Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The New Racism

I'm troubled by where racism and the right is right now. Everyone knows racism is wrong. In theory. Certainly no one will admit to being racist. If accused, they always back way. Sometimes with legitimate excuses, yet sometimes not - their original conduct was clearly racist yet they still deny it.

This is very weird. I suppose many of them harbor these thoughts in private and just don't want to deal with the political/social/etc. fallout if they took public ownership. But then, many I suspect don't actually believe they are racist (they somehow know racism = bad) and thus genuinely back-peddle and make excuses for their behavior.

I imagine most modern racists fall into the latter category.
Even the white liberal friends of mine, who as liberals are more likely to have done the more complex listening & self-reflecting that begins the process of disentangling cultural prejudices and subconscious bias, still can't escape falling into crude stereotypes or the "other" mentality. I admit to a fair amount of it myself. In that sense we are all modern racists.

Although I think what is key is the continued acknowledgment of the problem - of how deeply embedded it is in our cultural frameworks. Fundamentally it is an admission that we are not perfect, that we are products of our environment, our natures. And our goal is to strive beyond.

Yet the anti-race racist, by reflexively denying his own human frailty (sin, as I think it has been correctly identified by mythological narrative) denies not only his own role, but fails to see it in others. This is a self-perpetuating cycle, as acknowledged evidence of racism in others implies it is still alive as a phenomenon, and thus possibly alive in oneself. Thus denying it in others helps to deny it in one's self.

Politically the right has all the reason in the world to downplay racism as a phenomenon. Every instance of it not only allows the possibility of their own racism, and their own frailty, but also discredits the purity of the American project, both evidenced in "direct" and "legacy" racism. Direct racism actively damages individual freedoms, while legacy racism builds disadvantage into entire communities through community dysfunction or inadequate resources.

As both are vehicles for social inequity, they present a niggling problem for the fundamental meritocratic assumptions of conservatism. Sure, minorities had a reason to be poor when discrimination was law. But now that it isn't, we can wash our hands of the whole problem and expect every man's success or failure to be his own. The existence of racism doesn't allow us to do this, as it is a social injustice that requires intervention. And how to better to do this than government decree.

Except you can't simply will racism out of existence. It requires social transformation, which takes time and effort - and most forcefully, government action. And until it is eradicated, you can't hold each man accountable for his lot in life. Those niggling demographic statistics on race and poverty, education, criminality, etc. are evidence of this.

This is the stuff of white privilege. And to a free market philosophy built on the assumption of every one starting with "their own bootstraps", privilege is really annoying! It throws the whole concept off. Free markets will always have winners and losers, which is a bitter pill to begin with. But it gets that much more bitter when most winners just happen to come from very different backgrounds than do the losers.

I'm still waiting for a conservative explanation for demographic success disparities. Appeals to free will would seem to predict relative random distribution of results year over year, yet there are an enormous number of very solid socioeconomic predictors.

Were I to be a conservative, I would be very concerned with making the playing field level so that my free market could run relatively equitably. How you do this without government intervention is beyond me. Their main line of argumentation right now seems to be that it has actually BEEN government intervention that has perpetuated inequity, via welfare, housing, education, etc. Which seems pretty ridiculous. Sure, these programs have their faults, but one wonders how the the alternative, a.k.a. doing nothing, amounts to anything more than wishful thinking.

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