Thursday, November 18, 2010

Either/Or Racism

From a diavlog between Adam Serwer and Michael Moynihan on, among other things, racism and the Tea Party:

This is probably the idea about racism that frustrates me the most: that unless someone is explicitly saying something racist - or even thinking it, that they are not racist or expressing racism. It's the idea that racism is either "on" or "off", and entirely consciously chosen.

We know for a fact that much of racism is actually unconscious. And when you think about it, even people who are avowed racists are obviously expressing a hatred they don't really understand, that is irrational. Much of hatred is carried as cultural memes and attitudes that aren't fully-formed, reasoned opinions. So wouldn't it make sense that even people who don't consider themselves racist might be prone to racial bias?

So you can have all these classic examples of hateful ideation that play on old stereotypes and fears, and they infect even those who may consider themselves perfectly tolerant. What's difficult is tying down exactly what is racism from what isn't, and separating genuine principle from bias.

So you would never want to say what Moynihan proposes many liberals do - that the Tea Party is motivated singularly by race. But if it is possible that people can have their ideas and fears infected by unconscious bias, wouldn't it be possible that at least some of what animates the Tea Party - as a political movement in a general sense - is unconscious racial bigotry? And if this is possible, then how do you decide to what extent this is going on?

This is especially true when so many on the right are avowedly opposed to the idea that they could be harboring unconscious racial bias at all. They generally feel that unless they specifically say "I find minorities inferior", then racism cannot exist. This seems very wrong.

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