

gaffee

David, did you see this comment left at PW?

http://proteinwisdom.com/?p=13677#comment-591097

"Of course racism = prejudice + power. Note the "ism". Racism is a political philosophy. It is the expression, in America at least, of white-race superiority. What made Hitler a racist rather than just a bigot was the notion that Aryans were superior - and that this superiority needed to be recognized and expressed in political terms. So to in the US - it was white supremacy - as a philosophy, that underlies racism… No overarching theory that ones race is inherintly superior, no plan to impose that view politically, and/or no power to do so, and it isnt "racism" - it is just bigotry... I sense that the only people who are resistant to this obvious truth or those who are itching to be able to throw the "racist" charge against lots of people - hopefully lots of black people, so that the charge become so diluted and meaningless, that one escapes its charge even when rightly accused of it."

David

Gaffee,

Gosh, it’s very close to doublethink. At first I wondered if it was a joke, but it follows a standard pattern. Let’s see… Racism is only racism if (a) it’s part of a supremacist political programme and (b) if it’s something done by the dominant group, i.e., by people with white skin. So, if a gang of black youths in a predominantly black neighbourhood in a predominantly black country were to set about a white kid, or a Hispanic kid, or a Chinese kid, and beat him to death while screaming racial abuse, that wouldn’t be racism, but merely “bigotry”. This, apparently, is an “obvious truth” and those who “resist” that truth do so in order to get away with being racist, as formulated above.

It’s a ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ kind of deal.

Shave the Forest

"No overarching theory that ones race is inherintly superior, no plan to impose that view politically, and/or no power to do so, and it isnt "racism" - it is just bigotry."

So I'm waiting in a dark alley with a gun, a knife and a gang of mates – and I STILL don't have any power? What a rip.

georges

Gaffee

It's probably unwise to even begin to try and rebut the silly comment you quoted. But, as I understand it; the young Adolf Hitler developed a pathological hatred of Jews because the Jews he met, at school in Linz and later in Vienna, were 1) more economically successful than him, 2) more intellectually sophisticated than him, 3) more artistically gifted than him, and 4) better at attracting women than him. His racist fantasies of domination grew from resentment at his own failure and under-achievement.

David

Shave the Forest,

“What a rip.”

Yes, that’s the gist of it. It’s the “obvious truth,” you see. Maybe if you had some kind of cannon?

J. Peden

"racism = prejudice + power"

Where I come from, racism is a kind or type of prejudice. So the equation makes no sense: "racism = racism + power".

And, sadly, my attempts to dictate what reality is by sitting around making up defintions of words have somehow never worked, either.

David

J Peden,

“And, sadly, my attempts to dictate what reality is by sitting around making up definitions of words have somehow never worked, either.”

That’s the nub of it, really. It’s an attempt to distort language to support an absurd claim, by framing the issue in such a way that the absurd conclusion is the only permissible one. Hence the additional claim that those who “resist” this “obvious truth” are trying to camouflage their own unspeakable urges. It’s much the same manoeuvre as the “male privilege” and “white privilege” arguments. If you dare to dispute the reasoning, such as it is, you must “therefore” be part of the oppressive system and are not to be listened to.

Mal

Here are 3 excellent articles regarding Affirmative action.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1059701/posts

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.aspx?GUID={5310EBC4-9351-4797-A914-9682B472B370}

http://www.cir-usa.org/articles/156.html

Rich Rostrom

There's an endemic distortion of language here. "Affirmative action" != "racial quotas fulfilled by discriminatory treatment".

The term arose because it was considered insufficient for an institution that had arbitrarily excluded some group merely to stop that practice. The institution ought to take "affirmative action" to include that group - to advertise openings in that group's media, or recruit at that group's schools. This was agreed to be the meaning of "affirmative action" in the relevant U.S. legislation, passed in the 1970s. Sen. Hubert Humphrey was one of the sponsors, and famously remarked that he would eat a copy of the bill if it was ever interpreted to require racial quotas.

That is why I always refer to "racial quotas" rather than "affirmative action".

Also: Gaffee has a point. If one regards racism as in "ism", as an ideology, then yes, it is something that is generally found among the ruling group rather the ruled. The latter do not need a theory or rationalization for their feelings or program. The ruling group do need such a theory; at least they did if they were white Anglophones, who felt guilty about slavery.

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