Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Better Definition of Racism

Jacqueminot Roses-
Martin Johnson Heade (c.1890)
An interesting fact: many Trump supporters voted for Obama in the past two elections. This would seem prima facie evidence that Trump's racism couldn't have held appeal for them.

However, we need to remember that most racism is not a conscious dislike of minorities. Most people who engage in racism do not identify as racists and legitimately believe they have no problem with them. BUT. Racism is a tendency to not treat minorities as equals. For instance, having higher standards for their behavior, or not trying as hard to put oneself in their shoes, or being quicker to judge them more harshly, or not cut them as much slack as they deserve. The classic example of this for me is the grammarian who hates it when blacks say "axe" a question and demands they speak "proper english", yet ignores they many ways whites engage in improper english, such as when as saying "ummana" instead of I'm going to. To the extent that one is applying a different standard to blacks, they are engaging in racism. And we all do it, in many ways, from major to minor biases. In this way I can see someone voting for Obama, but then buying into birtherism, or ideas that he he a Muslim, or that he hates white people. All of these depend simply on cutting him less slack as a member of a historically oppressed group which he has unconscious biases against.

I can see him becoming more and more incensed at the notion that illegal immigrants are parasites who are taking our jobs and suckling at the government teet, as opposed to desperate people who merely want the best for their families who are OK with breaking a few abstract rules in order to work hard to give them a better life, all the while paying taxes and receiving zero government assistance. And yet because they are Spanish-speaking, brown skinned, and not "his people", he finds it easier to be less empathetic, less kind, less compassionate: in other words behaving words towards them because of their ethnicity.

Ditto for Muslims. Ditto for gays.

The standard definition of racism is put thusly:
"the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."
By this definition, most Trump supporters are not racists: they do not profess this belief.

But what is the moral problem with racism?  Sure, it is an incorrect assessment of the biology of fellow man.  It is an incorrect belief.  But isn't the real problem the actual way we treat one another?  When racism was enshrined in law, it had actual effects.  But that was only a formal oppression.  The daily lived harm came when minorities were not treated as equals.  Their foibles were not forgiven at the same rate.  They were held with more suspicion.  They were kept at arms length.  They were the other.

What if instead we were to define racism like this:
"acting as if all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."

That is to say, to treat different races differently.  There need be no master plan.  There need be no calculations and tabulations.  There need only be thought and deed.  Or maybe just deed...

This is the racism we see perpetrated all across America everyday.  This is the racism that people are accused of, and then deny.  They're defense: they are not racists: they believe everyone is equal.  But like the lover who professes his love but doesn't show it, or the friend who pledges loyalty but acts otherwise, racism is deeds not words.  As the old phrase goes, everyone is above average.  Jerks don't believe in being jerks.  Assholes don't set out to be assholes.  They believe in kindness and consideration.

They just don't show it.

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