Monday, March 1, 2010
It is a common view among liberals that conservatives tend to be more racist. I don't know of any real data as evidence of this. Personally, it just seems to stem from countless encounters with conservatives that have made offhanded prejudiced comments, and especially the tone taken around race in conservative media. This is not to say that liberals can't be racist either. I've heard plenty of racist comments from liberals, and no doubt many of them have deeply held pre-conceptions that are bigoted. Racism is complicated and exists in many different forms, many of which are subconscious. This makes a proper identification very slippery, unless the view is expressed in no uncertain terms. But for now I'll leave it up to the reader to consider their own concept of racism, and its relationship to the following case I make. I think that many more conservatives than liberals tend to be racists, almost all serious racists tend to be conservative, and this is mainly due to the nature of conservative belief.
I have a theory that where racism used to be entirely emotional, with very little logic involved, modern conservatism actually provides a pretty good justification for it. Decades ago, we lacked a good understanding of the drivers of poverty. We were also much more accepting of racism. The average racist didn't have any real logical justification for their views other than a pure hatred, usually specified in cultural stereotypes. In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was indeed a good deal of debate over whether or not there was scientific evidence of white racial superiority. But this was entirely pseudoscience faded rather quickly from any serious scientific viewpoint.
But as the century progressed, the civil rights movement was able to overcome more and more oppression. If nothing else, this was through pure reason: there was no evidence that any one race was for any reason superior to another. Yet there still existed the fact that many Americans held very nativist and chauvinist opinions about their own ethnic culture. And both because of continued discrimination, and the generational effects of oppression on ethnic communities, socioeconomic inequality persisted. This was exceptionally true with blacks - the original slaves, the original hated class. Towards the mid-century, modern conservatism began to take root, culminating in the great realignment between the Democratic and Republican parties, as the racist south found refuge in this new political movement.
Conservatism holds that the poor and dysfunctional are responsible for their own behavior (and therefore society has no obligation to help them); people all make their “own” choices in life. Yet minority groups tend to have much higher levels of poverty and dysfunctional behavior. According to conservatism, there would have to be something specifically wrong with those groups, otherwise you would see similar levels of dysfunctional behavior across the board.
This puts conservatism in a bind of making a logical case for racism (”racialism” among academics who would appeal to a more intellectual case for race, class & IQ). At the risk of incoherence, and as racism has now become taboo, most conservatives rely on the argument that it is not the individual within the minority group, but his larger culture that leads him astray. Unfortunately, if you accept this, you must then accept that an individual is not responsible for his own behavior. Could not the poor simply “choose” a different culture?
At this point the word “culture” is now doing dual-duty. It is a placeholder both for ethnicity and dysfunctional behavior. This is the entry point for conservative tropes such as the welfare queen, the gang-banger, the illegal alien, and the classic violent thug. Conservatives will argue that social services are not required for the marginal members of society because they make their own choices. But they will then argue that it is their culture that needs to change.
Thus, conservative philosophy is not only providing justification for a racialist view of poverty and dysfunction, it is then adding ammunition in the form of an appeal to cultural stereotypes. In short, it is a philosophy that actually breeds racist views. No wonder then that not only will racists be drawn to conservative philosophy, but that conservative philosophy actually justifies and promotes more racism.